Journalist Siddharth Varadarajan was in Nepal for the past couple of weeks, covering the recent Constituent Assembly elections there first-hand, and he’s written some marvelously informative articles about where the country seems to be going at this decisive moment of reformulation.
In a piece published in The Hindu on April 16, Varadarajan argued that the recent Maoist victory in Nepal might end up as a good thing for both Nepal and India:
By the time of the Jan Andolan of 2006, it was the Maoist demand for an end to the monarchy and the election of a Constituent Assembly which had captured the imagination of the people, even if the Maoists were not at the head of the mass movement in Kathmandu.
Over the past two years, the Maoists succeeded in pushing the envelope further, winning popular acceptance for their slogans of an inclusive, federal republic as well as for a more equitable voting system. Nepalâ€™s political elite and sections of the Indian establishment who feared losing control of the entire process sought to derail the momentum the former rebels had built up. The proposal for a fully proportional election system was blocked and the Madhesi agitation encouraged as a means of weakening the Maoists. None of these efforts succeeded. The Maoists contested the CA election as the creators of the new mainstream. And it is hardly surprising that the people of Nepal should have chosen them to lead the process of writing the countryâ€™s constitution. (link)
This goes against the conventional thinking on Maoists, who in other parts of Asia have tended to be more comfortable as guerilla fighters/terrorists than as fair leaders in democratic republics. From the rest of the article, I gather that Varadarajan trusts them because 1) the other political parties in Nepal have thoroughly discredited themselves over the years (read the article for more), and 2) since coming above-ground, the Maoist leadership (Prachanda) has behaved in ways that suggest it really is committed to the democratic process, including cooperation with other parties. I must confess that despite Varadarajan’s work I remain uneasy about this — Maoists just do not have a good track record in terms of human rights, anywhere in the world. (I first wrote about the Maoist ceasefire in December 2006.)
I would also recommend an earlier article by Varadarajan from just before the elections (April 6), where he explains the ethnic/communal tensions that are part of this story. (The Maoists have traditionally supported the Madhesis, who are ethnically ‘Indian,’ but who have in the past been the victims of discrimination by the Nepalese majority. Recently, however, there have been conflicts between the Maoists and armed/militant Madhesi groups.)