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CRUCIAL MOMENT

Even if rebels cannot change a regime , they can leave it in tatters. The Maoists in Nepal seem to have succeeded in throwing most institutions in the country into disarray. Their latest offensives, which killed over 100 policemen on two successive days, have once more underscored the danger the tiny Himalayan kingdom faces. It cannot be any consolation for the authorities that hundreds of rebels too were killed in recent weeks. The number of casualties on both sides has been staggering. But far more significant is the threat to the Nepalese society and all its institutions. This is the most dangerous aspect of the Maoist rebellion because it seeks to achieve precisely this kind of destabilization. Overthrowing the monarchy is only part of the rebels’ plan to establish a communist republic in Nepal. There is thus no scope for confusing the Maoists’ political aim with that of the pro-democracy movement of the late Eighties. The Maoists want to destroy not only the constitutional monarchy but also the multi-party democracy that replaced the palace-sponsored panchayat system of governance in 1990. It is not difficult to see why the Maoists have stepped up their violence in recent weeks. They obviously want to take advantage of the withdrawal of the state of emergency that had been imposed earlier. More important, they want to exploit the constitutional confusion that might arise if another spell of emergency is imposed and the national elections, scheduled to begin in November, are postponed.

The prime minister, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, faces difficult choices. He must avoid a constitutional crisis emanating from the absence of an elected parliament. Yet he may have to extend the emergency to create the right conditions for polls. But the main opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), does not want the emergency to be extended. During elections, it is likely to cynically exploit the excesses by the police and the army in order to score poll points against Mr Deuba. His problems are compounded by factionalism in the Nepali Congress party, whose working committee expelled him sometime back for imposing the emergency without its approval. These are, however, small problems compared to the cycle of blood-letting unleashed by the Maoists. Mr Deuba’s first priority, therefore, must be to foil the rebels’ destabilization game. The CPN(UML) should stand by him to save hard-won democratic politics in Nepal. If the democratic system survives the Maoist menace, there will be other opportunities to fight it out at the hustings. All democratic parties in Nepal should support Mr Deuba in this crucial battle and in his attempts to garner support from China and India for it.

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