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King Gyanendra on notice

The King was in the counting house counting out his money but unlike the blackbirds in the nursery rhyme that hit back at a palace servant, Nepal's political parties and the Maoists have pecked off the royal nose. The pact between the seven-party alliance and the Maoists setting out the common goal of a Constituent Assembly is a significant victory for democratic forces. It has effectively put King Gyanendra and the monarchy on notice. It has provided much needed direction to the agitation against his unconstitutional and autocratic regime. The King, who usurped executive powers after sacking the Sher Bahadur Deuba Government in February 2005, clearly wants to take the country back to an absolute monarchy. Until now, he was confident of achieving this by playing the political parties and the Maoists against each other. That tactic appears to have passed its use-by date. The agreement between the seven-party alliance, which includes the Nepali Congress and the United Marxist-Leninist — the country's two biggest parties — and the Maoists is to establish "total democracy" through elections to a Constituent Assembly for drafting a new Constitution. For the first time, the Maoists have committed themselves to a democracy. For the first time too, the political parties have shown themselves ready to rewrite the 1990 Constitution in a way that could mean the end of the constitutional monarchy.

The democratic political parties and the Maoists still have several differences and, as the veteran Nepali Congress leader, Girija Prasad Koirala, puts it, the agreement reached is "an understanding, not a working alliance." The political parties have ruled out a joint struggle until the extremists disarm. What seems more realistic is an extension by the Maoists of their three-month ceasefire due to end on December 13. Thus far, an akratic King Gyanendra has not responded to the truce. But the changed circumstances could force a rethink at Narayanhiti Palace. The question at this stage is whether he has any alternative to conceding the just demand for a Constituent Assembly. The next step for the Maoists and the democratic political parties is to chart a common road map to that goal, so that their differences do not lend themselves to be turned into opportunities for the King to perpetuate his calamitous rule. If India has indeed played a role in bringing about the agreement between the two sides (as reports suggest), then some points in the pact, such as a role for the United Nations in supervising the Constituent Assembly elections, represent an increasing acceptance by New Delhi of international or multilateral involvement in conflict-resolution in the region, beginning with the Norwegian intervention in Sri Lanka. The breakthrough political agreement in Nepal raises another interesting question. Does the agreement in Nepal hold any implications for Naxalite movements from Andhra Pradesh to Bihar?

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