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Sanjay Upadhya: Nepal - The Taming Of The Crew

Nepal: The Taming Of The Crew

By Sanjay Upadhya

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala probably did not return home expecting an extended convalescence after his surgery at a Bangkok hospital. The plethora of problems that have accumulated on the ground in his absence will not let him put his feet up as much as he might want to.

The Maoists’ – often contradictory -- interpretation of the June 16 eight-point accord, the discord within the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) over certain provisions of the deal, and differences within Koirala’s Nepali Congress on the prime minister’s support of a ceremonial monarchy are illustrative of the multiple layers of the challenges the much-vaunted peace process confronts.

Maoist leader Prachanda and chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai are back in
Kathmandu after concluding a tour of their base areas to sell the accord to the rank and file. In the run-up to the next “summit”, they have held preliminary talks with senior SPA leaders, who concluded that the eight-point accord was a “mistake” after signing it.

The comments of some SPA leaders, such as Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, underscore the depths of the differences between the rebels and the mainstream parties. The Maoists’ call for the dissolution of the House of Representatives, the imperative of ensuring fair representation on the panel drafting the interim constitution, the exact status of the Maoists’ weapons before they can be inducted in a new interim government, among other things, would have to be addressed directly during a second “summit”.

More importantly, Prime Minister Koirala needs to take full charge of the SPA side of the process. Consider how top government ministers contradicted one another in responding to the Nepal Army’s rebuttal of the invective Prachanda spewed at the post-summit news conference. With such clumsiness, you certainly do not need the palace to scuttle the peace process.

The Maoists’ primacy over the process cannot obscure serious questions relating to their credibility as a partner. This is something firmly tied to the enigma that Prachanda still remains. Over the years, his perceived eloquence in expounding ideology has been useful in perpetuating the ambiguity the rebels used to build and wreck alliance among and within rival power centers.

Prachanda’s emergence at the news conference has shifted the parameters of the debate. Can his reputation for tolerating no dissent within his organization weld into the imperative of free and open deliberations the multiparty system – at least the SPA version of it -- presupposes?

Would Prachanda’s abiding faith in the Nepalese people’s ultimate rejection of the monarchy in the constituent assembly elections really make him adhere to an opposite popular verdict as he has pledged? Or is the rebel leader’s eagerness to discard “parliamentary republicanism” in favor of a more locally relevant model merely the first draft of an opt-out clause?

Broadly speaking, is peace the real agenda of the entire rebel organization? After all, the Maoists took up arms against both the parliamentary system and the monarchy in 1996 vowing to establish a “people's republic.” Has the wisdom of allying with one foe to defeat the other been widely accepted in the ranks as a tactic or the logical culmination of the insurgency? In the latter case, can the foot soldiers adapt to competitive mainstream politics discarding the Great Helmsman’s adage that power grows out of the barrel of the gun?

Admittedly, the Maoists exhibited remarkable restraint during their massive rally in the capital recently. Many are tempted to believe that the rebels have sincerely chosen the path of pragmatic politics. However, is one example of moderation sufficient to erase the marauding of a decade?

The silence of military strategist Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” is becoming deafening by the day. Nanda Kishor Pun “Pasang”, another influential rebel commander, too, is said to be unhappy with the latest turn of events. Matrika Yadav, the most prominent Maoist leader from the Terai, has threatened to boycott the constituent assembly polls unless madhesis get citizenship certificates.

The economic dimensions of the Maoist ostensible transformation are murkier. Can Prachanda’s oft-repeated basic opposition to economic liberalization allow enough room for the encouragement of industry, creation of jobs and growth of for-profit enterprise.

If Prachanda’s sole substantive program consists of exploiting Yarchagumba, that rare fungus found only in the Himalayas and prized in traditional Chinese medicine as an aphrodisiac, then Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat should immediately begin private session in Economics 101 with the rebel leader. The imponderable, of course, is Prachanda’s willingness to listen.


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