Keep him busy

  • Without a larger role in constitution writing, Prachanda could easily drift towards the extremist line of Mohan Baidya
Keep him busy

Jul 7, 2014-

Despite his repeated attempts, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has failed to take leadership of the High Level Political Committee (HLPC). His party, the UCPN (Maoist), obstructed parliamentary proceedings for a week for ostensibly the same purpose. Ever since the November 19 election, Dahal had seemed keen to assume leadership of the HLPC in order to continue his hold on the political process. Towards this end, his party, the UCPN (Maoist) even obstructed parliamentary proceedings for a week. But no avail.

Dahal and the Maoists

After failing to take the reins of the cross-party mechanism, which was supposed to guide the overall peace and constitution-writing process, Dahal tried a different tack, forging a working alliance with four smaller Maoist parties, including Mohan Baidya’s CPN-Maoist. He seems to believe that it will consolidate his bargaining power while negotiating with the bigger parties—the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML—in the Constituent Assembly (CA).

Now, Dahal is busy to coming up with a common position on key contentious issues of the new constitution with the Maoist alliance while simultaneously rousing them to hit the streets in protest. Dahal thinks that if these parties hit the streets highlighting the constitutional agenda, he can gain an upper hand in the negotiation process.

But there are fears in some quarters that the alliance could have an adverse effect on Dahal instead. The four smaller Maoist parties have long opposed the broader political process and particularly the CA. Given his capricious nature, Dahal might conclude at any time that it is not possible to draft a new constitution that wil incorporate the agendas of the UCPN (Maoist) through the CA. These suspicions are not without basis. Dahal has said that he had made several mistakes since joining the peace process and that some of the agendas raised by the CPN-Maoist were valid and justified. Even after the CA election, Dahal publicly warned that the UCPN (Maoist) could abandon the ongoing peace process if the NC and UML

try to pass a constitution on the basis of their majority presence in the House.

Even in Parliament, Dahal has often warned that there will be grave consequences if the NC and UML try to sideline the UCPN (Maoist). Dahal believes that the 12-point understanding and other cross-party agreements have underlined the fundamental principles of the constitution and that parties should move ahead accordingly.

At the same time, Dahal has been saying that there is no meaning to drafting a new constitution with the CPN-Maoist and other parties outside the CA. It is almost certain that if a new constitution is drafted, the CPN-Maoist will be obviously excluded; parties went to November polls on this understanding.

Why Baidya?

The question being asked of Dahal now is that if the CPN-Maoist’s induction into the peace process was inevitable, why agree to hold the November 19 election without the party’s presence? Party colleague Narayan Kaji Shrestha and NC and UML leaders were flexible on postponing the election date to bring the CPN-Maoist on board, as the party’s participation was important. But Dahal issued assurance to the contrary, convincing everyone that the CPN-Maoist would not join the election process.  

All these statements seem to indicate that Dahal is not serious about drafting a new constitution. Rather, he is contemplating how to regain the position that he had in the first CA.

In recent times, Dahal feels that his role has been minimised and that ruling parties are trying to isolate him. Aiming to lead the HLPC, he even let Baburam Bhattarai lead the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (PDCC), a powerful committee of CA. Now, he complains that some ‘forces’ installed Bhattarai in a key position of constitution drafting while denying him any such roles. Leaders close to Dahal say that Bhattarai too does not seem to be cooperating to form an HLPC under Dahal’s leadership.  

In addition, there is strong pressure from the party rank-and-file for unification with the CPN-Maoist. Unification before statute drafting means that the position of the unified Maoist party on issues related to the new constitution would be even more rigid, leaving limited space for compromise with big parties.

Nip it in the bud

Though the UCPN (Maoist) has been relegated to third position in the CA, it is a vital part of the peace process. Dahal, therefore, should be entrusted with a major responsibility in constitution drafting while Dahal himself should also make a commitment to the ongoing peace and constitution-drafting process. He should commit to work on the new constitution even if splinter groups do not support the process.

It would be best if the ruling parties sought some way to provide Dahal with a role. As a signatory to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Dahal’s participation in the drafting of a new constitution is key. It might thus be better to form an HLPC and give its leadership to Dahal without infringing on the jurisdiction of CA.

If this is not possible, parties should seek to adjust. Lately, some NC leaders have proposed forming a special committee within the PDCC comprising of the top leaders of all parties to work on contentious issues of the new constitution. This committee could be headed by Dahal. The body would be akin to the dispute resolution sub-committee of the previous CA, which settled some contentious issues under Dahal’s leadership.

To speed up the constitution drafting process, Dahal’s full support is needed as he still heads the UCPN (Maoist). Without Dahal’s support, Bhattarai alone cannot do anything in the PDCC. And there are strong voices inside the UCPN (Maoist) arguing that the CA cannot be allowed to promulgate a new constitution that does not reflect the party’s agenda.

The parties cannot allow Dahal to drift towards Baidya’s extremist line for the sake of peace and constitution. NC and UML leaders say that Dahal can demonstrate flexibility on key issues, which would be useful in the statute-drafting process. Dahal’s changed positions on some constitutional agendas and his recent policy towards India indicates that he will not hesitate to take up an extreme line if he feels increasingly marginalised in the CA.


Bhattarai is with the political desk at the Post   

Published: 08-07-2014 09:19

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