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Nepal: Behind The Bombast And Bluster

Nepal: Behind The Bombast And Bluster

By Sanjay Upadhya

For an organization that has flourished on ambiguity, obfuscation and even prevarication, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist’s latest internal commotions could be yet another subterfuge. Still, it is becoming difficult to view media reports on the ex-rebels’ growing disenchantment with India in isolation from their increasing assaults on Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, their determination consolidate the fiefdoms ministries they control have become, and their newfound eagerness to forge a broader republican front on the left.

Forest Minister Matrika Prasad Yadav’s altercation with Prime Minister Koirala on the military and the projectiles hurled at Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel at the main mass meeting marking the first anniversary of the collapse of King Gyanendra’s regime, among other things, may not be entirely unrelated events. Some mid-ranking Maoist leaders have started reminding the country that Koirala holds the record of having had the greatest numbers of effigies burned. The peace process may not be in danger. But it will not become more tranquil or methodical.

Today’s Maoists barely resemble the group that declared war on the state 11 years ago with a manifesto top heavy with grievances against India. Indeed, Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai were already articulating the urgency of toning down their anti-Indian rhetoric at the Lucknow talks with UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal in 2003. Whatever the truth behind the Prachanda-Dr. Bhattarai split that came to the fore in mid-2005, the events leading up to the 12-point agreement with Seven Party Alliance in New Delhi underscored the centrality of India in the Maoists’ internal deliberations.

With enough sophistication, Prachanda’s very public turnaround in New Delhi could have helped the peace process. For a brief moment, it looked like the Maoists were actually capable of creating that vital mixture of nationalism and democracy Nepali politics has been oscillating between. The moment Prachanda felt compelled to criticize Pakistan in order to woo India, he forced many Nepalis into that awful disposition between laughter and lament.

Clearly, India’s immediate goal in securing the 12-point accord was to tame the palace, as evidenced by New Delhi’s enthusiastic albeit premature welcoming of King Gyanendra’s first address to the nation. Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai could not have been oblivious to New Delhi’s larger objective: the mainstreaming of the Maoists as a national security imperative. By subduing the inspirational fount of the Naxalites, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be more comfortable in confronting what he has called greatest internal security threat since independence.

India’s duality on the Maoists has survived the royal regime. The security establishment, which was more amenable to engagement with King Gyanendra’s government, continues to uncover the Nepali ex-rebels’ purported wider links to terrorism. The political establishment, excluding the Hindu nationalist flank, is busy assuring Indians and the rest of the world that Nepal’s Maoists have little more than ideological ties with the Naxalites.

When the Maoists rail against India’s “trap”, they obviously have the former group in mind. But blaming Indian Hindu extremists and royalists for instigating madhesis, janjatis and other groups that still feel disenfranchised cannot help much. The amplification over the past year of traditional grievances the Maoists claimed to have articulated has questioned the premise of the “people’s war.” Prachanda’s frivolities have only reinforced the siege.

Prachanda’s purported retort at a recent central committee meeting that C.P. Gajurel and Mohan Baidya would still be languishing in Indian prisons without his overtures to India sounded pragmatic. The problem is, Baidya was among those criticizing the party supremo’s policy. If today’s Maoists are the same group of ideologically disciplined people credited with mounting the world’s most successful post-communist revolutionary movement, could they be expected to correct this drift? If so, in which ways? How would the Maoists’ sustained effort to build ties with China in light of Beijing’s policy of pragmatism fit into this drive? More importantly, how would New Delhi respond?

For the moment, the disgruntled Maoists have made renewed calls for unity between nationalist and democratic forces against Indian designs. In the past, that slogan allowed the Maoists to veer closer to the palace. What does “nationalist” imply in the republican context beyond the broader leftist front?

The Nepali Congress seems have grasped the implications of that question. The party continues to remind the Maoists of their undertaking to allow the first sitting of the constituent assembly to decide the fate of the monarch less out of scrupulous adherence to existing agreements than political pragmatism. It is hard to miss the murmurs within the Nepali Congress suggesting that the palace may actually constitute a lesser threat to democracy than the Maoists.

For now, though, the bombast and bluster over the wisdom of declaring a republic from the interim parliament, government and streets provides a convenient cover for all.


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