Tika P. Dhakal

Political Observer, Nepal


The current political change of Nepal, like the past ones, has emerged through negotiations between competing ideologies, conflicting projections for future course, and contesting models of the future political system. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) put a curb on the goal of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. This period was the most turbulent political phase in the nation’s history. The transitional arrangements of governance failed to herald genuine peace and the UCPN-M and other parties remained locked in conflicts and confrontations. Although the civil society actors often facilitated communication and dialogues among the parties and between the parties and insurgents, their role did not appear consistent on agenda setting for which one could cite more than one reason.

The rise of UCPN-M as the single largest party in the CA election has unnerved many. For four months, the party was denied government formation until the rule of the game was shifted from consensus to a majority-based one. Civil society groups, upon whom Nepali people pinned high hopes in the beginning, could not exert pressure on the political leaders to correct their political path. Though this period brought some positive changes promising to engage all actors in the peace process, internal and external elements have been at play to stall the peace process. The major change is that UCPN-M has now cooled off and has started coming to terms with limitations in the use of violence as a means of achieving its political goal of People’s Republic. Other mainstream political parties had an opportunity for self-reflection and also for engaging with the Maoists to shape Nepal’s future political course. This has opened a new window for the convergence of interests amidst all the contradictions. That said, however, rhetoric and reality still play a large role in Nepali politics. Against such a background, this paper tries to explain the underpinnings of Nepal’s protracted peace process and the role civil society has played taking into consideration the internal as well as external political dynamics.


Nepal’s political transition suffers from a chronic contradiction between the rhetoric and the reality. The political change in 1990 provided ample space for the growth of civil society organizations, professional associations, pressure groups, media, trade unions, public interest-based NGOs, and other interest articulators. Transition to post-1990 democracy was comparatively easy with timely completion of the constitutional and electoral processes. But people’s aspirations for freedom from poverty, faster development, and good governance remained unfulfilled. Contradictions among the political actors built up with heightened competition of power and resources. Real issues were marooned as instability ruled the roost (Galtung, 2003: 108-132). The control of power by elites in the center distanced politics from the people even as disparity broadened between the rich and the poor and the cities and the villages. The Maoist People’s War, in which a large section of the first participants were from the Kham Magar group, women, and Dalits (Chaulagain and Kandel, 2010), started from the most underprivileged areas of the Midwestern region.

People’s long suffering found refuge in the communist ideology because the existing state machinery remained indifferent to their condition.

After the much hyped change of 2006, the elements connecting the society are now fraying. The social scene reveals stark disparity between the rhetoric and the reality (Upreti, 2010: 40-2). The peace dividends have been denied in the mismatch of protracted transition and political tactics, a mismatch, that seems to have been inherited from the country’s political culture based on high rhetoric of lofty ideas meant for public consumption and a world of sordid reality, where one must look for the meaning beyond what is said. The political order of the post-2008 period promised democratic governance with a multi-party system, but what the leaders did not say and what they meant to say could be judged only on the basis of their performance. They promised big and delivered little. The contest for claims over larger political space has motivated them to promise things beyond their capabilities. The gap between the long-term goals and pledges puts their credibility and legitimacy at risk. Whether it was the 1990 movement, the Maoist insurgency, the spring movement in 2006, or Madhes agitation in 2007, the political parties kept on delivering promises one after another. What Nepal needed was the modernization of the political parties and an empowered civil society that could respond to the commitments made, the basic needs of the people (Upreti, 2010: 41).

This is not to deny that the civil society did not play a constructive role in transforming the tripolar conflict into a bipolar one. In a number of areas in transitional Nepal, civil society stepped in to engage various stakeholders of the society but its key role lay in mediating the perspectives of various actors and accommodating them into the new democratic system.


The peace process which is based on the CPA promised to address not only the problems that led to the conflict but also to set up a transitional justice and peace building mechanisms such as the formation of a National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission, High-level Truth and Reconciliation Commission, publication of the list of disappeared persons, and delivery of peace dividends. The Interim Constitution of 2007 has already incorporated a provision for the formation of a separate Commission on the Disappeared Persons. Federalism has also been envisioned. Management of the ex-Maoist combatants is thus only a part, not the whole, agenda of the peace process.

