A political and constitutional crisis of sorts was averted in Nepal last week when the three biggest parties — the Maoists, the Nepali Congress, and the Unified Marxists-Leninists — agreed to extend the life of the Constituent Assembly (CA) by another year. Under the interim statute adopted after the overthrow of the monarchy, the CA's term was set to expire on May 28, 2010, the assumption being that two years was sufficient time to write the new constitution. In the light of the interminable squabbling among the big three, that goal turned out to be hopelessly ambitious. But what guarantee is there that the new deadline of 2011 will be met? So far, at least, the outlook is not very promising. The three-point agreement on the basis of which the CA's life was extended spoke of forming “as soon as possible… [a] national consensus government.” It also states the following: “We would like to make it clear that the prime minister of the present coalition government is ready to resign without delay.” Despite this explicit commitment, reports from Kathmandu suggest that Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is unwilling to resign. Though the agreement says no such thing, his supporters are suggesting that Mr. Nepal's resignation is conditional on the Maoists delivering on various promises of the past such as returning all properties seized by their landless supporters during the insurgency. In the light of this refusal, the Maoists have threatened an agitation. In the words of Yogi Berra, it seems like déjà vu all over again.
Given the deep political divisions in Nepal, it is obvious that the constitution will not be settled until and unless a national consensus government is formed with the full participation of the Maoists, the Nepali Congress (NC), and the UML. As the single largest party, the Maoists would be best suited to lead this government but this does not mean the former rebels are not obliged to deliver on all their commitments and promises. Plagued by internal divisions, the UML and the NC are unable to rejuvenate themselves at the grassroots. Lacking the capacity to fight the Maoists politically, they have taken to lobbying with the Indian government and the old security establishment as a means of strengthening themselves. None of this is going to help. The UML-led coalition failed to complete the constitution by last week's deadline and will fail again by 2011. At this sensitive juncture, Indian policy towards Nepal needs to avoid the misjudgments and mistakes of the past: the best course will be to endorse the three-point agreement calling for the resignation, without delay, of Mr. Nepal, and the speedy establishment of a national consensus government.