Recriminations Mount - SPAM Alliance Schisms
Recriminations Mount As SPAM Alliance Develops Schisms
By M.R. Josse
On the surface, everything on the SPAM or interim government front may appear fine and dandy. Indeed, Maoist Minister of Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara has even been given the responsibility of serving as the government's chief spokesman. Yet, if one scratches a little below the surface a far different picture begins to emerge: one of increasing recriminations and schisms. While more on those fascinating aspects of current political scene should be manifest to all and sundry in the exciting, even turbulent, days ahead, for now and for this column's sake it should be enough to merely dwell on its NC, Maoist and UML facets.
NC: TARGET FOR LEFT CRITICISM
Fresh from his five-day SAARC excursion to New Delhi (vide Worldview column) Prime Minister Koirala has begun to be bombarded with bitter charges and recriminations from his key Maoist and UML allies based on their belief that before long the 20 June date for the CA polls will be pushed back, possibly to sometime in November.
Mr JosseeAt the time of writing, some broadsheets have reported that at a meeting with Prachanda at his residence on 8 April, Koirala reassured the Maoist supremo that those polls could be held on 20 June provided that the major political parties remain united and committed to that objective. The very next day, addressing his first public rally since became prime minister a year ago, Koirala bluntly told a Pokhara audience that "the time has come for Maoists to fulfill their commitment on what they agreed to and what they wanted" as also that "they should stop extortion and return captured lands and houses of people" (TKP, 10 April). Though that would seem to firmly deny any NC culpability for a possible postponement of the CA polls, both Maoists and the UML leaders have repeatedly charged that it is the NC, including Koirala himself, who is not very keen on advancing full steam ahead on that path. UML's leading comrade Madhav Kumar Nepal, for instance, told a public assemblage in Biratnagar that the government, in which his party is one of its main constituent elements, is conspiring to postpone the CA polls as it has been dillydallying to resolve the Terai problem and also to formulate necessary laws for election purposes (TKP, 9 April). Another news report (THT, 9 April) quotes Nepal as stating categorically "PM Koirala and some Congress leaders do not want to hold the CA polls as they are certain that the NC will lose in the polls." A day earlier in Biratnagar, addressing the party faithful, Nepal had leveled similar allegations against the NC. He also lambasted the Maoists accusing them of attempting to win a majority of seats by hook or by crook. He charged: "Nepali Congress and the Maoists with their Home Ministry and their Young Communist League cadres respectively are conspiring against the UML to get the people's votes." (TKP, 8 April). He added: "The NC now has a strategy of deriving benefit by creating conflict between us and the Maoists" (Ibid). Notably, too, Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel, speaking in Pokhara, lashed out against both the Maoists and the UML.
He declared "democracy cannot be consolidated by authoritarian ideals" warning that any election held amidst Maoist threats would fail to secure international recognition (TKP, 10 April). In a sharp rebuke to UML's general secretary, Poudel observed that Nepal's most recent remarks were indicative of his haste to become prime minister and, even more so, that "it reflects the intention to defer election and blame the Nepali Congress for that" (Ibid). Apart from Prachanda publicly ridiculing Koirala's political claims articulated at the SAARC plenary in New Delhi on 3 April, his senior colleague C.P. Gajurel declared that his party would not take moral responsibility if CA polls were not held on time, clearly hinting at the NC in that regard. Note must also be taken that Koirala's daughter Sujata, a senior NC official, stated publicly on 8 April that "the election is not possible in June.
Everybody knows that is not going to happen then" (THT 9 April). She went on to elaborate that as there are so many problems currently, it is not wise to hold the election amid confusion and dissatisfaction (Ibid). Significantly, too, according to vernacular weekly Deshantar (8 April), considered close to the NC, Finance Minister Ram Saran Mahat denied that there had been any formal agreement on the 20 June date. As per Mahat, only informal discussions had taken place on the issue among representatives of the eight parties in power.
In any case, according to the provisions of the Interim Constitution, such a decision must formally be taken by the government, in consultation with the Election Commission and in consultation with the UNMIN, mandated by the world body to oversee the polls. It may recalled that Chief Election Commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokhrel cautioned a gathering of the eight parties recently that the decision on the date of the CA polls should not be taken in haste as a great deal of essential preparatory work still needed to be done.
MAOISTS: STILL REVOLUTIONARY
Quite apart from emergent Maoist-NC differences on the issue of the date of the polls, the former's rhetoric has, of late, begun to take on a disturbing fire-and-brimstone quality. One assumes that it must be as chilling to the NC and the UML as to all others who have fondly or naively hoped that all that was a relic of the past.
