By Bishnu Pathak
The 100-day marathon of uncertainty after the April 10 Constituent Assembly (CA) election finally ended on July 21, 2008 when Dr. Ram Baran Yadav of the NC-UML-MJF alliance won the run-off with 306 (52%) out of the 590 ballots cast. The Maoists candidate Ram Raja Prasad Singh was defeated with 282 (48%) votes. On July 19, none of the presidential candidates received the majority of votes, except the Vice President Paramananda Jha. Almost all national and international forces tried their best to support the formation of a new national consensus government, prioritizing the PM for the Maoists, the ceremonial role of President for the NC, and the chairmanship of the CA for the UML.
Unethical Games for the President
Why did the political turmoil remain for so long? (i) The incumbent care-taker, PM Girija, stated dozens of times publicly that he would resign from active politics and state power once the CA elections were held successfully in his leadership. Girija was appreciated from all corners due to the grand success of CA in April. Yet, rather than leave a space to form a new government, Girija, tempted by the position of first president of Nepal, started bargaining. India time and again pressured Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda to accept the ailing, 88 year old and technically dead-man Girija as the first president (despite the 60-year life expectancy of Nepal). (ii) The Maoists, who secured 226 of 601 seats in the CA election, outright rejected Girija, who has received 50% (113) less CA members in compare to the Maoists, arguing that if he became the ceremonial president, he may again involve into himself in active politics and there would be power struggles between the ceremonial president and the executive PM. The Maoists debated that presidential candidate be from the Madhesis, Women, Dalits or Janajatis and publicized proposed names accordingly: Ram Raja Prasad Singh on behalf of Madhes, Shahana Pradhan of the UML from Women and Janajatis, Padma Ratna Tuladhar from Civil Society, and so forth. The Maoists tried to humiliate the NC and UML, emphasizing their loss publicly, thus prompting the NC to seek revenge. (iii) The UML, on the other hand, proposed Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had already resigned from the post of General Secretary, as his party won just 37 first-past-the-post seats against the 110 seats of the Maoists in the CA election and he, himself, was defeated in both his constituencies
Polarization with the NC was fertile ground to make the Maoists and UML closer. In addition, the Maoists tried to kill two-birds – monarchy and “Koiralachy” – with one stone. Thus, the Maoists initially agreed with the UML’s proposal of Madhav, but their position evaporated when the UML presented the Home Ministry in addition to the presidency as its bottom line. The breakage of the Maoist-UML ties opened the door for a Maoist-Forum-Tamalop-Sadbhawana alliance to cast votes in favor of Ram Raja, but the Forum separated from the alliance at the 11th hour and joined with NC-UML. The tripartite agreement of the NC,UML, and Forum decided to elect the president from the NC, vice president from the Forum, and chairperson of CA from the UML. The leaders who tirelessly lecture about inclusive participation neither elected a woman from 51% population nor a Janajati from 37%.
After the Maoist’s presidential candidate was defeated, their bargaining power has weakened. Currently three-lines of thought have been seen inside the Maoists. (i) the Maoist-UML alliance broke due to a prevailing US-Indian role inside the party, (ii) the Maoists’ army fears that the party will be swamped as the leaders are being encircled by opportunist lines. Many combatants have a feeling that they are residing in custody rather than cantonments due to widespread scarcity (7-months without salary in a 21-month period, no provision for formal and informal dress, poor food and sanitation, no medical facilities, etc.) (iii) The YCL, the fusion of political and military forces, is also in confusion due to the leadership’s two approaches – very flexible in forming a new government and revolutionary in public arenas.
Prachanda vs. Girija
History is a witness that there was a long association between Prachanda and Girija during the entire peace process. Before any important decisions taken in the past, they held a long clandestine meeting, making it seem that there were only two leaders. Their friendship has now transformed in the political warpath: Girija tried hard to become first president, and the Maoists were uninterested in electing an active political player like Girija as president. On July 21, 2008, PM Girija asked family members’ whether they were interested in supporting him, like the many others who were encouraging him to be PM again. He allegedly charged that Prachanda was an idiot and a powerless man in his party. Girija, himself, asked the question, “Why should I support Prachanda for PM if he did not support me for President?” Therefore, Girija is either trying his best to become a PM again or is seeking another favorable man to retaliate against the Maoists. In separate meetings with the UML, Forum, CPN-ML, and so forth, Girija had already advised the head of each party to be ready for the post of PM if he could not be in it. Thus, he tried hard to win confidence over the small political parties.
