Change is afoot in Nepal. The possibility that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or CPN(M), will become the single largest party in the 601-member constituent assembly is now very real. Contrary to expectations, the party seems to have done well even in places where it was not expected to do so.
Although final results are not expected till 20 April, so far the clear lead taken by CPN(M)?shows the electorate’s disenchantment with established parties, including the moderate Left parties.
The Maoist upsurge should not be seen as some kind of revolutionary upheaval. The fact is that Nepal has been badly governed: From 1990 to 2002, the country saw 13 governments. This while poverty, conflict and poor growth continued to afflict Nepal. The pattern of poverty, urban versus rural, sheds some light on the political dynamics of the country. While urban poverty declined from 21.55% to 9.55% from 1995-96 to 2003-04, rural poverty declined much more slowly from 43.27% to 34.62%. It’s not surprising that Maoist appeal is strong in rural areas, especially in western Nepal where rural poverty is much more pronounced.
Which way is Nepal headed? On the one hand, the Maoists dream of creating a new Nepal, one that is a republican, federal and egalitarian democracy. On the other hand, their urge for an executive presidential model betrays impatience with the twists and turns that accompany democracy. In fact, a top Maoist leader, Baburam Bhattarai, has said that his party was in favour of “real democracy” and not “formal democracy”. In Marxist settings this usually spells trouble, though it’s a bit early to say which way things go.
At the moment, observers in India are watching the results with apprehension. CPN(M) has often talked about “Indian imperialism”. Concerns over river water sharing and scrapping the 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty of peace and friendship have been the staple of Maoist rhetoric. These, along with security issues, have raised concerns in India. Hopefully it will remain at that only. The realities of being in power and the severe geographic constraints that Nepal faces should give pause to Maoists before they embark on a reckless course.
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