OPINION

Nepal: A New Dawn and Some Scepticism

February 06, 2007
Rahul Bhonsle

Nepal - A New Constitution

The tensions over the draft interim constitution and forming a provisional government evident in the first fortnight of the month were rapidly diffused. The 330 member interim parliament began its inaugural session on 15 January at Kathmandu.

The composition of the parliament included 83 members from the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M). The Maoists were set to join the government after completion of process of deposition of arms by end January under United Nations supervision. The interim house will be subsequently replaced by a Constituent Assembly with elections being held in June.

The key Maoist leaders including Prachanda, Baburam Bhattari, Badal, CP Gakurel and Mohan Vaidya chose to remain out of the government with Krishna Bahadur Mahara nominated as the new leader of the Party in the House and is likely to be the Deputy Prime Minister. Maoists conceded the posts of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker to the current incumbents based on their stellar performance in restoring the annulled house.

The speed with which the process of politicization has been undertaken in Nepal needs consideration. The House of Representatives was revived on 2 May 2006 and drafting of a new interim constitution undertaken. A comprehensive peace agreement or CPA was drafted between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists on 21 November. The Constitution was finalized and adopted on 15 January in the morning by the old House of Representatives and the new house met for the first time in the afternoon on the same day. Under the interim Constitution, the Prime Minister is to have dual powers of executive and head of state.

The power struggle by the Maoists which started in Rolpa in February 1996 seems to have culminated with a power sharing arrangement in less than eleven years in January 2007.

The cost of the revolution has been over 13,000 dead. Nepal's polity despite the unification denoted in acceptance of the interim constitution remains fractious. The royalists though marginalized for the time being continue to hold sway over public opinion which can raise an ugly head at some time in the future. Rumblings were already evident with the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party leaders dissatisfied due to lack of discussion on the interim constitution before the assembly.

Distribution of power within the seven party alliance and between the SPA and the communists could result in a struggle in the future. The growing discontentment amongst Maoist cadres is another issue which needs to be addressed by the central leadership.


Terai and Hill Divide

Another violent wave and civic unrest in Nepal was evident with the rise of the Madhesis. Violence between the Maoist rebels and locals belonging to the MJF broke out in some areas such as the Siraha district on 21 January. when communist rebels are said to have opened fire killing one person. This was followed by police firing in Lahan where two people were reportedly killed. This is part of the division between the people of the hills and the plains or the Terai who are complaining of discrimination.

Madhesis allege discrimination and launched an agitation which followed immediately after the interim constitution came into being. The Madhesis called for a general strike in Southern Nepal which virtually paralyzed movement in the country given that all activity from the South is undertaken through the Madhesi dominated area.

The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) has been called for negotiations by the government however the crisis is likely to continue in the days ahead. Splinter groups as the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) led by Jwala Singh and Jay Krishna are also active for restoring parity for the people of the Terai. The Madhesis are dominant community in the Terai which imposes on the access from India to the hilly and mountainous region in the North. Thus agitation by the MJF will have a major impact on the economy of Nepal even affecting availability of daily requirements.

Law and Order

The process of surrender and registration of weapons under supervision of UN observers commence in Nepal on 17 January. The total weapons with the Maosits are reported to be between 6000 - 6500 and is likely to be completed by end January. The first registration was reported from Chitwan district location of 3 PLA Division which is reported to be the largest unit with 6000 soldiers. Reports indicate that there are five brigades under the 3 PLA.

Six other sites will also see commencement of the registration process including the 4 Division in Nawalparasi. The terms of the arms surrender agreement permit the Maoists to retain 30 arms for security of the seven main camps and 15 arms for the 21 satellite camps. (Anirban Roy, Hindustan Times, 18 January 2007).

Police stations recommenced work of enforcing law and order on 10 January which caused some crisis as the local Maoists and in some parts rebels continued to prevent functioning of the police stations. A police station in Western Nepal at Patbhar, Bardiya District came under attack by Maoists on 21 January. This is reported to be the third attack on police posts in a week and seriously undermined the authority of the central leadership. (Anirban Roy, Hindustan Times, 22 January 2007).

The JTMM is also obstructing the restoration of law and order. The local troubles may see crisis ahead which will come to a boil unless it is brought under effective control.

Economic Activity

The key to restoration of the situation in Nepal is not only parliamentary political activity but also providing an economic momentum to the country where more than 40 percent of the population is seen to live below the poverty line. While other poor states in South Asia are showing rapid signs of economic progress including Bangladesh and crisis strewn Sri Lanka, Nepal continues to languish economically.

India and Indian industrialists will play a major role in this revival. The Indian state communications services provider BSNL is already planning to lay out an fiber optic gateway to Nepal which will enhance telecommunications connectivity to the land locked state.

However the Maoists seem to be averse to an Indian role in the economic revival. The trade union lobby in Nepal led by the All Nepal Trade Union Federation (Revolutionary) is attempting to derive maximum benefit from the Maoist hold over power in the state and reports indicate that a 15 point demand has been given to Indian companies.

Thus there have been reports of Dabur Nepal a prominent herbal and medicinal drugs company announcing intention of closure of a unit in Banepa, Kavre district. The Birgunj unit of the company is already locked out in April 2006 (Anirban Roy, Hindustan Times, 4 January 2007). Some of the other companies targeted include Nepal Unilever, Pepsi and Surya as per the report.

Rahul K Bhonsle is a veteran soldier and security analyst based in South Asia, specializing in strategic risk prediction, future warfare and human security. He has a number of publications to his credit and is also Editor of South Asia Security Trends, a monthly trend analyser on South Asia. His web site is www.security-risks.com and can be contacted at rkbhonsle@gmail.com
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