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Nepal: Maoists Take to the Streets for “Consensus”: Update No. 308

Note No. 734                                    Dated 05-Mar-2015

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

On 28 February, the 30 party alliance of the opposition led by the Maoists held a massive demonstration in Kathmandu to force the government to revert back to find a consensus in constitution drafting rather than take the route to finalise through voting in the constituent assembly.

It is estimated that between forty and fifty thousand people took to the streets.  The Maoists had brought in YCL cadres from the outlying districts and in a move reminiscent of Jana Andolan II, three columns led by Baburam Bhattarai from Kalanki, Narayan Kaji Shrestha from Tinkune and Barshaman Pun from Lgakhel closed in on the city.

While the Maoists called the demonstration peaceful, the YCL cadres carried bhatas (sharpened bamboos) and one group forced itself through the prohibited area in Baneshwar that resulted in Police action injuring over 40 persons.  Two innocent motor cycle bystanders were badly manhandled.  The cadres raised very provocative slogans.

All top leaders in the meeting that followed issued threats of a rebellion should the ruling parties continue with their current stand to get the constitution through a “questionnaire Committee” in the Parliament.  Maoist leader Dahal asked for “unconditional talks.”  Later in another meeting he threatened of a “parallel government.”

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala who is not known for firm decisions again called on the opposition for a dialogue on the contentious issues relating to the draft constitution.  On the other hand, the UML the ruling partner threatened to quit government if the Nepali Congress is not ready to push for the majority process in the constitution making.  They made it clear that there could be one last attempt to hold talks and if it does not yield results, the Constituent Assembly should initiate the process to decide the contentious issues of constitution writing through a vote.

Thus Sushil Koirala is facing a major crisis from the opposition as well from his own ruling partner to take a firm decision and go ahead with constitution making.

PM Koirala should understand the following:                                                                                                                       

1.  For all the bluff and bluster, the Maoists are not in a position to have sustained demonstrations of the type they showed on February 28. They cannot go back to the jungle either. Those ex PLA soldiers who were demobilised are angry with the Maoist leadership and will not join any movement either.

2.  The people in the valley have not taken kindly to the demonstrations and the supposed massive show of strength did not impress anybody.

3.  The demonstration was mainly by the Maoists and neither the Madhesis nor the Janajathis took part in the demonstration in large numbers.  Back in Terai, the people were not willing to go for any movement.  The Madhesi leadership itself is split with Upendra Yadav and Gachhadar pulling in different directions.  Terai is not ready for another Andolan. The Janajathi groups are scattered all over and will not  be in a position to have any sustained movement either. 

The Maoists have realised that their “massive demonstration” has not produced the desired results.  They are looking for an “escape route.”  Dr.  Babu ram Bhattarai was sent to India to apprise the Indian leaders of their position.  He met the foreign minister besides other leaders and top officials.  He met the Chief Minister of Delhi ( for reasons best known to him) as also the President of India!

All he got was a kind of a suggestion from India.  The Indian Foreign Minister suggested that “Nepal’s Political Parties should write the new constitution on the basis of a consensus and not with a majority in the constituent assembly.”

To me it looks that the Maoists are desperately looking for a face-saving formula and is unnecessarily involving India.  India should keep out just as Prime Minister Modi indicated during his first visit that it is for Nepal to decide on its internal issues and India will have nothing to do with it.

But the problem Sushil Koirala is facing is more from his coalition partner UML and particularly K.P.Oli the chairman of the UML.  Oli said that the suggestion to federate the country on the basis of ethnicity and separate Madhesh and Hill areas as “completely unacceptable.”

What Oli fails to understand is that ethnic identity is a legitimate issue in Nepal and cannot be wished away.  The only issue that is really contentious ( the rest can be managed) is the configuration of the provinces and particularly on the issue of five districts of Jhapa, Sunsari, Biratnagar in the east and Kailali ad Kanchanpur in the west. 

If Oli is keen not to have pure Terai and Hill districts why doesn’t he suggest the merger of one or two hill districts with the Terai Provinces? 

Surely a way can be found.