In response, Prachanda said, “Recently, what I heard is that Girija Prasad Koirala is being made the PM again. Beware! It will be intolerable for Nepali people if any bid is made to continue the status-quo against the aspirations of Nepali people for change through conspiracy of national and international reactionary forces and robbers” (Kathmandu Post: July 27, 2008). He stated that the 240-year-old monarchy has already been overthrown due to 10 years of war and now the little kings would be ousted with a snap of his fingers. He assured the general populace that his party would not go back to the jungle at any cost, but would rather send the little kings to the jungle if they hinder Maoists in their mission to lead a new government. To make a conducive environment at the regional level, Girija whispered to many South Asian leaders, particularly Indian leaders, seeking their support in being the PM again. He visited the SAARC Summit in Sri Lanka (August 1-4, 2008) though his resignation as PM had already been approved. This, alone, sparked a major conflict with the NC and the Maoists. Girija has had a longstanding close association with Indian power and politics. He has, himself, accepted that the NC hijacked Nepal’s plane in 1960, following the instruction of Rameswar Nath Kao, then the chief RAW. However, Government of India including Sonia Gandhi is in favor of Maoists-lead national consensus government. Even though, India’s anti-Maoists forces – Lal Krishna Advani, Veteran leader of Bharatiya Janata Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav, President, Samajbadi Party have agreed to form anti-Maoists government in Nepal.
Prime Mover of Presidential Game
Upendra Yadav, President of the Madhesi Janadhikar Manch (MJF) initiated his political carrier in 1975 by joining the student wing of the CPN (Puspa Lal). Later he joined with the CPN (Marxist). After the fusion of the CPN (M) and CPN (ML) into the CPN (UML) in 1990, he became a responsible member of the UML party and contested with the NC’s Bijaya Kumar Gachhedar in Sunsari Constituency number 4 in the first general elections of 1991, where he received 21% against 58% of the vote. Now, the same Gachhedar is a central member of the MJF. Upendra grew weary of UML party politics, complaining that he was offered the constituency where the party was sure to lose due to the UML’s vote bank policies towards Madheses. Soon Upendra established an NGO called “Institute for Madhes Intellectual Political Studies,” and became close with the Maoists. When he was arrested for the first-time in India, the now recently defeated presidential candidate, Ram Raja, released him from custody.
In the beginning of 2005, he was arrested a second time, together with Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar, in New Delhi, but was freed soon. Believing him a RAW spy, the Maoist party decided to punish him physically, but Matrika Yadav saved him. One year ago, he, along with armed groups of the Madhes, requested Ram Raja to be a common leader of the Madhes movement, but he refused their proposal, supporting an integrated Nepal. In the beginning, Upendra had incorporated Dr. Manor Singh (son of Ram Raja) as vice president of the Forum when Ram Raja refused to take charge. While the anti-Maoists movement was initiated by the MJF on January 19, 2007, both the NC and UML supported the MJF on moral, strategic, and political grounds in order to wipe out the Maoists from the Madhes.
The distance between both the NC and UML and the MJF started to widen as the MJF activists attacked both the parties’ leaders, destroying the houses of Madhav Kumar Nepal, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav and so forth. Thus, Upendra tried to drive the NC and UML from the Madhes. While he was succeeding in creating a “communist free buffer zone to the Madhes, particularly to the Maoists,” the Gaur massacre occurred, wherein 29 Maoists were brutally killed and 45 wounded on March 21, 2007. That delivered the Madhesi movement a great setback and a communist free buffer zone became a day-dream.
However, formation of United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) amongst the MJF, Tamalopa, and Sadbhawana succeeded in negotiating an 8-point agreement with the Government of Nepal (GoN) on February 28, 2008. The points are:
• The government shall recognize all persons who died during the Madhes movement as martyrs and provide their families one million rupees each as compensation.
• Medical treatment shall be provided as a relief package to those injured during the movement.
• The government shall withdraw all cases filed against Madhesi leaders and cadres, and those arrested during the Madhes movement shall be released
• Nepal shall become a federal democratic republican state, realizing the desire for a federal structure with autonomous states by people of all sectors, including the Madhesi people’s desire for an autonomous Madhes state.
• The division of powers between the center and periphery under the federal structure shall be decided through the Constituent Assembly. Such states shall be fully autonomous and empowered.
• The Election Commission Act shall be revised to 30% from the earlier 20% for any political party contesting the candidates for the proportional electoral system.
• Madhesi people shall be recruited into the Civil Service including the Nepal Army on the basis of population.
• Both sides agreed to appeal to all agitating armed groups to come to the negotiation table to settle their demands.
Due to superiority complex within the Forum, the UMDF could not stand with common candidates in the past CA election. The Forum did not even support Mahanta Thakur, President of Tamalopa in the CA, fearing what would be Upendra’s parallel contender in the Madhes movement. Moreover, Upendra played an important role in defeating Mahanta Thakur due to his unitarianism. In the recent presidential election, the Forum broke its earlier stand in support of Ram Raja so as to gain the vice presidency, but the Tamalopa and Sadbhawana parties caste their vote to Ram Raja, following their earlier decision of the UMDP. When the presidential candidates could not receive a required majority, there was a high voltage internal debate amongst the establishment Yadav faction and the others. B P Yadav, speaker of the Forum, even asked for the resignation of the rebel CA members who did not cast a vote to Dr. Ram Baran of their new NC-UML alliance. He threatened the members, saying, “They shall elect a new member vacating their seats by buying each voter with NRs. 1000.” He further said, “If India does not wish to elect their new member, we will receive huge money from other resources to support elections at the snap of our fingers.”
