As post-election commentators have pointed out, these results were a shock to all the elites, whether governmental policy-makers in India, the U.S. and Europe, or the media in Nepal and other countries. It is clear that these elites lived inside a bubble of their own, far removed from reality and what the actual voters wished and how they voted. In this, as in some other cases, the U.S. is in a class by itself as shown by the website of the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook (www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/np.html). This publication is supposed to present factual material on the economy, demography, governmental structure, etc. of all countries. However, as late as April 15, 2008, the date of the last revision on the Nepal page mentioned in the CIA Factbook (when this article was written), the CPN (M) was not even identified among Nepal’s Political parties! Instead it was identified as a “Political pressure group” along with such other forces as “small, left-leaning student groups” and “small, radical antimonarchist groups.” Clearly, this is not due to simple ignorance; the CIA mentions many microscopic political parties, some of which failed to gain any seats in the elections. Since the CPN (M) is regarded by the U.S. as a “terrorist” group it is a deliberate act of erasure on the lines of the false polling information distributed by the U.S. embassy in Nepal shortly before the election which purported to show the Maoists losing by a large margin to the NC and the CPN (UML).
However, it is not only the superpowers that thought they could change reality to conform to their own ideological predilections. The left-liberal, human-rights-before-all, do-gooder NGO community seems to have had a similarly blinkered vision, out of touch with that of the Nepalese people. In an article written after the results began to come in the editor of Himal Southasian magazine admitted that the forecast of analysts “including this writer’s projections” had “been turned on its head” and laments that “the people of Nepal seem to have kept their own counsel.” This writer described the Maoist victory as “a vote under duress” due to the people’s fear of resurgence of violence by the CPN (M) and also ascribed it to the Maoists’ “well-oiled campaign machinery worthy of a politico-military organization.” These statements appear to be another example of an exercise in self-delusion. It begs the question of why much older established parliamentary parties such as the Nepali Congress did not have well-oiled campaign machinery and flies in the face of all the evidence that has emerged since the election was concluded.
Unbiased observers have pointed out the main reason behind the CPN (M) victory - the people’s desire for fundamental change, getting rid of the rotten feudal monarchical system, and the belief that it was only the CPN (M) that could be trusted to bring this about. All the other major national parties had collaborated and compromised with the monarchy to a greater or lesser extent over the last two decades. While Gyanendra’s attempt to foist a dictatorial monarchy had ultimately forced a rupture with the mainstream political parties, which eventually led to the creation of the Seven Party Alliance, it is clear that only the Maoists were trusted by the vast majority of the people to make a clean break with the old system.
While the CPN (M) is by far the largest single party, with the seat results declared at the time of writing it is unclear if it will have an absolute majority in the Assembly comprised of both first-past-the-post and the proportional representation seats. It is possible that many of the cadres and, perhaps, even some elected representatives of the CPN (UML) may join CPN (M) but this is a matter of conjecture at this time. What is known is that CPN (M) has made a generous offer to the defeated parties to join in a coalition government for the next couple of years until the important matter of writing a new constitution and implementing a new governance structure is completed.
In an interview with Nepali journalists, the CPN (M) leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai stressed the need for all political parties to evolve a national consensus on four major issues: security, political structure, economy and international relations and foreign policy. The royalist Nepali Army, which has served as a tool of monarchical intrigue, needs to be thoroughly revamped and restructured and the former cadres of the CPN (M) who fought a guerrilla war for a decade as a Peoples Liberation Army have to be integrated into a new national army. Bhattarai pointed out that Nepal does not need a large army in the long-term, which would happen if the current army and the CPN (M) cadres were simply combined into one force, but this is a process that would take time. A similar restructuring would also be needed on the part of the bureaucracy and judiciary that have served as main props of the old regime.
The CPN (M) has declared its firm intention to abolish the 250 year old monarchy, the only “Hindu kingdom” in the world so beloved by the Sangh Parivar in India who have maintained a stunned silence on the Nepali election, and replace it by a democratic republic. Whether some die-hard royalist factions may want to stymie this is unclear at this stage, although their chances of success in Nepal’s current configuration would be very slight. The election results however bolster the CPN (M)’s position on this issue.
On the economy, CPN (M) has declared its intention of following a mixed public-private economy and encouraging domestic and foreign private investment in productive enterprises. Sandwiched between the fast-growing giant economies of China and India, Bhattarai indicated that a prerequisite to economic growth was the need to create political stability and a better investment atmosphere. In Bhattarai’s view, it will not be possible for Nepal to develop without greater investment and technological inputs to raise the productivity of Nepalese enterprises. This commonsense view, which has some resemblance to the industrial policy espoused by CPM in the state of West Bengal, is unlikely to be popular either among the Indian Maoists or the assorted small-is-beautiful environmental crowd.
In terms of foreign policy, re-negotiation of the terms of the current unequal Indo-Nepal Treaty will be supported by all sectors of Nepal’s popular opinion. After some initial fumbles, India has done the right thing by supporting the will of the Nepali people. It will be good if India is able to persuade the U.S. to drop its ill-conceived designation of the CPN (M) as a terrorist group. The Maoist leadership on its part has shown considerable maturity in its interaction with India and it is quite possible that a free, democratic, republican Nepal can become a vital bridge between India and China.