From Himal Southasian, Volume 23, Number 2 (FEB 2010)
The future of the ‘new Nepal’ is in the hands of the Maoist ex-combatants.
Dear Maoist whole-timers:
Your leaders taught you to use violence for political change, but that lesson has proven irrelevant in Nepal’s open society, which your party entered in early 2006. The Maoist leadership finally must have understood over time that it is peaceful politics that require true courage and steadfastness in comparison to armed insurgency. Unfortunately, it seems they are uwilling or unable to share this discovery and certain emerging truths with you – hence, this note. The Maoist leaders address the world and Kathmandu’s intelligentsia in calm and democratic prose, in direct contrast to how they harangue the whole-timer activists with calls for a ‘protracted people’s war’, urban revolt and ultra-nationalist agitation. One suspects a tendency to keep the cadre unaware of trends in international politics and national security. There is little doubt that there is a large contingent in-country and internationally that wishes to see the Maoists fail; but still, the bewilderingly weakened situation of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) today rests primarily at the door of the party leadership.
Multiple factors have weakened the party in the public’s eye: the suddenly exposed divisions within the leadership, the adventurism and immaturity evident while leading the government until May 2009, and the nine months of meaningless agitation since resigning from government – including the seven-month closure of Parliament, incitement to revolt, and the campaign for ‘civilian supremacy’ (nagarik sarbocchata) aimed at the first president of the republic. Not to mention the continuation of violent acts, impunity, extortions, and national and regional shutdowns that keep the economy in chains. Additionally, there are the problematic utterances from the top leadership, including claims of AK-47s still in the hand, the seeking of full integration of ex-combatants into the national army, the tortured logic justifying ethnic federalism, the rejection of ‘pluralism’ by the largest party in the Constituent Assembly and – this recently from your chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (‘Prachanda’) – the publicly professed willingness to “swim in the blood of a million citizens” to get what the party wants.
Saathiharu, friends, your party leaders seemed not to understand the parliamentary and constitution-making power that comes from having nearly 40 percent control of the Constituent Assembly-cum-legislature. It had near-total control of the executive until it over-extended its hand last spring by trying to oust Chief of the Army Staff Rukmangud Katawal without due constitutional process, thus creating conditions for the Maoist exit from government. The party would have ensured long innings in politics had the leadership chosen to democratise; but instead, your leaders consistently exhibit the intention to remain a radical, destructive force. For this reason, 22 out of the 24 other parties in the Assembly have consolidated into a single block, to form the current government under Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Meanwhile, the two neighbouring countries of India and China, which seek stability in Nepal more than anything else, seem to have decided that they cannot trust Maoist adventurism, and therefore have steadfastly backed the Nepal government of Prime Minister Nepal.
The uncontrollable tongue of Chairman Dahal has served to dramatically reduce his image, leading to the diminished stature of the entire party. Surely the blatant imbalance evident in the supreme leader’s pronouncements must have raised concerns among the Maoist party workers as well. And there are other reasons for you to worry. Some of the topmost Maoist leaders are not on speaking terms, even as each seeks to outdo the other in extreme sloganeering. Amidst all this, no one has the time to instruct the cadre that, due to the changed internal situation and evolving regional geopolitics, it is simply impossible to return to the revolt and ‘protracted people’s war’. The support that the UCPN (Maoist) garnered during the April 2008 elections is being wasted due to absence of courage in the leadership to go in for democratic transformation – the contribution of committed cadre is being thrown into the dustbin as a result. In the eyes of some analysts, the UCPN (Maoist) is a party of great vision, one that takes purposeful and methodical decisions, unlike the disorder and directionlessness that prevails in the other parties. The image of a tightly run organisation may even have been true during the conflict and while underground; but today the Maoist leaders seem to have no roadmap, and they can do little but stumble from one crisis to the next. Those who understand what is required for long-term competitive politics seem to have let go of the reins amidst the radical groundswell driving the party. Meanwhile, the tactics used by the party – closure of Parliament, universal use of threat, and bandhs called for days on end – can be described as ‘successful’ by the leadership only to the most gullible.
Saathiharu, some say that talking to you directly like this requires a bit of daring, even this far into the peace process. But the fact is you have entered open society, and there is no alternative to respecting freedom of expression. Neither does it seem correct to term anyone who criticises the Maoists party as ‘enemy’. Indeed, the UCPN (Maoist) will have become a democratic party only when you are able to accept the critic as other than a ‘royalist’, ‘feudal’, ‘revisionist’ or ‘foreign lackey’. Meanwhile, those romanticised Kathmandu intellectuals who have applauded your every move will surely go silent before long, as they understand the ways of the world and evolving national reality – and so it is advisable to heed the warnings of well-meaning critics.
