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Dipta Shah: Shock And Awe For The Maoists

What the King's Takeover Implies for his Enemies: Shock and Awe for the Maoists

By Dipta Shah

The Maoists appear to be temporarily disoriented by the King's unexpected move. They have lost their most significant bargaining chip - the political parties. This in turn, has severely undermined their ''best alternative to a negotiated settlement'' (BATNA).

Long before there was any hint at the King's takeover, conflict resolution pundits had already begun to claim that resolution of the insurgency could be possible if the tri-lateral conflict (King, politicians, and Maoists) could be reduced to a bilateral one. The Western model for Nepal revolved around aligning the political parties and the King in a common front to face the Maoists.

Despite numerous attempts at fostering a set of conditions whereby the King and the political parties would join hands, such a situation failed to materialize. Rampant in-fighting persisted within and amongst the political parties, and between the parties and the King.

Although arguments can be forwarded that the King did not act in earnest to join hands with the political parties, it cannot be denied that all options were exhausted. On two separate instances, the King had asked the major political parties to forward consensus candidates for the post of Prime Minister. On both occasions, the politicians failed to forward candidates, simply because of their inability to subdue inflated egos. This was made painfully clear in the behind-the-scenes efforts of the rival NC faction to block the reinstatement of Deuba, apparently even as the latter was driving into the palace gates.

Be this as it may, a bi-lateral conflict has now emerged in Nepal – not quite the type envisioned by the US, the UK, India and leading conflict resolution think tanks, but a bilateral conflict nonetheless. Provided that the spheres of influence where Nepal is concerned (India, China, US, UK -- in order of importance) publicly denounce the Royal move but privately condone it, the Maoists are in for a hellish time.

Although the international media has done a poor job of outlining inconsistencies in Maoist statements, one is certainly long overdue. When asked by the recent Deuba government to return to the negotiating table, for instance, Pushpa Kamal Dahal made a crude allusion to the possibility of negotiating with only the "master" and not his "servants" (translation – the demand to negotiate directly with the King and not with the Deuba government). Now that a government headed by the King has offered the Maoists an olive branch, the Maoists are screaming "foul play" and calling for all mainstream parties to join them in their struggle against the monarch.

For practical purposes, this call was merely a public statement announcing an alliance that has been in existence for months – the Maoists had mastered the art of manipulating political parties to undermine the King and the presiding government. Plus, actually integrating with the mainstream political parties in practice would do more harm to Maoist organization than good. They know it, and so does the royal palace.

Despite the inconveniences that have resulted from the King's proclamation, there have been positives also. For the first time ever, the Maoists call for a three day nation-wide strike was

humiliatingly dispensed with. Second, the Maoists application of the possibility of negotiations as a tactical maneuver, has been exposed.

With two failed attempts at negotiations and a legacy of inconsistencies within their leadership hierarchy, serious doubts exist over the willingness (and capacity) of the Maoists to negotiate at all. Their view of "negotiations" is to agree upon the terms of surrender by the state. More to the heart of the matter, for as long as the Maoists believe that they have the upper hand, there is little reason for them to negotiate with the government.


Dipta Shah is a recent graduate from Columbia University's School of International Affairs (SIPA). now he works for a global advisory services firm, doing finance and risk analysis.

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