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Nepal: Maoists Hide More Than They Reveal

Nepal: Maoists Hide More Than They Reveal


By Sanjay Upadhya

The last two weeks have proved quite hectic for the thinker in Prachanda, the once-reclusive leader of Nepal's Maoist rebels who seems to be enjoying his emergence from the shadows.

Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of his "People's War," the rebel supremo, in interviews with Nepalese, Indian and British journalists, has been doing his best to explain the rationale, record and redeeming value of the death and destruction inflicted on the country.

Prachanda has employed the full arsenal of the creative ambiguity that has helped catapult a ragtag band of ideologically motivated fighters into today's formidable force. Linguistic legerdemain has failed to cover the convolutions and contradictions in the rebel leader's message.

To be fair, Prachanda is newcomer to a task his colleague, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has conduct with great dexterity. The presence of Dr. Bhattarai, who sometimes jumped into the conversation during these interviews, was probably intended to portray a picture of unity in a party that pulled back from what could have been a fatal split. At another level, Prachanda's gesture of concord even seemed to symbolize a sustained effort to silence his articulate ally-turned-rival-turned-ally.

In assuming the new role of chief ideologue, Prachanda has carefully tailored his remarks to specific audiences. Speaking to Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post, Prachanda sounded uncharacteristically accommodating toward the palace. Instantly he became provocative by proposing to the mainstream parties that they form a joint parallel government and army.

Prachanda's interview with India's Hindu newspaper was evidently aimed at reassuring Indians. The rebel chief went beyond denying the existence of any operational alliance with the Indian Maoists; he suggested that the evident mainstreaming of the Nepalese rebels ought to inspire his Indian soulmates one day to join competitive politics.

In his interview with the BBC, Prachanda clearly had eyes and ears on the soundbite. Moments after acknowledging the theoretical possibility of the Maoists accepting the monarchy, Prachanda predicted exile or execution for King Gyanendra.

Admittedly, for insurgents who began their campaign to overthrow the monarchy in 1996 by, among other things, opening fire on a portrait of King Birendra, that sentiment must have lost much of its revolutionary appeal. As a news headline, it was a perfect match in terms of seconds, bytes and point size.

Much original news could be found in Prachanda's comments. China, for instance, has changed its policy of putting all its eggs in the palace basket. Prachanda credits Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran with encouraging the shift during his recent strategic dialogue in Beijing. (Among the men Saran met there was State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan's who put off by a month a visit to Nepal that was to have begun this week.)

We thought Admiral William J. Fallon, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, had arrived in Kathmandu earlier this month to deliver a strong message to King Gyanendra on democracy. We learned from Prachanda that the admiral was actually in Kathmandu to counsel deployment of elite commandoes against the rebels. Prachanda conceded that American support for the palace was the only thing stopping the rebels from capturing Kathmandu. It would have been nice to know what the Maoists were doing differently to remove that barrier. (Not much it would seem, since elsewhere he sought India's support against American imperialism.)

Ominously, Prachanda has left one major question unanswered: his party's stand on India. In justifying their "People's War," the Maoists, at least in the early years, went to great lengths to criticize India's policy towards Nepal. Prachanda long maintained that his army's real objective was to fight the Indian military.

Dr. Bhattarai saw the Royal Palace massacre of 2001 part of an Indian strategy to "Bhutanize" and then "Sikkimize" Nepal, a contention Prachanda never disputed. Until before King Gyanendra took full executive control last year, Dr. Bhattarai regularly unleashed diatribes against the evil designs of Indian expansionists on Nepal, especially its vast water resources.

For several weeks after the takeover, Dr. Bhattarai maintained a mysterious silence. We now know he was under some kind of disciplinary action following a power struggle partly focusing on the party's stand on India.

In a tape recording recovered by the army, Prachanda was heard implying that Dr. Bhattarai was an “Indian agent”. Dr. Bhattarai responded, in effect, by calling Prachanda a “palace lackey”. Before these fissures could play out, Indian newspapers reported that Indian intelligence agents facilitated talks between Dr. Bhattarai and top Nepalese and Indian politicians in New Delhi.

Then came Prachanda statement that he had authorized Dr. Bhattarai to hold extensive consultations, paving the way for Dr. Bhattarai's rehabilitation. Prachanda appeared vying with Dr. Bhattarai to persuade India and the mainstream parties that the Maoists considered the monarchy as their primary adversary.

In another somersault, Prachanda, explaining his party's decision to announce a unilateral ceasefire, affirmed that his party's activities were confined to Nepal. Barely 48 hours earlier, Prachanda had signed a statement with Ganapathy, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), reiterating their "pledge to fight unitedly till the entire conspiracies hatched by the imperialists and reactionaries are crushed and the people’s cause of socialism and communism are established in Nepal, India and all over the world." Suddenly, the idea of a South Asian Compact Revolutionary Zone – which Prachanda theorized as part of a local synthesis of the history of revolutions – seemed to have become a mirage.

Ordinarily, such about-turns would be welcomed in the genuine spirit of realpolitik. All the more so by a populace struggling to break free from worsening spiral of death and destruction. However, the process of mainstreaming the Maoists, through the 12-point agreement with the seven-party anti-palace alliance, appears to be less promising than originally thought.

No doubt, the resurgence and lethality of the Indian Maoist groups has alarmed India's mainstream communist parties backing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government. By encouraging Prachanda to sever all links with Indian Maoists, the Left in India wants to protect its turf.

The government in New Delhi, worried by the security threats posed by the Indian Maoists, found it expedient to legitimize the Nepalese Maoists as part of the broader anti-palace alliance in exchange for Prachanda's unequivocal repudiation of all ties with his Indian allies.

Such an arrangement is bound to stand as long as the existing political equations in New Delhi hold firm. At a time when the Left's strains with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government are surfacing on everything from India's proximity to America to New Delhi's hard line on Iran's nuclear program, the fragility of the formulation on Nepal is all too apparent.

The horticulturist in Prachanda must recognize that although the monarchy may be uprooted from the soil of Nepal, the country's waters will continue to flow to India. The Maoists cannot escape the shadows cast on Nepal by the land of the Great Helmsman as it cooperates and competes with India.

ENDS

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