Having picked up the gun against a democratic government barely five years after the advent of democracy in 1990, your party opted for insurgency instead of the diligent work aimed at a social revolution for equitable economic growth. It is impossible to accept the Maoist claim that, by 1996, the conditions of marginalisation had become bad enough to require an armed revolt. Nor will a cost-benefit analysis of the conflict period show a plus; for what the ‘people’s war’ delivered was a dozen years of developmental standstill, plummeting employment and economic stagnation, even while the neighbouring economies surged.
Saathiharu, this may sound incredible to your ears as of now, but there will come a time when the UCPN (Maoist) will have to seek pardon from the public for having started the ‘people’s war’, for having destroyed the economy, and introduced public, physical, political violence (sarbajanik, bhautik, rajnitik himsa) in society. Think about it: without a mea culpa, how can an organisation, many of whose members have conducted great excesses, ever expect to engage in peacetime politics among the citizenry? The abandonment of the ‘people’s war’ was the beginning of the process of owning up – and no one will insist that the Maoist seek full forgiveness right away, as this would not be practical. What requires immediate attention, however, is the disbandment of the Maoists’ paramilitary Young Communist League, and the dissolution of the seven cantonments and 21 satellites that house those identified as Maoist ex-combatants. As has been said time and again, the constitution cannot be written under circumstances in which one party retains its militarist power of coercion. While we know that the hardened fighters are mostly outside the cantonments, the psychological boost from the disbandment of the camps will help give confidence to the people. Additionally, it would take the Maoists further along towards its ‘democratisation’ and more or less guarantee the constitution-writing.
Even though your leaders warn of an ongoing ‘encirclement’ of the UCPN (Maoist), the fact is that all the mainstream political parties have shown their willingness to embrace a party that has conducted brutalities. This hand of friendship from the mainstream politicians, based on sensitivity towards the people at large, remains the defining uniqueness of the Nepali peace process. On the whole, the Maoists themselves and many outside observers fail to give due credit to the parliamentary parties for this necessary flexibility on behalf of peace. But it is not a readiness without condition – and that is the UCPN (Maoist)’s commitment to its democratic transition.
Sadly, saathiharu, your leaders seem reluctant to follow through on this promise, made at the time of the 12-point agreement of 2005 between the Maoists and the parliamentary parties. They have been reluctant even after having succeeded overwhelmingly in the election exercise and becoming a legitimate political force. It has become clear that legitimacy is not tantamount to democratisation, and there seems to be a reluctance among the Maoist leaders to convince the cadre about the road to peaceful politics. It seems they underestimate the cadre’s ability to adjust to peacetime politics. Perhaps the cadre too recognise, as has the general public by now, that despite all the talk of ‘vision’ and the denigration of the other political parties, the Maoist party has no magic wand other than to join parliamentary politics and accept pluralism.
Of late, it has proven impossible to hide the dissension within your party. Chairman Dahal now seeks to destroy the career of his longtime second-in-command, former Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai, by insinuating that he is an Indian lackey. The chairman seems not to have adjusted to the mores of open politics, where you cannot maintain organisational strength by use of threats, forced self-criticism and revolutionary justice. Attempts to continue with the old ways are bound to fail, because you cannot keep information from flowing when there are inquisitive journalists about. On the other side of the divide, it is not as if Bhattarai himself smells of roses. He does present a pleasant face to Kathmandu’s civil society, diplomats and donors; but he too is a demagogue who uses convoluted logic to justify ethnic provinces, the need for a ‘protracted people’s war’, and a ‘chaos theory’ specific to Nepal in which everything has to be destroyed in order to build anew through ‘capture’ of state power.
Given that a return to government seems difficult at the moment, Chairman Dahal appears to be concentrating on shoring up his personal foundations. He has chosen to do this by raking up the torn and tattered anti-India ultra-nationalism developed by the autocrat King Mahendra in the early 1960s. However, the public is capable of recognising opportunism when it rears its head, and it can see the ongoing ultra-nationalist campaign as a tool to build up the chairman’s stock even at the cost of his party. Indeed, even as he seeks publicly to paint New Delhi as ‘master’ and the parties in government as ‘servants’, Dahal himself has been desperately seeking anointment from New Delhi to get back to leading the government. But New Delhi knows well that, while it certainly has untoward clout in Nepali politics, the matter of who gets to form the government is a matter of numbers and consultation between the Nepali political actors. That Dahal wishes to forcibly include New Delhi in the process could easily be termed a national betrayal on his part; at the very least, the chairman’s recent public pronouncements seem to be attempts to destroy national pride on the altar of self-interest. Think about it: what would happen if New Delhi did take your chairman’s proposal seriously and decided to get directly involved in a change in government in Kathmandu?
