After more than a year of flak at the hands of the main opposition, the one-time ‘puppet’ Prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal received a standing ovation from the Maoist combatants at Shaktikhor camp last month.
The combatants were handed over to the special committee headed by him, despite a last-minute postponement of the flag handover.
Four days after the grand function at Shaktikhor Prime minister proposed Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ as the new consensus prime minister. This alone will give the country a solution, he said.
To many others, the sudden bonhomie between the one-time sworn enemies came as a big mystery.
Some Nepali Congress leaders termed this a result of the secret pact that served the interests of the two leaders.
On the surface, it looked like a major breakthrough in ending the long-running political stalemate and removing the hurdle in the peace process and the constitution making.
This many believe would also bring about political stability in the country four months ahead of the constitution-deadline.
But soon there had been signs that all was not well.
The atmosphere began to take a different turn after the Gokarna resort meeting.
This was explained in no uncertain terms by none other than Prachanda himself. At a function in the eastern district, Sunsari.
“External forces (read India) are bent on stopping me from becoming the prime minister again.”
He said that even the planned Feb 6 elections are less likely to break the PM election stalemate despite the recent amendments to the election regulations.
“A conspiracy is on,” he said.
The same day, Prachanda’s rival in the party and a PM- aspirant Baburam Bhattarai expressed the same doubt.
“Other political parties are hatching a conspiracy to stop the Maoists from leading the new government.” He said.
At the root of the crisis is the same old problem. The problem of mutual mistrust.
All the three major parties see each other with deep suspicions.
Said a senior Nepali Congress leader, “No matter what agreement is forcibly reached on completing the peace process, we will chart own strategy on power-sharing.”
This means the Nepali Congress will not be willing to back the Maoists regain the seat of power even if the Maoists show sincerity in peace process.
“Peace process and the power-sharing are two different things.”
Even if the three parties show sincerity, they are one on a possible Maoist leadership.
The UML is ready to accept the Maoist leadership once the number of the combatants and the modality and the time-frame of their integration and management are agreed.
The Nepali Congress believes the real process can be considered to have begun only after the Maoist weapons are handed over to the state, while keeping the combatants in the cantonment under the special committee.
The Maoists say, all these can be done only after a new government led by them is put in place.
To make the matters worse, the major parties’ mutual suspicion is accompanied by the Prime minister Nepal’s proposition to accept Prachanda as his successor, which has brought about an unlikely commonality in the voice of the former candidates – the Nepali Congress’ Ram Chandra Poudel and the UML’s Jhalnath Khanal.
UML general secretary Iswor Pokharel who is eyeing deputy prime minister ship with the coveted home portfolio under a non-UML-headed government says, “Madhav Nepal’s proposal to make Prachanda the new prime minister is a good move which has been appreciated by all at the Gokarna resort meeting.”
Pro-Prachanda Maoist leader Barsha Man Pun ‘Ananta’ also believes that his party chairman can become the prime minister on the basis of what he called a ‘positive proposal’ of prime minister Nepal.
Senior Maoist leader, Top Bahadur Rayamjhi, who belongs to Baburam Bhattarai faction, however, points out that the party has not officially named its candidate. A clear challenge to Prachanda’s aspirations and tacit support to Bhattarai’s bid.
Throwing cold waters to the Maoist dreams is a one-time Maoist symapthiser and Nepali Congress leader Krishna Sitaula, “Now is the time for the Maoists to immediately complete the peace process,” which, he says, can be expedited under a Congress-led government. “Once the process is completed, the Maoists can take over the reins.”
Nepali Congress leaders suspect that prime minister Nepal and Prachanda have reached agreement to make the latter the new executive chief of the country.
But the ‘suspected’ agreement appears unlikely to be put in practice with the other factions of the two parties and the Nepali Congress holding serious reservations.
The integration and management of the 19000 combatants and the handing over of their weapons ahead of the prime minister’s election is impossible.