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Kamala Sarup: Maoists, Conflict And Media

Maoists, Conflict And Media

By Kamala Sarup

The media works in tandem with non-governmental organisations and intelligentsia, and they together form civil society in a conflict situation. Further, reality is often mediated through the media. It is only based on the information provided by the media, people make a choice. If people do not get enough information, their choice will not be an informed one. So the rights of journalists are important to fearlessly report events of diverse nature. For instance, at least seven journalists have been reported missing during the emergency period in Nepal a year ago.

With the Maoists struggling to establish a republic and the kingdom's attempt to control the movement, journalists are under tremendous pressure. By and large, Nepalese media has been playing a responsible role. Media should continue its efforts towards a just resolution to the conflict. It should highlight efforts towards peace and downplay events that escalate conflict. One may call this as advocacy journalism. But that is how journalism has to function in a conflict situation. The Maoists' accusations of independent journalists being intelligence agents of the Government, and the Government's accusations of journalists siding with the Maoists would cease if journalists pay more attention towards peace building rather than sensationalising conflicts. Speaking to this scribe Peace Media's advisor Dr. I Arul Aram said.

Nepal is passing through an important phase because of pro-democracy aspirations and Maoist insurgency. Added to this are the 100,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin living in the UNHCR camps in eastern Nepal, driven out of Bhutan in its ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s. Given the limited resources and huge population the country has, development should not be allowed to take a backseat. Only development can bring forth an egalitarian society (the Maoist are fighting for), empower citizens to practise democracy and help integrate the refugees into the mainstream. Nepal is a small country and the problems cannot be big if there is a political will to solve them. Recent opinion polls in Nepal show that there is an overwhelming public support for peace. That is why both the Government and the Maoists blame each other of not being serious towards peace talks. Civil society must continue to pressure the parties to the conflict to stop fighting and start negotiations. I hope tranquility soon returns to the hills and mountains of Nepal. Dr. Arul further argued. Dr.Arul has authored the book 'Television in Education' (Orient Longman 1993) and has edited a book on e-governance (AMIC 2002). He has prepared eight out of 10 units of a Media Education kit by UNESCO for pre-university students in South Asia.

India's position is that a national consensus needs to be evolved in Nepal based on the principles of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. This is the typical position taken by the establishment of Nepal. Indeed, a non-controversial stand.

The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist Leninist (UML), the main two parties, have cornered all the political space after 1990. The aspirations of various groups have not been met. Added to this was the political instability in the young democracy. The vast rural Nepal faced further alienation, and this gave birth to the Maoists in the mid 1990s. Lack of federalism also led to ethnic movements. The system did not allow scope to address the conflicts arising out of issues of identity and cultural rights.

Further, the constitutional monarchy that replaced the absolute monarchy kindled the republican aspirations of the intelligentsia. The Maoist movement added fuel to the fire. The movement that believes in an armed struggle to uplift the poor got the support of the elites too in the early 2000 when it also demanded a republican form of government. The political parties are sacred to concede to even its other demand of elections to the constituent assembly - they fear that the insurgents who have presence all over Nepal could easily influence the results.

Democracy is certainly an achievement but people need to be empowered to take advantage of the democratic polity. This is a slow process. Democracy will throw up leaders with more representative character. Probably, one cause of the conflict is because the system in place prevents such the emergence of representative leaders.

India being a big neighbour, it is nothing wrong having cooperation in terms of military supplies and sharing of defence intelligence information. Although India, the U.S. and Britain have given the Royal Nepal Army weapons and training, the army lacks in intelligence and capability to carry out offensives. Unless the strong neighbour like India gives direct military support, it is difficult for the army to get an upper hand with the Maoists. It should be noted that in the recent past, India has successfully helped eliminate militant bases in southern Bhutan.

On return to its military support to tackle the Maoists, New Delhi wants a change in the 1953 extradition treaty to incorporate a clause for allowing Indian police to enter Nepalese territory to investigate activities of its enemies and handing over nationals of third countries if New Delhi considers them as criminals. Another proposal is that Indian security personnel will assist authorities at the Tribhuvan International Airport, citing the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight. Civil society in Nepal feels that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who no longer has the advantage of being an elected prime minister, is giving in too much to get Indian support for tackling Maoist insurgency. Of course, it would be better for Nepal not to depend too much on external military support if it could devise means to tackle insurgency by itself. But then, the Maoists and the Nepalese army are neck and neck, with the former having capacity even to carry out strategic offensive. The other factor to be considered is that taking Indian military support in suppressing the insurgency may boomerang resulting in the Maoists gaining more sympathisers.