A prime example is Prachanda's public address of 7 April in Kathmandu wherein he categorically claimed that the "people's war" is still on despite his party having joined the government. As he explained, "only the form and style of struggle have changed." (THT, 8 April). According to another version, the Maoists' chief declared that the struggle would not end even after achieving power (TKP, 8 April). As per another news report, he even went as far as claiming – incredibly – that under his party "Nepal would lead the world revolution" (TRN, 8 April). That, incidentally, flies in the face of his public assurance in India last year that his revolution was not for export. If it is not surprising that the Maoists have continued their virtually daily onslaught on American Ambassador James F Moriarty for allegedly "hatching plots to disrupt the CA polls, and to uproot the Maoists" (TKP, 8 April), significantly, Prachanda himself has now trained his guns on UNMIN chief, Ian Martin, hitherto widely considered a Maoist sympathiser.
As reported in the daily press, Prachanda disclosed the following at the public meeting referred to earlier. "Martin has also cast doubt over the possibility of conducting CA election on time and he also said the international community won't recognize it, if the CA polls happen through force." (TKP, 8 April). No less significantly, he went on to inform his audience that India and the US have made similar analyses, "but we will conduct election at any cost. The left forces will be united and no power on earth will be able to defeat us" (Ibid). While leaving what "we will conduct election at any cost" actually means to the imagination, the inclusion of India in his short listing is particularly noteworthy: for sometime now Maoists spokesmen have either lauded India's role in the success of the April Uprising of 2006 or limited their criticism to Indian "criminals" and "Hindu extremists," in the context of the Terai movement.
UML: BETWEEN ROCK AND HARD PLACE
Turning now to the UML, clearly it is caught between a rock and a hard place, as indicated by General Secretary Nepal's charge that both the NC and the Maoists have unfairly been gunning for them. Additionally, it may be edifying to note a few contradictions that stare the UML squarely in its face.
The first is that while Nepal lauds the cause of Left unity, with the Maoists forming the avant garde in the context of the CA polls, he also lambastes them for continuing with their strong arm tactics, including that employed by its Youth Communist League cadres in order to sideline his party. What kind of unity is that, pray? In any case, perhaps because of the shabby manner in which Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan of the UML was treated by Koirala during the SAARC-XIV summit, Nepal has given vent to anger. Thus, speaking in Biratnagar, he expressed dissatisfaction at the prime minister for failing to brief the eight parties on the SAARC summit (THT, 9 April). Whatever be the reasons why Pradhan was excluded in bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Koirala and VVIPs in New Delhi (vide Worldview), one should not be surprised if fresh seeds of suspicions and doubts have thereby been implanted in the UML leadership's mind vis-à-vis the NC. Incidentally, the same is probably true in the case of the Maoists. In fact, although in his plenary address to the SAARC summit, Koirala took full credit for having brought the Maoists into the political mainstream, he failed to include a Maoist minister in his delegation. Wouldn't it have been a splendid PR gesture, if nothing else, to have made the above claim, and then to have introduced, say, Minister Mahara to the august gathering? Should the Maoists, in such circumstances, not suspect that perhaps Koirala did not wish that they should have any inkling as to what transpired in New Delhi palavers exclusively between Indian leaders and the NC? To come back to the UML, however, it seems somewhat contradictory for Nepal to talk, on the one hand, of a well orchestrated plot to scuttle the polls and then to argue that the Army should or could be deployed for the elections – a suggestion that quickly brought forth a response from Maoist Local Development Minister Dev Gurung that was far from being an endorsement of the same.
As reported, Gurung said that there was no agreement to deploy the Army for the polls. He however added that "it is not impossible to deploy both armies during the CA polls with the agreement of the eight parties" (THT, 8 April) a suggestion, one assumes, would not be backed by the UML and the NC – not to mention by the Army brass itself. Finally, what is one to say about Nepal's incessant chant that there is a plot to delay, or even derail, the CA polls and his recent suggestion to journalists in Itahari that CA polls would be affected if they were held without holding talks with the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha? (THT, 8 April). In Siraha, soon thereafter, he was quoted as arguing that CA polls should not be conducted in haste! Clearly, the UML captain's utterances reflect the difficulties and dilemmas of his party's uncomfortable, unenviable position even as it is becoming increasingly evident that serious schisms are developing within the SPAM syndicate.