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Nepal: Flavour Of The Week A Political Smorgasbord

Flavour Of The Week: A Political Smorgasbord


By M.R. Josse

These heady, post-revolutionary days, every week produces a heap of chewy tit-bits for the political aficionado to savour, masticate or push aside. Be warned, the flavour of this week is a political smorgasbord, not a substantial entrée

These heady, post-revolutionary days, every week produces a heap of chewy tit-bits for the political aficionado to savour, masticate or push aside. Be warned, the flavour of this week is a political smorgasbord, not a substantial entrée. Let us begin the sampling with the Maoist claim that the national Army is lopsidedly large though it stands at around 95,000 serving a nation that has an estimated population of around 25 million which, incidentally, renders all knee-jerk descriptions of Nepal as "tiny" hopelessly out of whack.

It is altogether another matter, of course, that if it were not anywhere near its present size, strength, or capability the course of events in the past few years would have been vastly different from what it is today, of course entirely in favour of the Maoists.

MASSIVE DOWNSIZING

Linked with that is the claim by their chief helmsman Prachanda that the national Army, now sans its "royal" tag, must ultimately be merged with the Maoists' PLA estimated at around 30-35,000 soldiers. Some 100,000 more of the Maoist faithful are claimed to be in their militia.

Assuming that the Maoists would logically push for a 50-50 merger – after all, the latest SPAM peace accord accepts only two Nepali sides, on an equal footing – what obviously follows is that, ultimately, there will have to be a massive downsizing of the Army. If the total strength that is envisaged is put in the vicinity of say, only 30,000 (a figure that one has heard bandied about), it would thus have to be composed of 15,000 from each side.

For the national army that would mean that 80,000 soldiers would be given the order of the boot if not worse. That, of course, assumes that the Maoist scheme of things pans out. Whatever the extent of the envisioned downsizing by the Maoists, the large majority of military personnel that compose the national security force today would find themselves on Queer Street.

Almost certainly its entire officer corps would be fired. What the repercussions of such a development would be is, of course, an altogether different kettle of fish, best left to private conjecture.

Even accepting the absurdity that there can be a natural merger between a professional army and one that is the military wing of a political movement that stresses total adherence to its revolutionary Maoist philosophy and leadership, the question arises: will the Army wait for that fateful day without so much as a murmur? Phrased otherwise, what is the incentive for the Army to go along with such a game plan?

By the by has anyone, including the defence minister, given this any thought?

Besides, there is also the uncomfortable query about what happens, in the same time period, to the Maoist militia which their leaders claim is around 100,000 strong? Is no downsizing planned for that outfit?

QUESTION OF OBEDIENCE

There is then the question of how far, if at all, the Maoist rank and file is obeying the orders of its high command. This query has assumed more than just academic interest given the unending spate of reports of continuing Maoist extortion, recruitment, forced taxation, functioning of people's courts, and assorted acts of physical violence and intimidation from all corners of the country.

This, mind you, even after a string of historic peace-related accords, and despite the fact that even the UN has begun its glacial-paced process of monitoring the peace accord of 21 November followed by the endorsement, in principle, by the UN Security Council of the Secretary-General's decision to send an "assessment team" of some 60 personnel as part of the yet-to-be-fully-developed plan to convert today's worrisome, fluid environment into a stable and lasting peace.

As others surely have heard so have I of claims by lower echelon Maoist groups who openly declare that they will never surrender their arms. Some have even been frank enough to admit that without their arms they will not be able to make a living. Others admit to fearing public wrath, if they were to be unarmed. Yet others, I have been informed by diverse sources, openly reject the "peace plan" considering it a shameful "betrayal" of the Maoist cause.

Certainly more light will be shed on these troubling questions with the passage of time. It would be in the fitness of things, I believe, if those responsible for overseeing the peace process, and this includes over-paid UN personnel, would consider firmly grasping these nettlesome questions when they begin to really sink their teeth into their much-hyped mandated responsibilities.

Perhaps this is something that the UN "assessment team" – will their members arrive before Christmas/New Year's holidays, the Western version of our Dasain and Tihar festivities? – should lose no time in addressing.

Incidentally, the same goes for the ticklish, unaddressed issue of small arms and the Maoist militia. Will the UN hotshots take note? It will be fascinating, and edifying, to see what happens on this front.

NEW MAOIST EQUATION?

With the release of senior Maoist commissars, Mohan Vaidya and C.P. Gajurel, from their enforced stay from an Indian jail in West Bengal, some political analysts predict a change in the hitherto visible Maoist pecking order. Indeed, a few even go to the extent of predicting that Vaidya would now be the Number Two in the Maoist outfit displacing Baburam Bhattarai from that slot.

Yet others insist that existing tensions between various shades of ideological opinion within the Maoist movement would likely to be affected by the induction of these two Maoists who have spent years in Indian jails, even as some their colleagues were being fussed and feted over by the powers that be in India.

Indeed, one observant commentator even pointed out to this columnist that for the first time, in a very long time, at one public function Prachanda was flanked by the Vaidya/Gajurel duo while Bhattarai seemed to be missing from the dais. Hitherto Prachanda and Bhattarai have given the impression that they are virtually inseparable. What that merely a coincidence or is it meaningful?

Clearly, many of the answers to such questions lie in the womb of the future. Yet, Maoist-watchers, homegrown or foreign, could be worse than monitor whether, or if, the arrival of Vaidya and Gajurel on the present scene makes any material difference on issues of substance at this crucial and uncertain stage of national politics.

DIVERGENT VIEWS

Much has been heard, or made, about the close cooperation on Nepal policy between India and the United States, now supposedly strategic allies. Oddly enough, last week it appeared that a pronounced divergence of views had developed between them, especially on the question of whether or not the Maoists are considered terrorists.

Interestingly, even as visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shiva Shanker Menon was claiming at a press conference at the Indian Embassy that "India has never dubbed the Nepalese Maoists as terrorists" (Rising Nepal, 2 December, 2006), American Ambassador James F. Moriarty was waxing eloquent before another bunch of journalists, in Pokhara, telling them "the US could continue to consider the Maoists terrorists until they come to the political mainstream like the other political parties." (Himalayan Times, 2 December, 2006).

Since the issue or status of the Maoists in Nepal is a substantive, even crucial, issue, it is strange, to say the least, that there should be such a chasm in the approach of these two strategic allies who are now practically joined at the hips on a wide range of foreign and security policy issues, be they relevant to South Asia or elsewhere. Is it possible that other subtle differences are now also emerging between the two on others matters having a bearing on Nepal? Clearly, this is an area that eager-beaver investigative hacks would do well to bear in mind over the near future.

INACCURATE

Incidentally, Menon's claim that India has never considered the Nepalese Maoists as terrorists does not sit well with facts as they are known here. For example, Jaswant Singh, foreign minister of the BJP-led government, made precisely such a declaration right here in Kathmandu a few years ago.

Perhaps what the good Indian bureaucrat is suggesting is that the present government has not formally made that charge (but it has not, to the best of my knowledge, rescinded the BJP-led government's determination).

Indeed, during his latest foray to Kathmandu, CPI-M's Sitaram Yechuri stated publicly at the Reporters' Club: "When the Nepal government says they (Maoists) are not terrorists any more, why should India continue to label them as terrorists?" (Himalayan Times, 17 November, 2006).

Such flatly contradictory comments do not do anything to boost the image of either diplomats or politicians, even if they do become topical subjects of public discussion.

So much, then, for this week's political smorgasbord.

ENDS

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