Nepal: Miasma Of Maoist-Mainstream Alliance
Nepal: Miasma Of Maoist-Mainstream Alliance
By Sanjay Upadhya
With Nepal’s Maoist rebels offering to support the seven-party anti-palace alliance in its fight for the restoration of democracy, key sections within the political mainstream have begun absorbing the implications.
The Maoist offer is conditional: it assumes that the mainstream alliance will be going toward a constituent assembly to ensure the creation of a republican Nepal. In effect, the rebels expect to draw the mainstream parties to the agenda they have been pushing for several years.
These developments come after Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala and Unified Marxist-Leninist leader Bamdev Gautam held talks in New Delhi with senior Maoist leaders. The precise details of any understanding Koirala may have reached with the Maoist leaders remain unclear. Gautam, in several interviews after returning to Kathmandu, has stated that Maoist supremo Prachanda and one-time chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had voiced their firm commitment to the establishment of a democratic republic.
Until recently as last year, Koirala maintained that a constituent assembly would open a “Pandora’s box.” He sidelined voices, especially among younger leaders and activists, that pleaded for opening candid discussions on the continued relevance of the monarchy. Koirala has now asserted that the Nepali Congress would be in favor of a constituent assembly if the Maoists abandoned violence and agreed to hold a dialogue.
The rebels’ refusal to renounce violence before any substantial progress in negotiations alone would perhaps preclude a full-fledged alliance. The real problem, nevertheless, lies in the different expectations the mainstream parties and the Maoists have from a constituent assembly.
In a sense, the mainstream parties are putting the horse before the cart. The Nepali Congress has not determined that the monarchy in any form is now unnecessary for the country. For now, Koirala and other leaders have vowed to further clip the powers of the king. The Nepali Congress general assembly, scheduled for later this year, is expected to debate the issue extensively. The other Nepali Congress faction led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, who King Gyanendra ousted as premier on Feb. 1 before assuming full political control of the country, is much in the same position.
The Unified Marxist-Leninists, although ideologically wedded to a republican agenda, have not come out in full opposition to the monarchy, either. It, too, is in the grip of introspection over its decision to join the Deuba-led government. Demands for leadership changes are growing in the aftermath of the royal takeover. The other parties in the anti-palace alliance – ranging from moderate centrists to extreme leftists -- are too miniscule to make a difference on their own. The constituent assembly demand, therefore, is more of a bargaining chip with the palace.
The clarity of the Maoists’ expectations from a constituent assembly has not gone unnoticed among influential sections in the mainstream. Nepali Congress leaders such as former parliament speaker Ram Chandra Paudel have been quick to point out that the Maoists have not officially changed their basic demands and policies heavily skewed toward the creation of a one-party communist republic.
Despite his palpable enthusiasm, Prachanda, too, remains suspicious of the mainstream parties’ motives in launching the current agitation, especially their emphasis on the restoration of parliament as a step toward constituent assembly. After all, the rebels raised arms in 1996 against the Nepalese state represented by the monarchy and the mainstream parties. The Maoist supremo sees the alliance’s continued emphasis on establishing a real constitutional monarchy as providing enough space to strike a compromise with the palace at the first opportunity.
To be sure, a basic agreement between the mainstream parties and the Maoists would create a fresh set of questions. What range of options would be made available to the Nepalese people consistent with the existing balance of power between the king, mainstream parties and the Maoists? What forms of radical overhaul of state structures would be proposed by the three forces? And, most importantly, would each camp support the eventual popular verdict with the sincerity so urgently required to heal Nepal’s deep wounds?
On the Maoist front, rifts between Prachanda and Bhattarai have complicated matters. The rebel supremo, weeks after acknowledging that Bhattarai had been disciplined for his “anti-party activities”, dispatched him to hold talks with Indian and Nepalese leaders in New Delhi. Bhattarai has reportedly spoken of threats to his life from Prachanda supporters. Moreover, doubts have been raised over Prachanda’s actual control over his army, which has been systematically violating his instructions not to target civilians.
After suffering a string of battlefield defeats in the weeks following the royal takeover, the Maoists have taken the initiative by mounting coordinated attacks on security forces in different parts of the country. The rebels have inflicted heavy casualties on the forces, while suffering their own losses. Have the Maoists begun their much-vaunted strategic offensive? In that case, a Maoist-mainstream alliance could become more elusive under the terms laid down by the parties.
Less noticed is the buoyancy with which key government ministers and palace advisers are going about their business. This has raised speculation over the possible existence of behind-the-scenes talks between the palace and the Maoists.
Given their mutual antipathy, reconciliation between the palace and parties would seem distant, if not entirely impossible. If the palace could encourage the Maoists, or at least a sizeable faction, to join the peace process, the dynamics could shift significantly. In the murky world of Nepalese politics, even crude speculation must often substitute for cogent analysis.