The peace process should have addressed the structural problems which bred the insurgency. Until 2007, Nepal’s peace process was viewed with great optimism as it unfolded quickly, moving fast from the 12-point understanding to CPA to CA election to the realization of a republic (Heiniger, 2009: 47-48). Nevertheless, four years from the election of the CA, political parties have been busy more emphasizing differences than creating a common ground. If on the one hand, there has been a selective implementation of understandings and agreements, on the other, the emergence of regional and ethnic groups and armed outfits has sustained the conflict and prolonged transition (Dahal, 2010), hindering the state’s ability to function.

In between, the civil society did act as an instrument of regime change during the People’s Movement 2005 by mobilizing public opinion in favor of a republican Nepal. Their new role lies in mediating the interests of the masses in the political system, promising democratic values, and motivating the state to adapt to the changing needs of the time. Civil society tried to create a synergy among the contending forces, aggregating opinions and sought to contribute to the mediation of the legitimate interests for reconciliation. Their continuous engagement in democratization of Nepal’s politics and delivery of the peace dividend will be needed to sustain the much hyped political change of 2006.


The state is the only legitimate body to run the government. It receives operational modus operandi from the rules known as the “law”. Various other state institutions, civil society organizations, and individuals present in the political system not only have to follow these laws but also make provisions to deliver services. All these activities connect the citizen with the state. In other words, politics is the medium for an interface with the society, to address tension and create a synergy to bring about positive change in the society. Politics as the highest public good, as Immanuel Kant suggested, has to bring people closer to the system. It degenerates into “politicking” (Galtung, 2003: 111) when these actors start working for profit to influence politics.

The Interim Constitution, at the outset, emphasized delivery of “public goods” through the CA by incorporating them into the new constitution within a year’s time frame. However, due to lack of consensus among political parties and other political actors the CA failed to implement its assignments on peace and constitution and politicking overrode the key concerns of the CPA. Every government that was formed since, sidelined the main objectives. Civil society groups, for their part, have endorsed every extension of the CA. Under such a state of affairs, political instability seems to be a product of the way parties have worked, although they are never tired of talking for stability; even the civil society stands (as) a passive onlooker of the political game.


Political instability and party factionalism in Nepal have been closely linked since 1951 (Koirala, 1998). Someone has observed, larger the number of dissonant groups in a coalition, higher the chances of a short-lived government. Modern democracy certainly cannot function in the absence of political party and civil society, but in Nepal, the political parties and civil society are both victims of factional politics. Small factions in political parties often work to secure their own privileged position and the rise of identity politics and caucus groups posing as ‘civil society’ widens that rift further.

Even in the UCPN-Maoist, which until recently was the largest party in Nepal’s CA, suffered split inflicting impact on its sister wings. Chairman Prachanda is still strong but a constellation of two others can anytime push him into a minority position. The radical CPN-Maoist aims at “people’s revolt” and hurl allegations against others for reneging on that pledge.

Nepali Congress (NC), the Grand Old Party of Nepali politics, boasts the longest history of factionalism. The party broke and united again and two noticeable factions still operate there, but many smaller interest groups are also at work. The CPN-UML, the third largest party in the CA, has three groups. Four Madhes-based parties were in the CA but later became nine working either for perks and privileges or, else, for ministerial positions.

Nepal’s historical experience shows that party factions always breed political instability and the impact of party factionalism is visible in other ancillary groups, too, such as trade unions, student unions, civil society, and interest-based organizations founded along party lines. Such groups are engaged in parallel opposition during elections, cabinet formation, and parliamentary proceedings. It is the clout of the faction that determines the cabinet’s longevity as well as who gets what in the distribution of cabinet portfolios. It is internal feuds within the parties that offer space for the external organizations and civil society groups for intervention in the workings of political parties. Caucus politics does serve their interests. However, there are also cases of leaders coming together for dialogue where parochial interests were subordinated for the larger partisan interests. The party-oriented civil society groups, however, are yet to move beyond the stage of post-conflict reconciliation measures.

More to follow. Ed.

With the permission from the Editor of the freshly published book: “The Civil Society-State Interface in Nepal”. The book has been published jointly by the FES, Nepal Office and the Pragya Foundation: Ed.

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I agree


  • Posted on - 2014-02-06    by     gaunle
  • My comment not accepted with "invalid security code". This is with ref to my last comment on this article.Thank you sir.