At 10.30 hours on Sunday July 20, 2008, the US Embassy in Nepal phoned Shyamananda Suman, Foreign Department Chief of the Forum to provide top security to Upendra. If the Forum asks to the international community for security to him , the U.S. would try their best to provide it. He might have been insecure not from other political parties, but from his own Madhesi parties or groups, owing to his penchant for inconsistency; shifting political ideology; altering vision and mission; anecdotal ways of means, goals and behaviors; and confused objectivity.
After dissociation with the CPN (Maoist), Upendra again improved his relationship with Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) within the umbrella of the Indian Hindu hardliners of Bharatiya Janata Party. In recent days his relation with India has been damaged except Mulayam Singh but it has improved with US and Pakistani power and politics. Upendra advocates for inclusive participation, but the Forum is recognized as the “party of Yadav,” or party of Madheses Bahuna and Chhetri where there is rare representation of dalits, Janajatis, or women. They are content with both president and vice-president being elected on behalf of the Madhes, excluding women and Janajatis. Due to high prevalence of male “Yadav-ism” within the Forum, fission is very likely. The UNDF is almost broken due to the superiority complex within the Forum.
Role of India
Freelance intellectual, Dev Mukherjee, stated in New Delhi, immediately after the CA results, that there has been a penetration of US spies into the Nepal Army and this group does not wish to have a Maoist-lead government in Nepal, despite the people’s mandate. Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, received severe criticism, particularly from the Nepali Congress, as he publicly supported the Maoist-lead national government even without amending the Interim Constitution (IC) of Nepal 2007. To protest against India, Central Committee member of the NC, Dr. Shashanka Koirala (elected CA member), son of BP Koirala, said that the new constitution of Nepal is being drafted in New Delhi where Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai also associates. Due to high pressure from all corners on the Indian government and leaders, India put forward the concept of a simple majority amendment to the two-thirds constitutional provisions.
In regard to repealing unequal treaties, including the peace and friendship treaty of 1950 signed between the democratic India and autocratic Nepal, India expressed readiness to deal with all issues raised by the Maoists, but Sitaram Yochuri advised the Maoists to put forward the issue of cancellation of treaties only after the promulgation of the new constitution.
India has understated how its security is being provided by Nepalis, particularly in the form of private guards in industries, organizations, private offices and for individuals. Similarly, large numbers of Nepali soldiers have also been working in the Indian Army. India wants to resolve Nepal’s Maoist problem constructively, which could be a noble example for their own insurgent communist forces. In the past, India has given a special priority to the Maoists in the course of resolving the problem, as Nepal’s Maoists were the only counter force against the nationalist and pro-Chinese monarchy. Consequently, the CPN (Maoist) should be well aware that India shall adopt a balanced approach to all political parties based on harmony and coexistence -except prioritizing to the Madhesi forces – in the future. Incidentally, India might not be euphoric with UNMIN’s tenure being extended for another six months, though it has been diminished in size. The Indian communist parties’ withdrawal from the government due to the nuclear deal with the US further reduced the interest of India with the CPN (Maoist).
The US would rather there never be a communist lead government in Nepal; a Maoists one in particular. India wants a Maoist-lead government that does not follow hardcore Marxist-Leninist-Maoist doctrine, but is instead a liberal democratic party similar to the UML. India has a clear understanding that if the Maoists entered into liberal democracy, her bargaining power could strengthen. India knows well that Ram Raja is more pro-Indian then Dr. Ram Baran Yadav. She had a fear that once Ram Raja became the first president of Nepal, he would be loyal to the Maoists rather than Indian power and politics.
As International forces foresaw no possibility of Girija being the first president, due to the vehement protest of the Maoists along the strength of their candidate, Ram Raja, they advised Girija to put forward the name of Dr. Ram Baran, which subsequently united three different parties of disparate character: the rightist Nepali Congress, the centrist (somewhat leftist) UML and the identity based Forum.
The result of the presidential election has encouraged anti-Maoist forces as the President could play an important role in recalling or forming a new government if the Maoist lead government does not operate in line with their expectations. Besides the important ministries chosen, including political appointments in all institutions, particularly by the NC, the presidential election was the first defensive step against the Maoists winning streak since the peace process started. The new President Yadav will either play a neutral nationalist role or be slightly sympathetic towards the Maoists, as he said to Prachanda, “If you were not in Nepal, I wouldn’t be the first president” when Prachanda congratulated him immediately after the result.
