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Nepal: What Now ?

Late in the afternoon of May 07, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) decided call off their indefinite strike to bring down the government. For over five days the Nepalese capital Kathmandu remained a hostage of more than a 100,000 Maoist cadres and supporters lured from the villages around the Kathmandu valley.

For more than once in these five days the coalition government led by the United Marxist-Leninists (UML) appeared to be buckling. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal even offered to step down if a consensus Prime Minister was found to replace him.

Several rounds of meetings were held between the top leading parties – the Nepali Congress (NC), the UML and the Maoists, with some participation from the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), but to no avail.

Several times the Maoists were given conditional offers by the top parties for them to lead a national coalition government. The basic conditions were very specific, directly connected to the future of the country’s democratic constitution and politics. The main demand was that the Maoists openly declare that they are a democratic political party, and forthwith disband their rebel army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and disarm their unbridled youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL) which also possesses arms. The other demands included commitment to the peace process and constitution writing in time, that is, before May 28, 2010.

Twelve of the 22 parties supporting the UML led government refused to give way, strengthening the hand of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar. India’s support to the constitutional government in Nepal and peace and stability, gave Madhav Kumar more strength. On return from the SAARC summit in Thimpu where he had a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Madhav Kumar made it clear that he will not step down on street protest demands.

How much popular support the Maoists enjoy, is the critical question. In the April, 2008 parliamentary elections the Maoists won the largest number of seats, becoming the biggest party in Parliament by far. The people trusted the Maoist revolutionaries as deliverers from the misrule of their democratic politicians and the monarchy. Nepali politicians have a dubious reputation among the people.

But the Maoists turned out to be worse than the regular politicians. Grabbing power and establishing a one-party communist rule was their only agenda. Till they were forced to step down from the government, the Maoist government led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ Prachanda, Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, ideologue Mohan Vaidya Kiran, and Babu Ram Bhattarai forgot about administration and running the country.

The CYL continued its marauding ways. There were murders of political opponents and journalist critics, refusal to return properties of people taken from them during the years of revolution, and decisions centered on confrontation politics.

The Maoist government also tried to subvert the Nepali Army (NA) and the judiciary. Efforts to enlist Maoist fighters (PLA) into the army in blocks as part of the integration process to absorb them in security forces was strongly opposed by the NA.

While there were external pressures and persuasions from the US and the European Union representative as well as the UN on the Maoists to call off the strike, (and these efforts would have helped in the change of mind) what really worked was the internal people’s opposition.

The lured and hired village youth who were given non-lethal combat training by the Maoists began leaving Kathmandu due to lack of food, shelter and sanitation. The UML was forced to set up their own youth wing, the Youth Force, to counter the YCL hoodlums. In Birgunj, the new Hindu Youth Union came up as a new element to counter the various wings of the Maoists. Finally the Professionals Alliance for Peace and Democracy (PAPAD) took out a peace procession in Kathmandu on May 05 which, of course, was attacked by Maoist cadres.

In this atmosphere, the Maoists also tried baiting the NA, which elicited a warning from the Army Chief not to drag the army into controversial politics, warning of consequences otherwise.

The Maoists appear to have made serious mistakes antagonizing most representative sections in the country, and demonstrated immense political immaturity.

A land locked country in a critical place in the subcontinent, enclosed by India and China, two great neighbours, Nepali leaders have to be adept in the balancing act. They must get the best from both sides but avoid bringing these countries into strategic confrontation in its own soil. There are other sensitive issues like Tibet, the pro-Dalai Lama Tibetan refugees, China’s initiative to crush them and the west’s strategy to keep them alive. Given Nepal’s economic infrastructure, its dependency on the west is much more than on China, leaving India aside.

The Maoist hard liners have hurried blindly on ideological politics to bring China into Nepal to counter India. The economic and politics of this strategy defies all logic, but the hard liners do not recognize this. For the common Nepali people, ideology does not fill their stomach and clothe them. The cohesion between the Nepali and Indian people in cultural, linguistic, historical and religious terms is incomparable. Nothing like this exists between the Nepalis and Chinese.

Foreign interest in Nepal is inevitable. The behaviour of the Maoists have reinforced the perception of the west that this can eventually emerge as a destabilising force in the region, with or without China’s encouragement. India is the first recipient of the destabilizing ideology of the Nepali Maoists.

