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K. Singh Bam: A Nepalese Kerensky In The Making?

A Nepalese Kerensky In The Making?

By Krishna Singh Bam

The Nepalese government, defying a crescendo of internal and international admonitions, has done well to ignore the three-month unilateral ceasefire offered by the Maoist rebels earlier this month. Clearly, the royal regime has relied on the bitter experiences of the last two peace processes.

The Maoists are not interested in anything short of total victory – the overthrow of constitutional monarchy and multiparty parliamentary democracy and the imposition of a one-party totalitarian system. Before being carried away by Prachanda's peace protestations, it would have been prudent for all quarters to recall the documents and video footage seized during the last ceasefire, in 2003, showing Maoist cadres telling the mass base that negotiations were but a tactical gambit.

The royal regime, therefore, has legitimate concerns about the Maoists' using any cessation of hostilities to rearm, regroup and expand their political space in the capital and other urban centers in an effort to mount their final assault.

For the Maoists, the war-peace cycle has its purpose. The unleashing of terror eliminates traditional rallying points and generates demands for protection. The destruction of development infrastructure such as health clinics, schools, bridges, power lines and communication towers is aimed at severing links with the existing system. Isolating the people into a self-contained entity makes their goal of remaking of the new world a whole lot easier.

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As for the kind of world they envisage, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the chief rebel ideologue, has been candid. Responding to the murder and mayhem unleashed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Dr Bhattarai said: “There is no independent and authentic account of events in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge available so far. Whatever is emanating from the Western media appears to be highly exaggerated to us.” (The Washington Times, December 14, 2002)

When they consider the moment is propitious for pushing ahead with nonviolent means, the rebels have held violence abeyance. During pauses on the battlefield, the rebels move to bolster their political machinery. Directly and through front organizations, they seek to operate with comparatively fewer restrictions and proceed to further divide their foes.

Over the course of their nine-year "people's war", the Maoists have made common cause with both the mainstream political parties and the monarchy. Admittedly, their ultimate aim is to use one against the other and then to take on the victor. When Prachanda describes war and peace as two sides of his revolution coin, he makes sense.

The country needs to avoid misreading Maoist ploys for concessions. When Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai have claimed a willingness to accept a "ceremonial monarchy" or a “bourgeois republic” as part of a peace settlement, they are only doing so as an intermediate step. Their insistence on a United Nations role in any negotiated settlement of a conflict that has claimed over 12,000 lives serves two main purposes. First, it helps their overall effort to delegitimize the royal regime by consistently questioning its credibility. Second, it preempts a real solution by conditioning it on a level of international involvement that neither India nor China, Nepal's two powerful neighbors, would contemplate.

Consequently, the Maoists can portray themselves as the peace party, pressuring the international community to stop military assistance to the government and demanding that the army return to barracks. Keeping themselves out of such restrictions, the rebels could continue their criminal activities to fund weapons procurements and training.

Even if the royal regime were to grasp the peace bait, the outcome is doomed, especially considering the rebels' nebulous organizational structure. No interlocutor could be sufficiently assured of a Maoist negotiating team's authority or the degree to which it would reflect the views of the entire leadership.

Although portrayed as a collective leadership, the hierarchy of the Maoist party is dominated by Prachanda through his allies in the politburo. Moreover, the mystery surrounding the patch-up between Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai has cast a long shadow over a rebel delegation's ability to negotiate in good faith.

Prachanda's charges against Dr. Bhattarai, made public earlier this year, were searing and serious. The chief rebel ideologue's rebuttals were extensive. Prachanda accused Dr. Bhattarai of bolstering groupism and divisive activities within the party and questioning recent military decisions of the party's highest decision-making body.

This was in response to Dr. Bhattarai's 13-point note of dissent questioning the centralization of power and posts in the hands of Prachanda and efforts to elevate him to the ranks of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

For some time, Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai were said to have sharp differences on the way they perceived India. At an August 2004 plenum, the Maoists identified India as the primary enemy which might interfere militarily or sabotage their talks with the king. Dr. Bhattarai, who believed the main enemy of the Maoists was the monarchy, was said to be open to reaching out to India.

In an audiotape released by the Royal Nepalese Army earlier this year, Prachanda was heard describing Dr. Bhattarai, for all intents and purposes, as an "Indian agent". This prompted Dr. Bhattarai, in effect, to call Prachanda a "palace agent". Before the storm unleashed by such a sordid public display of differences could settle, Prachanda dispatched Dr. Bhattarai to New Delhi to hold discussions with Nepalese opposition leaders on forging an anti-palace alliance. Indian media reported that Dr. Bhattarai was being chaperoned by Indian intelligence agents.

Dr. Bhattarai was reported to have held discussions with Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala and Unified Marxist Leninist leader Bam Dev Gautam, among other Nepalese politicians. The overall confusion was deepened by Prachanda's sudden announcement rehabilitating Dr. Bhattarai, his wife and an ally to their party positions. Ordinary Nepalese remain to be enlightened on the validity or otherwise of the respective postures of Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai which surely must have preceded any patch-up.

If, on the other hand, the reconciliation was forged by India, as reported by a section of the Indian media, then it brings another dynamic not so overtly pertinent in the previous two peace processes. India, infuriated by repeated snubs from King Gyanendra, may be using the Maoists' war-peace pendulum as bargaining chip with the palace.

One Indian newspaper has gone to the extent of claiming that the truce was announced at the behest of the Indian foreign ministry, keen to prevent King Gyanendra from taking Nepal's fight against terrorism to the United Nations summit in New York this week. Significantly, the monarch dropped plans to attend the summit after the truce announcement.

The unilateral ceasefire took most observers by surprise, especially since it came a day after Prachanda issued a inflammatory statement with Ganapathy, the head of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), pledging "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."

After the truce offer scuttled the monarch's visit to the UN, Prachanda began a series of conflicting statements on the prospects of negotiations with the royal regime. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that Prachanda rebuffed overtures from Prime Minister Sher Bhahdur Deuba – whom King Gyanendra dismissed before assuming full executive powers on February 1 -- insisting that the rebels would only talk directly to the monarch.

In his latest contortion, Prachanda has insisted that his "people's war" was not an exportable commodity and that his party maintained only ideological affinity to Indian Maoist groups. This is an obvious attempt to reassure the Indian government, which has been battling a growing Maoist insurgency at home.

For India, an alliance between overtly pro-Indian Nepalese parties and newly converted Maoists is gaining attraction. New Delhi, which until several weeks ago was insisting that constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy were the two pillars of stability in the Himalayan kingdom, is now openly talking about a Nepal without a monarchy.

The two mainstream parties, despite having abandoned their open support for the monarchy, are still in a dilemma vis-à-vis the extent of possible cooperation with the Maoists. Koirala and UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, among others, have been making wildly conflicting statements to this effect.

New Delhi-inspired acceleration of efforts to foster a formal anti-palace alliance are likely to exacerbate tensions within the mainstream. Such a period of deliberation would allow the Maoists to use their front organizations to expand their influence within Kathmandu and ultimately blame the mainstream's inaction, along with the palace's implacability, for thwarting an historic opportunity for peace.

Clearly, the Maoists seem to be taking a page from Lenin's playbook. They are betting on the kind of chaos that existed in Russia between the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II and the final coup that brought the Bolsheviks to power. Is Koirala destined to become the next Kerensky?


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