Dangers of petulance

From The Kathmandu Post (21 November, 2013)

It will be best if the Dahal-led Maoists do not jump into the hole that they have dug for themselves. If they perceived democracy as a system which respects the citizens’ choice rather than one to be manipulated for one’s own ends through triple-speak and coercion, they would have gracefully accepted what was looking on the first night of the ballot-count like a third placement. Instead, they panicked and went berserk, tearing up whatever goodwill remained among the public, the parliamentary parties and the international community which had brought them this far from their time underground.

It could be that power and money has gone into the head of individuals who populate the UCPN (Maoist) Central Committee, who had long lost touch with even their own cadres. The years of murder, torture, pillage and plunder had melded so easily into the ‘transition’ period—that the gentlemen forgot that to rule, they needed permission of the electorate. Along the way, they were helped by the fact that the elections of April 2008 were unclean, and the parliamentary parties too weakened to protest, so the voice of the people failed to emerge till  November 19, 2013.

Useful idiocy

The international community was waylaid from understanding the true situation in Nepal due to, among others, tendentious reports submitted to the Security Council by UNMIN and its head Ian Martin (with the International Crisis Group acting as the UNMIN handmaiden). The Kathmandu intelligentsia was so full of who V. I. Lenin termed ‘useful idiots’ that the people’s pain was ignored—these individuals who served the Maoists of Nepal as they ran amok above-ground shall of course not be named for the sake of decorum.

It was not at all that the peace process was properly handled, but that the cycle of time made elections more feasible. So elections were set for autumn 2012, then spring 2013 and finally autumn 2013. However, the preparation was marred by the fact that the interim government was under the thumb of the ‘four-party syndicate’ led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which did everything within its powers to weaken the electoral procedures—the list is long and has been dealt with elsewhere.

And yet, the Election Commission backed by an able Home Ministry sought to ensure clean elections. The introduction of voter ID cards, though flawed in the implementation, has been a game-changer for pluralism in the polity, and the same for photographs on the electoral roll. The very fact that various party representatives were able to challenge thugs at the polling booths this time around, rather than meekly make way was an invigorating departure. That the road network in the hinterland has expanded remarkably since 2008 also made for a more secure election, and also the fact that India helped keep the southern border free of banditry—a myriad of factors went into making the polls a credible exercise.

On  November 19, when the public was finally allowed to speak its mind, it responded by staying firmly with the democratic principles and humanitarian values that had fuelled the 2006 People’s Movement which is what distressed the Dahal-led Maoists so.

The Kirtipur audiotape

Another set of factors contributed to the Maoist grief, and Chairman Dahal may well have had a premonition. That was probably why on November 15, he travelled to Kirtipur of Kathmandu-10 and told his people to leave no stone unturned, including “bribery, money, muscle and polarisations” to ensure victory. “Defeat is just not an option,” he said a bit sinisterly.

The Baidya-led Maoist’s violence seems to have had a role to play in the Dahal-led Maoists’ debacle. The socket bombs and Molotov cocktails, the death and maimings, the bandas and chakka jams, had the effect of reminding the public of the conflict years. This went firmly against Dahal. For weeks, this writer had thought (and written) that Baidya’s violence diverted people from the issues that should be discussed during the election campaign. But the public evidently needed no coaching on that front.

For all these and other reasons, the elections of 2013 was saved from being held as “a part of the peace process”, muffling the public’s voice, as happened in 2008.

Baburam’s Gorkha-1

Not that the elections were entirely free and fair, or that there was no unloading of cash and blatant physical intimidation in parts. Examples of ballot fraud abound, from Dhanusha to Siraha and Sarlahi. But Baburam Bhattarai takes the cake, as he did in 2008 when he had more people vote for him than there were constituents. (Incidentally, in the Kirtipur audiotape, Dahal makes fun of Bhattarai on this count to lots of mirth among the faithful.)

This time around, Bhattarai ensured that 20 election centres in his Gorkha-2 constituency were victims to booth capture.

The national and international observer missions will have to explain why their immediate assessments of voter intimidation did not include Gorkha, for how are we to ensure clean elections if we are to turn a blind eye to the doings of the powerful.

In most places, the Nepali Congress (NC) and UML have vied for first place, while the Maoists have been trailing at third place till the time of going to press. That this has happened without ‘taal-mel’ (seat adjustment) between the NC and UML makes the Maoist defeat even more firm and convincing.

Of course, we will not be in a position to read the exact make-up of the Constituent Assembly (CA) until the 50 percent of the seats from the proportional list is calculated, which should take another couple of weeks. As happened the last time around, the proportional list could somewhat change the nature of the playing field, and this time bring in the ‘cow party’ (RPP-N), the Madhesi and the Janajati parties in some strength. Chairman Dahal would want to be in a position where his supporters are given the proportional seats that accrue to his party, and that could be a source of acrimony.

Peaceful punishment

The question in everyone’s mind is why the Maoists did what they did in the wee hours of Thursday—viz. the ballot-counting walkout. The answers can be various. For sure, the Maoists have not been held accountable since they came above-ground following the People’s Movement. They were gifted 86 seats in the revived Parliament, engaged in electoral fraud in 2008, ran the ‘syndicate’ for the last few years under the so-called consensus principles of the Interim Constitution.

In all this time, the Maoists evaded being tested by the people. Blinded from ground realities by their own distanced perch, and believing still that threats, violence and money could buy you anything, they seemed to forget that the people still held on to the values of humanitarianism and democracy.

Against this backdrop, Thursday’s withdrawal was dictated by Chairman Dahal’s need to remain relevant within his party. He realised that the landslide against his party could force him to resign his chairmanship. This was impossible to consider within a radical-left party that had not democratised, where you tend to enter oblivion if you lose your place at the top. Given such a narrow focus, the only option for the Chairman was to yank his party out the electoral process, regardless of the disastrous loss of face.

For having put his interests before that of the people, Dahal is certain to be punished— but this shall be a peaceful process. He may not return to the ballot count, but one cannot see how the he can get away without getting the UCPN-Maoist members (who do get elected and those from the proportional list) from being sworn into the CA as members.

Dahal is riding a tiger, and is finding it difficult to get off. Some might say that that is punishment enough.

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