An issue to ponder is the new American policy in Nepal, urging both India and China to help in bringing stability in Nepal. This policy suffers from inherent contradictions. This appears to be an off shoot of very recent American policy being tested, that is enjoining China to help stabilize problems in south Asia.

On May 2-3, this year, an US-China forum on South Asia was unveiled in Beijing, following the Thimpu SAARC summit. This is a strategic recipe of disaster in the making!

Before Nepal’s democratic revolution to oust the monarchy in Nepal, China always strove to convince everybody they were against the Maoists. Post monarchy developments prove that it was a lie.

Immediately following the end of the monarchy and the Maoists coming to power, the Chinese initiated an unprecedented surge in Nepal, putting full support behind the Maoists, offering to finance and train the Maoist army, and assuring Nepal of all assistance against Indian “expansionism” into the country.

Unfortunately, China continues to, as the old saying goes, fish in troubled waters. On April 21, this year, the Chinese Ambassador in Nepal, Qin Guohang, told a select group of Nepalese journalists that China was “pained” by Chinese aided projects sold by previous Nepali governments at “dirt cheap” price.

The interaction was pre-structured, organized by the newly formed Nepal-China media forum. The virulently anti-India Nepali newspaper, The Telegraph, Nepal, reported this interaction in an editorial on May 05, analysing that Chinese aided and funded projects were sold off by previous pro-Indian Nepali government to Indian business by falsely notifying them as loss making. The editorial made the point that while Chinese aided projects gave jobs to unemployed Nepali youths, the Indian projects in Nepal did no such thing.

The viciousness of this editorial must also be seen on the timing of its publication. The date of publishing the editorial was obviously decided in consultation with the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. It was a last ditch effort to denounce the past governments in the interest of the Maoist strike and give it some more anti-India life. Chinese propaganda tactics are well known, but this time it did not succeed. China and its Nepali cohorts had egg on their face.

India must remain alert to Chinese machinations in Nepal, and conceive a counter strategy. Why are the Maoists turning to India now when their strategy to paralyse Nepal and bring down the government failed? Prachanda in talking about friendship with India under “new conditions”. India does agree that the 1950 Treaty needs to be revisited, but one cannot go back to abolish and rewrite the Samgauli treaty under British India. In today’s world, if historical agreements have to be revisited selectively as the Chinese advocate and advise Nepal, there would be no end and the world boundaries will have to be redrawn.

Maoist leader Ram Karki, piqued because his Ambassadorial aggremo was not accepted by India, was in New Delhi on May 5-7 as an emissary, said peace was not possible without India’s help. Karki, however, had other things to say including India must not attempt to make Nepal into another Bhutan. This was a climb down from the Chinese warning last year that India was trying to “Sikkimise” Nepal.

India must assess the Nepali Maoists’ overtures very carefully. There can be no going back to the 2006 role played by India to bring the Maoists to the peace process on which the Maoists rode to governing Nepal. The Nepali hard liners, on the advice of the Chinese, tried to usurp power and brought the country and the people on a downward roll.

It must be kept in clear view that both Prachanda and Bhattarai have been projected by the hard liners as India’s agents, especially agents of the RAW, the Indian foreign intelligence organization. This put the Maoist realists in a difficult position, forcing them to take anti-India positions periodically. This forced Prachanda to meet Chinese officials both in Beijing and Hong Kong to protect his credentials.

The Maoist hard liners have the support of the large majority of its cadres, especially the YCL and the PLA, who have little political acumen and place their loyalty to those leaders who encourage and protect them in their anarchist ways without responsibility. They are now on the losing end of the tide, despite Chinese encouragement.

Indian policy makers and interlocutors must have noted the decision among the Nepali Maoists. Are they ready to split. Not yet, but in time as people’s support diminishes. It would not be a surprise if the hard liners decide to go back to people’s revolution. But this time around they will not have the support they had. Just revolution does not help people, they impoverish them. The 21st century is no longer early to middle 20th century.

New Delhi has to look at the challenges in Nepal squarely in the face and act accordingly. It is not a secret any longer that China is playing rather desperately now to oust India from Nepal. Beijing could have done much better in befriending Nepal if it did not indulge in these machinations to push its boundary with India to the southern frontiers of Nepal.

India would do well to recognise this and formulate its policies accordingly.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent analyst with many years of experience in political analysis. He can be reached at grouchohart@yahoo.com)

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