Saathiharu, the weaknesses of the other political parties and their leaderships are as many as they are inescapable. But until today, no party has dared to present Nepal as an Indian state, province or protectorate. The examples of adventurism in this regard are many, but one can mention in particular the Pashupatinath episode, where the Maoist in government tried to manipulate matters of faith – going so far as to invite the involvement of India’s then-opposition leader, Lal Krishna Advani. What honour should we award Chairman Dahal for having gotten even the Indian Army to push its nose into Nepali affairs, in connection to the Nepal Army’s chain of command? And what about his willingness to openly meet Indian intelligence operatives? Can the Nepali public expect the Maoist cadres, workers and second-rank leadership to challenge its leader when he forgets realpolitik, national pride and reason for personal interest? Having abandoned the underground insurrection and entered open politics, Maoist party workers by now should have been able to place their nuanced views openly, with intellect and self-respect intact.
The world is round
Dear whole-timer saathiharu, your leadership has continued the run of geopolitical ineptitude evident in former King Gyanendra’s strategy when he sought to arouse the public into ultra-nationalist ire. Like him, they too have sought to use the ‘China card’, based on a neophyte’s understanding of international relations. The attempt was to scare India by being seen to be cosying up to China. The leaders do not realise that Chinese interests have not evolved so much south of the Himalayan rim that Beijing will risk the larger stakes involved by playing hardball with New Delhi on Nepal. Given the level at which China and India compete as well as cooperate, it is sheer political immaturity for your leaders to believe that they can play one against the other at this time. The Maoists may even know this, and may simply be trying to manipulate the national intelligentsia, itself so mired in the ultra-nationalist quicksand.
As against the Maoist hopes and calculations, the politically weak government of Madhav Kumar Nepal has today been propped up by support from the north and south. During the prime minister’s visit to Beijing in late December, the Chinese leaders gave him a boost, stating that the peace process should be successfully completed and the constitution written during his time in government. This clearly was a message for Paris Daanda, the hillock in Kathmandu where the UCPN (Maoist) had recently shifted its headquarters. For good measure, Beijing also used the opportunity to send an invitation to President Ram Baran Yadav, the very person the Maoists are keen to portray as their ‘enemy number one’. President Yadav is currently preparing to go on his first state visit to India, while the defence minister and home minister are both in the queue to visit Beijing. Each visit to the neighbours must remind the Maoists of the foolhardiness of having abandoned a government they had firmly in hand.
Having resigned from government, and without the required support in Parliament to get back to the seat of power, the Maoists have been using everything possible to throttle their way back in. And the more violently they make their demands, the more the others circle the wagons – and the government of Prime Minister Nepal refuses to splinter. There is one analysis making the rounds to the effect that the Maoists’ strategy now is to prove their ability to make Nepal totally ungovernable and unstable, making New Delhi fear for its national security. At that time, goes this thinking, New Delhi will force the other political parties to heel. This line of thought tends to forget the changed political dynamics within India, where the state is today arrayed against its homegrown Maoists. Besides, why would New Delhi want to risk international condemnation for engineering a governmental change that defies the parliamentary process, even amidst a peace process?
New ‘new Nepal’
Saathiharu, there are many reasons to wonder why the UCPN (Maoist) acts so irresponsibly in so many cases, when it is the largest party by far in the Constituent Assembly and could truly be a harbinger of transformation of insurgents all over the world. Could it be that the Maoist leaders never had to develop deep revolutionary philosophy, relying as they did on utilising Nepal’s mountain terrain, the absence of government in the hinterland, and the use of the gun? As a result, these leaders may have found themselves completely at sea when they landed aboveground, feet first in government as an elected party. Or, perhaps, the leaders feel that the cadre has not been groomed in the way that it could understand the course correction away from ‘people’s war’.
