The 12-Point Understanding, signed in New Delhi in November 2005, marked the beginning of a new political journey for Nepal and for the Maoists. The concord between the Maoists and the parliamentary powers reflected the high point of the Maoists’ insurgent power, as well as a clear trade-off: the promotion of the Maoists’ socio-economic agenda in return for their acceptance of political liberalism – albeit in the new form of an inclusive democracy and a federal state that would grant recognition to the country’s special social characteristics. The agreement to institutionalise political changes signaled the willingness of the parliamentary parties to consider the restructuring of the state, including replacing the 1990 Constitution with one drafted by an elected constituent assembly.
The success of the April 2006 People’s Movement led to the Maoists’ entry into peaceful politics. A ceasefire was immediately put into effect, followed by the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) a few months later. In January 2007, the 1990 Constitution was annulled and an Interim Constitution was promulgated. An interim government was formed under the leadership of Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala. Koirala, however, had not inherently embraced the Maoist agenda of socio-economic transformation and his only point of concurrence with the Maoists was on the political front – to weaken the monarchy and, if it came to it, even to support republicanism. Not surprisingly, the government made no attempt to introduce any kind of social and economic change, all of which were presumed to be tasks for the period following the adoption of a new constitution. Since the Maoist leadership and some of their cadres were now part of this government, the process of the Maoists’ assimilation into the elite had also begun.
The CPN-M emerged as the largest party in the first Constituent Assembly (CA) election, winning 50 per cent of the directly elected seats and more than 30 per cent under proportional representation. The first CA was the most inclusive in Nepal’s history. Women, Janajatis, Madhesis, Dalits and other minorities had strong representation. The Maoists had derived their political power from a progressive agenda, but despite being the largest party in the CA, albeit without a majority, they were not able to form a government immediately. So began the process of bargaining with conservative forces, through which the Maoists’ agenda in the new constitution became increasingly circumscribed.
Inclusion was an important aspect of the Maoists’ political development. Inclusion here meant the creation of conditions for opportunities for marginalised social groups, including Janajatis, Madhesis, Dalits, women and communities from remote regions such as Karnali in the mid-west. Initially, the Maoists had envisioned ethnic provinces as well as autonomous and protected areas with special rights for groups that had lived there historically. They had mentioned a Madhes autonomous region and also special rights for Dalits. There had also been talk of a system of proportionality in representative institutions and of the adoption of a proportional inclusive appointment process in the state’s administrative and judicial structures.
After the signing of the CPA, the Maoists used the direct or indirect threat of their armed combatants only twice to advance their political ends: first to support their demand to amend the Interim Constitution to include the provision that the first meeting of the CA would declare Nepal a republic; and second when they tried to influence voters and opposition parties during the election to the first CA by ‘reminding’ them that they were an armed group. But, the question of whether the constitution could be drafted without first disarming the Maoists emerged as a key focal point for political brokering.
Powerful conservative elites in Kathmandu and beyond supported the continued hegemony of ‘high-caste’ hill Bahuns. These included: elements within traditional political parties like the Nepali Congress (NC), the UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party; established landowners as well as the newly wealthy; high-ranking officials in the judiciary, the army and the bureaucracy; and business leaders, industrialists and intellectuals.
Different groups seeking to secure their respective vantage points ultimately began to target the CA itself, as they came to realise it would not draft a constitution sufficiently in their interests. A section of Kathmandu’s middle class openly opposed the Maoists and were able to establish a discourse to re-brand identity-based federalism as a ploy to break up the country. Such resistance coalesced during the first CA through various organised movements and demonstrations. In 2012, even though the Maoists had by then been completely disarmed, the Supreme Court ruled against extending the term of the first CA and it was dissolved without having agreed on a new constitution.
Support for the idea of inclusion in the second CA election was much reduced, reflected in the fact that the Maoists came in as the third largest political force, behind the NC and the UML. Prachanda sought different ways to implement the Maoists’ agenda, notably through building alliances. In response to increasing opposition to identity-based federalism by the ruling NC and UML, the Maoists organised street movements together with Madhesi and Janajati groups. However, internal splits and a perception that it had not been sufficiently proactive when it had been in power meant the CPN-M had lost an important source of support, and these movements were not able to gain significant traction. Prachanda increasingly resorted to bargaining away important provisos related to inclusion, in various attempts to maintain power and relevance.