In this presidential election, a crucial power game was played by the US in supporting the Forum, as there had been a high chance of cross-voting, similar to the actions of Madhesi and RPP parliamentarians 10-12 years back. In the Prachanda lead national government, the US can be satisfied only with the presidential result. However, India has won, as she was in favor of power sharing, with the Prime Minister to the largest party (the Maoists), the ceremonial president to the NC, and the chairperson of CA to the UML. Moreover, India is happier than the US as the Indian-origin Yadav became the first president of Nepal. He is a Madhesi from the (Tarai), a population that is less than one-third (31%) of the country, but won 34% of the CA membership.
Although the Maoists’ presidential candidate was defeated, they seemed successful in their mission to establish People’s War in this modern age and dragged all political parties, including the NC and UML into declaring a Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal and ousting the 450 year old (Drabya Shah – Gyanendra) monarchial kingdom. The Maoists are successful, as they achieved more than what they put forward in the 40-point political and democratic demands on February 13, 1996. However, it is not easy to either run the simple majority government and to draft a new constitution or stay in opposition the Maoists, due to unfavorable terrain: international, regional and internal. The only remedy is to form a national consensus government under the leadership of Prachanda. Meanwhile, the US has not detached the label of Terrorist Body on the Terrorist Exclusion list and Specially Designated Nationals list from the CPN (Maoist) till date. One would wish it were removed soon.
Both NC and UML won, as the NC had a member elected as first president and the UML’s chairperson was elected on consensus unanimously. This is despite the NC plus UML having just 221 CA members; 5 less than the Maoists’ 226 members. The MJF attained the highest achievement among all. Having just 52 members in the CA, their vice-presidential candidate, Paramananda Jha, was elected, and the president is from the Madhes. Unfortunately, both winners are males.
The greatest looser this time is China again. China was a silent spectator rather than a wielder from political to economic influence. Even in the past, the NC-led government sold all industries to the private, granted by China in bread-and-butter cost, but China was silent despite intensive public debate and scrutiny over whether they had sold at a cheaper price than the commission they received. China seems to always turn a deaf ear to Nepalese internal politics, either because of a very loose intelligence network in Nepal, or an entirely dominant RAW. Nepalis believe that Nepal is sandwiched by India only, not by China. China’s silence may also come from the Maoists’ regular clandestine meetings with Indian leaders, diplomats, and dignitaries. As China’s close ally, the monarchy, was recently ousted, she might be confused on her political stand in Nepal. The forthcoming Olympic games may be drawing her attention. However, if the confusing policy of China to Nepal is continued, Nepal may lose faith in her. In that case, she may be in trouble in the future owing to a nuclear deal between India and the US.
Ram Baran was the fourth choice of president for Girija. Girija first proposed Ram Chandra Poudel for a presidential candidate, but he said that he was not interested in leaving active party politics or being a candidate in a likely defeat. Then Girija proposed Ram Sharan Mahat and Kirshna Sitaula, but both refused. Finally Girija proposed to Ram Baran and he absolutely accepted it, thus becoming the first president of Nepal. Indeed, it is a victory of the Nepali people as they are freed from struggling against autocratic monarchial rule at each 10-year of interval, as in the past.
While the Maoists appeared to be the largest force in the CA, national forces including the NC and UML put forward the proposal to amend the existing two-thirds constitutional provision to appoint and dismiss the PM by simple majority on the advice of international anti-Maoists forces. Girija, who had been heading both state and government under the two-thirds majority, was accepted by all without any doubt. The bitterness sharpened between the Maoists and anti-Maoists forces as the latter forces compelled the Maoists to amend the simple majority rule into the IC. It is understandable to all that incorporation of simple majority in the constitutional provision leaves no room for national consensus in government, decision making process and understandings, and breaks the historical alliance of the parties into majority and minority factions. The presidential election and its results are the product of majority “win” and minority “loss” in democratic practice. Not to have the consensus anymore isn’t the fault of the Maoists, but the fault of a myopic, feudal and self-centered mindset. Nepal has a long witness after 1990 that the political players still hope to provide oranges to the people from lemon seedlings.
Due to the four month long wrestling of Presidential and Prime Ministerial positions, the anti-Maoist forces succeeded to polarize the Maoists unified party into Prachanda, Kiran, and Baburam factions. The Maoist shall revitalize its energy of unity again if it stays opposition political force in the CA rather than lead the Government of Nepal either national consensus or simple majority form.
Author: Bishnu Pathak PhD and edited by: Neil Horning
Assisted by: Chitra Niraula, Rushma Shakya, Rita Chaudhary, Man Pd. Neupane ‘Manish’, Ganga Puri and Meena Siwakoti