A month long Maoists-army standoff came to an end on Monday when the Nepalese government fired army general Rookmangud Katuwal. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka Prachanda) resigned as two major coalition parties, United Marxists and Leninists (UML), and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) withdrew from the government and the ceremonial President Ram Baran Yadav reinstated the army general. The fresh crisis is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Himalayan nation since the peace process began in 2006. Nepal now slides into an uncertain future.
Maoists and UML deemed the president's move to intervene in state affairs unconstitutional. Nepal's interim constitution in 2007 states that the president is ceremonial and is a titular head of the Nepalese army. Prime Minister Prachanda, in his address to the nation, stated that "there is an urgent need for ending the dual regime created through unconstitutional measures." Prachanda said that the supremacy of people must prevail and the army must be under the control of the government, not the president. Immediately after prime minister's resignation, Maoists filed a case against the president's move in the Supreme Court and decided to launch nationwide protests to pressure the president to withdraw his decision and sack General Katuwal. Moreover, Maoists are also planning on bringing a motion in the parliament to impeach the president. Even the civil society has condemned the president's move as unconstitutional and vowed to take the fight in the street. President Yadav issued a statement defending his move as a temporary provision to avert crisis in the country. The crisis comes at a time when the country is in the process of writing a new constitution.
The Maoists see chief of army (COA) Rookmangud Katuwal as an aspiring autocrat clinging to the last vestiges of a dead-old monarchial system. His first crime was to defy the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN)'s mandate not to recruit new soldiers, which also goes against the 12-point peace agreement signed by the political parties back in 2006. Prime Minister Prachanda argued that when an institution within the government fails to submit itself to the rules agreed upon they ought to be punished. The interim constitution specifically mentions that the army is under the control of the democratically elected government. Thus their mobilization solely rests on the government. The army withdrew from the national games, held last month in Kathmandu, without the order from the government. They do not have the power and right to act on their own. It appears that our military is acting as a very different sovereign institution with its own power and mandate.
Having been subjected to the King's whimsical orders and wishes, the COA finds it hard to comprehend with the government which was elected with overwhelming majority. The political system has changed but the old guards disguising in new fashion carry the age-old superior complex that has dogged our ruling elites for ages. The government saw the army challenging the authority and the power of the sovereignty of the people. The army's decision to disregard the government orders was a challenge to the new Republic state. When such situations arise then it is the right time for government to pull the strings and take control of the state of affairs. Many saw government's as a way to set up a precedent so that nobody will, in the future, act above the law.
Nepal's crisis seems to have troubled Delhi. The Indian media reports were blaming their government for inaction. India Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood has, for the last few days, has been pressuring the Nepali government to not to sack the army general. Prachanda in his address to the nation said, "I will quit government rather than remain in power by bowing down to the foreign elements and reactionary forces." Prachanda's move was a thumping on India's constant meddling on Nepal's internal affairs. India has been wary of Nepal's Maoists unusual coziness with Beijing. Delhi was not happy when then Prime Minister Prachanda was in China, as his first foreign visit since assuming power, for the closing ceremony of the Olympics games. Historically, Nepalese Prime Ministers have been visiting India as the first official abroad tour.
Meanwhile, the political parties minus the Maoists have started the consultations to form a new government. UML, the party that was badly defeated in April 2008 elections, has showed eagerness to lead the new government. Nepali Congress, the second largest party in the parliament, is supporting the UML in the process. But many speculate if the coalition government can function without the support of the Maoists, which won the majority of seats in the elections.
Moreover, Nepalese people fear that the country might slide into civil war. More than 19,000 Maoists soldiers have been placed in cantonments in different parts of the country under the supervision of UNMIN. The guerilla soldiers have threatened to walk out from the camp and be ready for war, if necessary. Baburam Bhattarai, the senior Maoists leader, said that the president's action was a constitutional coup derailing the peace process. The Maoists have been accusing general Katuwal as the last vestiges of the monarchial regime who was adamantly opposed to integrating Maoists guerillas into Nepal Army. Katuwal argued that politically indoctrinated soldiers cannot remain under the strict regulations and would bring about political divisiveness in the army.
The lawlessness, rampant violence, and stagnant economy have crippled the lives of ordinary citizens for the last decade. After the historic transformation of our political system the institutions within its sphere were expected to abide by the changes and behave accordingly. To everyone's dismay, leaders did not feel the need to do so. Nepal has once again been a leaderless nation. With nationwide protests and strikes called upon by the Maoists it is hard to speculate the political developments in the country.