Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nepal after Prachanda’s Resignation

Vaskar Nandy

Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal (Prachanda)’s resignation was followed by the formation of a ministry headed by Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) in collusion with the comprador-feudal Nepali Congress whose main leadership is tied up with the Indian Congress party and powerful sections of the Indian ruling classes by numerous strings. Since then, more than months have passed. Many parties, including the Madhesh Forum, the fourth largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), has either supported or joined the ministry of Madhav Nepal. There is now a clear majority for the ministry, but the two-third majority required to promulgate the constitution will remain elusive unless Prachanda’s Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is accommodated within a grand alliance.

Right now, the immediate question is why the cabinet formation process seems to have become unending, with no clear conclusion in sight. This question should be viewed from the vantage point of Comrade Prachanda’s resignation.

That resignation hinges on the two most important questions presently before the Nepal revolution. Will the present standing army subordinate itself to the authority of the CA and the Prime Minister? And will it stop new recruitment and make way for the merger of the Maoist fighters with itself? According to the terms agreed upon by all major parties (upon which agreement stands the present, temporary republican dispensation) the answer to both questions must be in the affirmative. But the chief of the Nepal Army has not only defied the Prime Minister and the Home minister by recruiting soldiers and refused to stand dismissed when so ordered by the PM.

The chief of the Nepal Army, a man brought up in the palace and a royalist, is now courted assiduously by both the Indian expansionists and the US imperialists. The Nepali Congress, the army chief and these interfering foreign powers have formed a solid, reactionary team to unhinge the major plank of policy regarding the future army and, therefore, the future state and government. The deposed King is said to be active on the management. The Supreme Court, which remains basically unchanged since the days of the King and as such suffers from a deficit of legitimacy, duly obliged the army chief by approving his recruitment of soldiers on the plea that he was merely filling up vacancies, forgetting that it is the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister who decide whether there are vacancies and when to fill them, if at all. The Court annulled the dismissal of the army chief by the Prime Minister. With such backing, it was no surprise that the army chief held press conferences denouncing the government and got away with it.

The most crucial political role at this juncture was played by sections of the CPN (UML), already close to the Congress leadership and just as vehemently opposed to the Maoists as the latter. They rallied a section of the leadership with the lure of the loaves and fishes of office and installed Madhav Kumar Nepal as the UML Prime Minister, backed by the Nepali Congress. At first, the Nepal ministry could not commandeer the required numbers for a simple majority. Once that was achieved, ministry formation should have come to an end. But months have passed, but there is no end in sight.

The inherent lack of stability in the process is manifest in different ways. The Congress leaders often make claims to form a ministry headed by them. But that is probably nothing more than their attempt to convince the flock that they are alive and as bad as they always have been even after the severe drubbing they received during the elections. Nevertheless this is not a good omen for the Nepal ministry. But far more serious is the growing preponderance of factions in nearly all the parties, especially the UML and the Madhesh Forum, who are increasingly critical and vocal about the role of their parties in the army chief affair and who favour a ministry headed by the U C P N (Maoist) as the only way to end the crisis and draft a republican constitution. More than that, each party has to counter the general perception of all the oppressed nationalities and ethnic groups who constitute the overwhelming majority that the only reliable ally they have to gain self-determination are the Maoists.

The Maoists are logical, principled and firm. Their position is that the CA must categorically declare the subordination of the armed forces to the civilian authority even if the present prevarications on the issue see the army chief retire as scheduled in October. On that condition they are willing to lead an all-party ministry or even support one, with or without direct participation. They are confident that their growing support within the CA and their massive power on the street will continue to ensure that the reactionary forces will remain fragile and unstable until they are forced to submit to the just demands of the Maoists.

The real question, one that we are sure the Maoists have seriously considered, is whether the frustrated reactionaries and their foreign mentors will soon consider a military option such as a coup d’état by the generals. The episode of the defiant army chief would indicate that the Generals are more than willing. Anything of course can emerge from desperation, but the Maoist support among the masses, which would appear to have grown significantly since their electoral triumph, their mastery of insurrection and guerrilla tactics and their combination of flexibility and bold resolve will make the expansionists and their mentors in Washington pause.

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