He further said "The Maoists have links with similar groups in India, including the People's War in Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre in Bihar bordering Nepal. The Maoists plan a compact revolutionary zone stretching from northern Andhra Pradesh through central and eastern India to Nepal. This will not only offer a mutual moral support but also help them procure and distribute weapons illegally. Insurgency in Nepal can have its impact in Indian states such as Bihar, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir as well, particularly if more weapons are delivered by foreign powers to militants clandestinely. The Maoists' struggle may even spill over to Bhutan. The cross-border linkage of the Maoists poses a great threat, now that they had become a major force in Nepal. But India's military power can ensure that the spillover of the Nepalese insurgency in under check within its territory.

In India, Andhra Pradesh state has brought forth a fairly lasting ceasefire with its insurgency group and talks are on. As a bigger power, it would be safe for India not to get into a quagmire of a neighbour, except for giving military support if needed. Of late, the policy of India towards Sri Lanka is the same, and that is why Norwegians have come in as mediators.

The Maoist insurgency in Nepal has claimed over 10,000 lives since it began in February, 1996. It now affects 73 out of 75 districts. The rebels have raised their own guerrilla force, militia and parallel government units in their strongholds. They also operate parallel people's courts and are preparing to implement new Maoist-oriented syllabi in schools in their strongholds. This has made the Government dysfunctional in almost all of western Nepal. The Maoists claim to fight the "conspiracy between the King and the political parties" to exploit and suppress the people of Nepal by keeping them in poverty and ignorance. With appalling rural poverty, the county of 23 million ranks 143 out of 175 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. If the Nepal Government wants to talk to the Maoists, it should have an open mind to discuss the issues raised by the militants. A negotiation depends on a give and take. Or else, the options are (i) rapid development of rural Nepal (underdevelopment being the fertile ground for militancy) or (ii) militarily eliminating the Maoists or (iii) a combinations of the both.

I shall not agree with the Maoists' view that India is preventing the Nepal Government from entering into negotiations with them. Though India may not join the talks it is certainly interested in the end to the insurgency, as the Maoist strategy now seems to pose a potential threat to Indian commercial interests within Nepal. Probably, the Maoists are waiting for the downfall of the Sher Bahadur Deuba Government so that they could talk to the King directly leaving out the mainstream politicians".

He moderates a vibrant e-group mostly of youngsters, the Indian Online Media Forum further said "In a developing country, the Government has a large share in development. But the Government should be committed and be devoid of corruption. Allowing the development agenda to be hijacked by non-governmental organisations supported by foreign donors is not in the interest of a developing country like Nepal.

Also, tendency of Nepalese governance to centralise and the lack of focus on development are sustaining Maoist insurgency. Given the topography of Nepal, the King and his Government have to depend so much on local self-governments for effective governance. Otherwise, the writ of the Government will not run beyond Kathmandu as we see today. A federal arrangement in the form of local self-governments is essential in pluralistic countries like Nepal to provide cultural autonomy to different cultural groups within a country. Ethnic and linguistic groups can effectively put more pressure to regional governments. The bureaucracy will also increasingly reflect the regional composition. Thus politicians and bureaucrats with knowledge of local languages and specific local problems will be able to administer effectively. Marginalised groups will also get some freedom to protect their group interests. Thus federalism is an anti-dote to widespread violence and separatism. Associated with the World Citizenship Institute, Knoxville, as a faculty in its on line programme on peace building further said.

Non-resident Nepalese could take up business and economic interest with their respective countries - be it the US, India, South Korea, Vietnam or Qatar. They could also promote cultural exchanges and educational programmes between the countries to strengthen relationship and promote prosperity. So can they focus more on the social service sector.

At times, Nepalese elites living outside the country are Kathmandu-centric and they fail to notice any of the problems of rural Nepal. It is a known fact that the Maoists are resorting to violence and are even killing even officials whom they see as the representatives of the state, their prime target. But the elites who are advocates of the cause of their country should not fail to see factors underlying the conflict. They should try to understand what are the faults in the state that sustains insurgency. This is easy said than done, particularly when they have lost a dear one or lost their livelihood because of the Maoists' activities.

In case of Jammu & Kashmir or Sri Lanka, a section of the population is demanding the creation of a separate state. The Nepalese situation is not that bad. The Government should not waste time in reaching across to rural Nepalese living in abject poverty.He said.


(Kamala Sarup is editor to )

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