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Nepal: Maoists, Too, Pay Price Of Power

Nepal: Maoists, Too, Pay Price Of Power

By Krishna Singh Bam

Maoist supremo Prachanda’s address to the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi – as well the media interviews he granted on the sidelines – may have won him several new friends in the Indian establishment. By claiming that his insurgency had checked anti-India activities of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in Nepal, the rebel leader shed more light than he might have wanted on the quid pro quo at work for the last 10 years. Seeking to burnish his credentials, Prachanda also disclosed that the Maoists had rejected ISI offers of arms.

Clearly, Prachanda is waiting for Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s departure from the political scene to become Nepal’s first president. It may be too early to say whether India now feels comfortable enough with the idea of a republican Nepal. The wait-and-see approach is set to continue as India’s internal political dynamics evolve. Prachanda, for his part, can be expected to make the right kind of noises in the days ahead to endear himself in New Delhi and beyond.

Behind all the glitz, what really emerged in New Delhi was Prachanda’s metamorphosis from fierce nationalist into another pseudo patriot. He is in the company of the likes of Dr. K.I. Singh and Bharat Shamsher Rana.

Dr. Singh, not too many Nepalis have forgotten, was a fierce critic of the “Delhi Compromise” Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru forced on Nepal as part of independent India’s version of the Monroe Doctrine. Indian troops entered Nepal to suppress Dr. Singh’s rebellion.

The “barrel-chested, walrus-mustached… Robin Hood of the Himalayas” – to borrow Time magazine’s colorful words – was brought to Kathmandu and jailed. Following a revolt by his armed supporters in 1952, Dr. Singh fled to China. By the time he returned to Nepal and became premier five years later, Dr. Singh had been urging Nepalis to be more grateful for the economic assistance their “greatest friends” to the south had been providing.

Bharat Shamsher Rana, the grandson of the second-ranking Rana member of the cabinet, almost carried through his anti-Nepali Congress coup two months after the 1951 change. As leader of the opposition in Nepal’s first elected legislature, he did quite a bit to destabilize Prime Minister B.P. Koirala’s government. Once King Mahendra booted both men out of power, Bharat merged his party with the Nepali Congress to bolster the India-backed anti-palace insurgency.

Regardless of how it evolves, the SPA-Maoist accord of November 16, 2006 will be remembered as the document through which the Maoists’ fully and formally paid the price for power. The precise provision is Article 8 which promises citizenship to everyone born before mid-April 1990 and continuously living in the country. It turns out the Maoists’ incessant warnings about the threat of “Sikkimization” (India’s outright annexation of Nepal) was merely a cover for the “Fiji-fication” (swamping Nepal with Indians).

India and its sympathizers in Nepal have always succeeded in portraying nationalism as a palace ploy to strengthen autocratic rule. The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) being the latest beneficiaries of that contrivance, Prime Minister Koirala’s government was certainly not going to dispel it. Yet it seemed as if nationalism had chance even in a republican Nepal under the Maoists. Some of Prachanda’s expostulations on geopolitics sounded like they came straight out of the palace files.

Moreover, Maoist protesters on the streets of Kathmandu had forced India’s then-Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to revise New Delhi’s early exuberance over the palace’s first overtures to the SPA. Even until a few weeks ago, the Maoists were being credited with torpedoing the extradition treaty India wanted to force on Nepal. Prachanda himself was refusing to participate in the New Delhi leadership summit.

Then something changed. Indian Ambassador Shiva Shankar Mukherjee summoned Prachanda and his deputy, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, to the embassy. The duo emerged with warm words about Indian assurances. Then the deadlock on arms management was resolved, allowing the SPA and Maoists to sign an accord. The seditious citizenship bill stayed in. Prachanda changed his mind and accepted the Delhi invitation.

Quietly, it turns out, another Mukherjee worked his way through the maze. Pranab Mukherjee’s appointment as Indian foreign minister suddenly set Nepal’s peace ball rolling. What did the Indian ambassador really tell Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai? What were the precise details of New Delhi’s ultimatum?

It won’t be as easy to believe that the 40-point demand the Maoists presented to the government in 1996 before launching their “people’s war” led off with grievances against India. The Maoists, moreover, will probably cease to publicize their “undeclared working alliance” with King Birendra, especially since the slain monarch had refused to sign into law a similar citizenship bill parliament had foisted on him.

In their essays and interviews, Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai used to claim that the Maoists were actually waiting to fight the Indian army. How unfortunate that Nepalis failed to understand such a clear and unambiguous message. The rebels offered themselves as the pretext for India to intervene militarily in Nepal to get rid of the ISI and all other “undesirables”.

Now we know why the Indian government declared the Maoists terrorists before Nepal had. So that it could provide the perfect cover for India’s active sponsorship of the insurgency. No wonder the head of a terrorist organization could participate in a high-profile conference in the Indian capital with such ease. Nepal’s greatest wordsmith, Dr. Bhattarai, might have no problem agreeing that farce does not even begin to describe India’s policy vis-à-vis Nepal.

This is where a President Prachanda must be careful. He should recall one thing: as defense minister, Pranab Mukherjee was the principal advocate of supporting King Gyanendra’s regime against the Maoist insurgency. As foreign minister, he wants to put the rebels in power as long as they separate themselves from their guns.

The Terai is up in arms against the SPA-Maoist accord, with cross-party unity not seen since the Sher Bahadur Deuba government announced a land reform policy in 2001. Yet that may not be where the real action is going take place. Nepalis – least of all the Maoists – should not be so dismissive of the armed revolt that obscure royalist outfit has pledged to begin from western Nepal.


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