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Nepal: How Real Is The Maoist Peace Camp?

Nepal: How Real Is The Maoist Peace Camp?


By Sanjay Upadhya

The ecstasy over the outbreak of peace has abated somewhat with the government’s ambassadorial appointments. The severity of the Maoists’ denunciation of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government’s “ill-timed” decision was less surprising than the swiftness with which they were able to enforce their six-hour stoppage. At a deeper level, this brazen display of the fragility of the peace process offers a timely reminder of the perils of unrestrained optimism.

The outcome of Nepal’s peace and reconciliation effort will depend, above all, on the control Maoist chairman Prachanda exercises over his organization. Until the latest setback, his political and military lieutenants seemed to be firmly behind the process. Moves to sequester Maoist fighters in UN-managed camps appeared to have started reasonably well. It was not difficult to attribute the persistence of abduction, extortion and other violations of the peace accords to maladjustment of longtime “people’s warriors”.

Considering the rollercoaster ride the peace process has proved to be from the outset, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala may be right in refusing to yield to pessimism. Yet doubts about the Maoists’ commitment to peace will continue to hover over the national discourse. How strong is the peace camp in the organization and how long might it prevail? An informal rift in rebel ranks could torpedo the gains so far. The national anxiety deepens when one considers that a formal split is still possible.

Indian Maoists have been unequivocal in their criticism of Prachanda’s latest path. Accusations of betrayal have been emanating from a wider universe of the international left long sympathetic to the insurgency. In this climate, a breakaway Maoist faction would not find it too hard to find ideological allies. The swiftness with which moral sustenance can translate into military support is evident from the Maoists’ own evolution.

So the essential question remains: what stakes do the Maoists have in peace? For all the triumphalism Prachanda and Co. has been exuding, the Maoists have paid a hefty price for peace. Militarily, they seemed capable of overrunning the capital and establishing their cherished people’s republic. What impelled them to join hands with the parliamentary mainstream against the monarchy? More importantly, what effect has this alliance had on those on the frontlines of the decade-long war against parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy?

“Recognition of international realities” – the Maoists’ phrase of choice – hides more than it reveals. Did the rebels come to the negotiating table against their will through external pressure? Could this be why the SPA government has been treating the Maoists as the eighth player, and not as the representatives of the “new state” the rebels so firmly believe they are.

The mood within Maoist ranks becomes important especially in view of the external dimension. The effusiveness with which Prachanda continues to praise India’s role in current developments cannot have gone unnoticed in an organization that declared war on the state in pursuit of a 40-point agenda top heavy with a tirade against New Delhi’s sustained subjugation of Nepal.

Even if the entire Maoist rank and file were somehow to share Prachanda’s political pragmatism, far fewer would be ready to countenance his conversion to capitalism, something unmistakable in his recent pronouncements.

Prachanda may have lost the credibility to revert into a hardcore revolutionary. Prime Minister Koirala may rescue his peace partner by immediately promulgating the interim constitution and inducting the Maoists into an interim government and parliament. How would such a contrived peace feed into the discontent voiced by other constituencies?

The Terai, the first flashpoint on most minds, may yet be calmed. After all, it was only in the latter phase of the Maoist insurgency that violence really gripped the region bordering India. More ominous could be the bruises inflicted in India by the identification of Hinduism with the monarchy. A Hindu republic of Nepal carries considerable resonance among constituencies across the southern border which are more than capable of articulating their displeasure.

For now, each of the country’s three political forces claims to enjoy the people’s mandate. The wildly divergent opinion polls on the monarchy have flustered the SPA and the Maoists. The nebulousness of the public pulse may still unite them against the palace. Would that be enough to sustain a durable peace process? Eternal optimism is a feeble basis for peace in the best of times; it is a dangerous one when the process is so amorphous.

ENDS

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