The Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba has taken over as the Prime Minister at a crucial time in the history of the landlocked country that is sandwiched between India and China. The days ahead would put the deftness and political acumen of Deuba to test. He had already shown the grit, by announcing “Holding three sets of elections, endorsing the Constitution Amendment Bill, maintaining balanced relations with neighbouring India and China and economic prosperity through development by inviting foreign investment will be my top priorities.”
Local and provisional elections are round the corner for a while. The aspirations of marginalized groups need to reflect in the Statute. And above all the Republican Constitution has to be implemented without hick-ups. These are tough tasks. Yes, Deuba can count on the support of Maoist supremo, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, “Prachanda”, who had resigned on 24th May 2017. Prachanda’s was a brief stint of nine months but by stepping down, he has honoured the August 2016 agreement the two leaders had reached to share power till the term of present Parliament ends on Jan 21, 2018.
While coming days would put the deftness and political acumen of Deuba to test but, at the very first opportunity, he has shown the grit, by announcing in Parliament “Holding three sets of elections, endorsing the Constitution Amendment Bill, maintaining balanced relations with neighbouring India and China and economic prosperity through development by inviting foreign investment will be my top priorities.”
Deuba’s anointment as PM for the fourth time was not unanimous though he was the only candidate in the fray for the top job. Opposition Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist- UML) decided to vote against him; but Deuba had no difficulty to smoothly sail through the election process in the Nepali Legislature Parliament. In a House of 558-members, 388 members voted in his favour while 170 member strong UML and 35 others belonging to fringe parties abstained from voting.
Deuba received support from the 25-member Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, 15- member Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal, and Nepal Loktantrik Forum and the new Rashtriya Janata Party which six Madhes based parties have formed besides Prachanda – led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Some small parties also supported the NC chief’s tryst with the Prime Minister’s post for the fourth time.
Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal and the Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal have strong hold in the Madhes region that borders India. Both parties had entered into a 3 – point deal with Deuba and Dahal. These are the very parties that have been spearheading the agitation under the banner United Democratic Madhesi Front.
So much so, one expect easing of political tensions and full implementation of the new Constitution.
As pointed out at the outset, Nepal is rocked by demands for greater say in governance to ethnic and Madhes region based communities. Also to be honoured is the statutory obligation of completing the Second Phase of local elections and holding provincial and federal elections by January next year.
These tasks are a Prachanda legacy. The Maoist supremo could not muster the requisite two- third majority in Parliament. As a result he could not bring the Second Constitution Amendment Bill before Parliament, which seeks to fulfil some of the demands of agitating Madhes based parties.
The Madhesis, ethnic and Tharu communities and some minority groups have been on an agitation mode ever since the new Constitution was promulgated in September 2015. They even enforced a blockade of essential supplies from India for nearly five months. Their main demand: a cartographic exercise on provincial boundaries, and martyr status of police action during their agitation. They also want the government to withdraw cases registered against their cadres.
The Prachanda government conceded one significant Madhesi demand- hike in the number of local bodies. Accordingly, the number of local bodies in the Madhesi areas bordering India goes up by 22 from 744 to 766 units.
As things stand, it may not be difficult for Deuba to muster two third majority in Parliament to adopt any Constitution Amendment Bill without the support of the main opposition CPN (UML). This optimism stems from what appears to be softening in UML stand.
During his term as Prime Minister, the UML Chairman K. P. Sharma Oli was firmly opposed to amending the Constitution to appease the Madhesi parties. He has since said that his party is not anti Madhes. Speaking on the floor of Parliament the other day, he went to say that a smear campaign is going on to label his party as “an anti Madhes Party.”
The second phase of local elections, which are taking place in Nepal after a lapse of 20 years, will be held on 28 June in four provinces, No. 1, 2, 5 and 7, mainly Terai districts.
The first phase held on 14 May covered mainly the hill districts of provinces 3, 4 and 6. And recorded over 71 percent voting in a clear indication that people at large are eager to participate in the democratic process.
All parties and groups, who had boycotted the first phase should heed the signals from the ground, and should show their commitment to strengthening grass root democracy in the forthcoming second phase. On its part, the Deuba government should create a conducive atmosphere.
For the Madhesi leaders it would be difficult to go back to their people empty handed, without realizing their main demand of Constitution amendment but the situation warrants that they show their strength at the hustling. There are already ripples in their ranks. The Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal having a formidable strength in the Terai region has separated itself from the United Democratic Madhesi Front, now called the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal and has its own agenda.
The main opposition UML could take advantage of the situation. It could also be tempted to prolong the political turmoil to embarrass Prime Minister Deuba whose earlier stints were marked by distrust and mistrust.
Deuba’s first term as Prime Minister from 1995 to 1997 had given rise to peoples’ movement ‘Jan Andolan’ headed by the then underground firebrand Maoist leader Prachanda. In April 2002, during his second stint as Prime Minister (August 2001 – October 2002), his government declared Prachanda, Mohan Baidya and some other Maoist leaders as fugitives and set a reward on their head. Deuba became the PM for the third time in June 2004 but King Gyanendra charged him with incompetence, sacked him on February 1, 2005 and took over the reins himself.
Much water has since flown down the Ghaghra and Koshi. Jan Andolan has succeeded. All underground leaders have joined the national mainstream. Nepal has become a democratic, socialist Republic in the very first session of elected Parliament on 28th May 2008, deposing the 240 -year -old Monarchy.
The Terai region now expects that Deuba would not repeat the mistake he committed 20 years ago under pressure from the Palace. He would feel the pulse of the people and generate consensus on vital issues including implementation of the Constitution by taking all sections along.
Maoist chief Prachanda is on record to say that he wants to end all class, caste and gender barriers in the society. Under the 3-point deal reached with the Madhesi leaders, both Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre are committed to work for ending the grouse of the Madhesi people and bring them overboard. On its part the UML should factor in the changing scene and ponder over its own political base in the Terai region. In short, it must take a call on not adopting a rigid stand on the constitutional amendment.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese leadership have lost no time in congratulating Deuba on his election as Prime Minister. Modi rang up the Nepalese leader and wished him success in bringing about peace, prosperity and progress in Nepal, which New Delhi has always stood for. Sher Bahadur Deuba said: “As Prime Minister I will take forward international relations by cooperating with both the neighbours.”
By Rattan Saldi