Or could it be that the space for those party cadres who maintain a clear stance and clean spirit has been constricted by the latter-day induction of delinquents and unprincipled vagabonds into the UCPN (Maoist) ranks. It is difficult to understand, otherwise, that the party rank and file is able to stomach the contradictions and illogic evident in the leadership’s stand on so many critical matters. Like a spoiled child, the Maoist leadership is insisting that it should lead the government, despite having resigned and now not having the required support to get there. A national unity government is a good idea, but does the daily run of threats from your leadership make the other parties keen on this prospect, that too under Maoist leadership? Do the party cadres not realise this reality, or do they too believe that the party was born to rule regardless of the requirements of the parliamentary process? Or, more worryingly, is this also the kind of constitution your leadership wants – one in which there is no pluralism, no respect for parliamentary process, where one-party rule would prevail?
If your party is not keen to demolish its success to date, and return to being a small party in Parliament as was the case in the early 1990s, it seems your leaders must work assiduously for the promulgation of a democratic constitution on which the remaining 60 percent in the Constituent Assembly, and the public at large, can agree. Whichever way one looks at it – the party’s advance, the people’s good, an end of political violence – the most important contribution the Maoists can make is to work towards the writing of a democratic constitution. For this, the leadership must open the way for a process that will have everything to do with the party workers and cadre: ‘combatant management’. The very leaders who have misled their ex-combatants with promise of full integration into the national army (against the letter and spirit of the peace agreements) now have a responsibility to educate them on the agreed formula of ‘management’. The agreement was to allow individual entry through personal choice according to “standard norms” into the security forces (read: Nepal Army, Armed Police, Nepal Police), and to rehabilitate the rest.
What is required most urgently to conclude the peace process is for the Maoist leadership to publicly endorse what has already been part of the gentleman’s agreement since long – viz, the integration of a particular number, between 3000 to 5000, into the security forces. The leadership needs to formally agree on a number together with the leaders of the other main political parties – and then to have the courage to go with it to the whole-timers, including ex-combatants. There is a special committee of the political parties working on ex-combatant management, aided by a technical committee, and it should then be able to proceed swiftly with the work of integration and rehabilitation. This will, ipso facto, create the conditions for the promulgation of the new constitution, when the largest party in the Constituent Assembly no longer has its own private army.
Saathiharu, in order to successfully conclude the peace process, it is indeed necessary to love your society more than your party. To date, the Maoist leadership has not been able to show its attachment to the country and people, despite loud ultra-nationalist talk and invoking the janata in every other sentence in speeches and documents. The country will survive somehow, but there should also be space in tomorrow’s polity for a transformed Maoist party. If the leadership is not able to lead the party to adjust to the demands of open society, as is becoming clear, it is the job of the whole-timer cadre and party workers to inform those who lead them that the insurgency is actually long past. Whole-timer saathiharu, please understand that, previously, your sense of power had to do with the fact that you held a gun in the hand, and had used it to ‘eliminate’. But you and we are all citizens now, and we function under the same law.
The schizophrenic utterances of the Maoist leadership may spread confusion and hopelessness among the party workers. But no one outside the party is jumping with glee at this prospect. For everyone recognises that the breakup of the UCPN (Maoist) or the loss of grip of the leadership can only give rise to ‘warlords’, individuals who have been groomed only in the use of violence in politics. At this stage, the hope of non-Maoist politicians is that the cadre – out of self interest if nothing else – unites to push the leaders away from their personal agenda and towards democracy and rule of law. Otherwise, amidst the revolutionary radicalism of the leadership, all the achievements of the party will be sacrificed to the rise of a rightwing in Nepal. Nepal has suffered from the rightwing and that is not the way the public wants to go.
Saathiharu, here will be some who will say to you that this letter is inspired by those – national and international forces – who bear destructive ill will toward the Maoists. But please evaluate these arguments on their merit. The suggestion is the lack of philosophical clarity among the Maoist leadership, the intra-party battle among the top rank, and the unwillingness on the part of the leaders to make the cadre confront political reality – creating a situation in which the UCPN (Maoist) is retreating from the peace process and the all-important constitution-writing.
Please do not let this happen: the inability of the Maoist leaders to show thoughtfulness and courage will waste the years of contribution by the party workers. Your hopes and plans will be dashed. The country has already been pushed back a dozen years by the ‘people’s war’, and the main hurdle to advancing through a democratic constitution remains the lagging democratic transformation of the Maoist leadership. As sons and daughters of the people, you must convince your leaders.
~ Kanak Mani Dixit is the Editor and Publisher of this magazine. A longer version of this article appeared in Nepali in the Kathmandu daily Nagarik on 23 January 2010.