Grave instability stares Nepal in the face today, much worse than the continuous turbulence it’s suffered since the People’s Movement of 2006. The peace process falters due to prevarication by the Maoist party, whose bad faith has stalled the Constituent Assembly since the start. A party that seeks
to reap from chaos has more or less destroyed the legislative process through street action and parliamentary obstruction. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was forced to resign in June, though he commands a majority in the House even to this day. The only candidate in the field over the past four months, Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress, has not got the job after 16 elections because Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal wants it for himself.
The logjam in the peace process stalls progress on all fronts. The Maoist leaders are refusing to dismantle their fighting force – 19,000 ex-combatants in 28 cantonments – which they should have done by autumn 2008. Instead, the leadership brazenly promises the cadre full integration into the national army. The party now plans for 1,200 ex-fighters awaiting integration and rehabilitation – and maintained by the national exchequer – to attend a party plenum that began yesterday.
The two-and-a-half years of drafting work in the assembly has been a pretence throughout, with no initial agreement on the fundamental principles to guide the exercise. Of late, the Maoist leaders have led the others meekly into a ‘task force’ outside the assembly and succeeded in generating a false sense of progress. Looking through the smoke and mirrors at the Maoist documentation itself, their position is towards a ‘people’s republic’, wherein the judiciary is subservient to the parliament, political organisation is restricted to the ‘good guys’, and freedom can be curtailed on the basis of hazy ‘national interest’.
Through all this, a party that hasn’t formally renounced political violence has convinced many western diplomats, United Nations officials and part-time Nepal-watchers in New Delhi that it represents social-democracy in Nepal. The most lethally obdurate party is thought to be the most flexible in the constitution-writing and peace process.
Having ensured zero economic growth for 15 years, which has led to a surge of labour migration of the very poorest, the Maoists are perceived as harbinger of social justice.
The country has been held hostage by the hunger for power of chairman Dahal, master of triplespeak. The chairman, also known by his nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’, was at the pinnacle of acceptability when he led his party to success in the April 2008 elections, through means fair and foul. Kathmandu’s cognoscenti measured his stature in India with the welcome he was accorded at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit of 2006 and his official visit to New Delhi as prime minister in September 2008.
As prime minister for nine months till May 2009, Dahal squandered the opportunity to democratise his party, instead of engaging in adventurism. This weakened society on all fronts. He resigned in the aftermath of an ill-advised attempt to oust the chief of army staff. Unable to get back to leading the government through either the parliamentary process or street revolt, Dahal turned to bolstering his hold over the party. This was best done by triggering the ultra-nationalist, anti-India campaign that continues to this day.
Desperately seeking the nod of New Delhi’s political class, Dahal veers between portraying India as a saviour and demon. He tells mass rallies that India is the prabhu of Nepali politics, while his party documents identify “Indian expansionism” as the enemy. He visited China in October to try and prove his proximity to its leaders, but returned with a message to, in his own words, “mend fences with India”.
The Maoists have turned politics on its head, their relentless misrepresentations making Kathmandu’s civil society lose perspective on what’s right and wrong. There was no outrage when Dahal’s deputy was caught red-handed in a phone-tap, negotiating with a Chinese-sounding caller for Nepalese rupees 50 crore to buy the prime-ministerial elections for his boss. Having led the campaign to usher in the republic three years ago, Dahal today lauds the royalists as patriots and offers to revive a ‘cultural monarchy’. His closest aide these days is accused of brutally murdering a political opponent.
Three leaked internal political documents of chairman Dahal and vice-chairmen Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Vaidya, prepared for the party plenum, lay bare the deep schisms within the leadership. The two vice-chairmen tear into Dahal, accusing him of financial irregularities, personal aggrandisement, abandoning ideology and nouveau-riche leanings. In turn, he calls one a ‘radical’, the other a ‘rightist’.
However, in frightening unison, they stand firmly against the dismantling of the Maoist cantonments. Though publicly perceived as radical (Vaidya), pragmatist (Bhattarai) and opportunist (Dahal), they concur that the peace agreements of the past, going back to the 12-Point Understanding negotiated in New Delhi in 2005, were mere tactics (karya-niti) meant to support the party’s strategy (rana-niti) of ‘state capture’.
While letting on to the need for “artistic evasion” in placing the party’s plans before the public, the chairman laments the weakening links with the proletarian international movement, including with the “Indian revolutionaries”. As for Nepal, he writes, “What started as a civil war must now end as a national war,” leaving the identification of the enemy to the reader. Bhattarai, the so-called moderate, demands a “strong rejection of any attempt to disband, disable or humiliate” the Maoist fighting force.
The betrayal of the peace process by the Maoists is confirmed by these three documents and accompanying notes. There are commentators who urge caution in reading too much into them. But past experience has shown that the cadre takes this competitive propaganda to heart. Whether it is lack of courage or tactical cunning, the leaders are building a monster they can’t control – priming the rank-and-file for one last push (antim jhatka) for State capture.
These are dire prospects. In fact, they would lead not towards a Maoist takeover, but rather towards the evolution of a right-wing regime in reaction, and end the evolution of liberal democracy. But a party that seeks anarchy, hoping to be there to pick up the pieces, can’t be expected to look out for anything other than its own interest. The only thing to do is to try and remind Messrs Dahal, Vaidya and Bhattarai of the demands of the People’s Movement of 2006 – an end to autocracy and a zindabad to pluralism and peace.