Victor and the Vanquished
To keep faith with the
Seven-Party Political Alliance, Prachanda will have to break faith with
his Maoist comrades in Nepal, in India, and all over the world ----
After a decade of bloodshed, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka 'Prachanda' - the
'fierce one' - leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, if he
is to be believed, appears to have undergone a transmogrification, abandoning
the pathways of carnage and Maoist protracted war, to embrace Buddha's
gospel of peace. Coming 'over-ground' after nearly 20 years, Prachanda
declared at the Prime Minister's residence at Baluwatar after 'summit
level' talks with the Government, on June 16, "Some 2500 years ago,
Lord Buddha led a revolution and gave a message of peace in this land.
Today we are going to make another history."
Many seized upon the historical
summit of June 16 as an augur of a final end to the violence that has
tormented Nepal for over a decade, with one Nepali commentator breathlessly
declaring that the current détente "heralded a new beginning for peace
by ending a decade-long violent insurgency."
The far more conservative
International Crisis Group, while emphasising the fragility of the present
regime and the infirmity of its administrative capacities in the districts,
nevertheless urges the international community to "assist both armed
parties with a gradual demobilisation and demilitarisation process"
(emphasis added), immediately placing the rebel war machine at a position
of moral and political parity with the state's forces, and conferring
an absolute legitimacy on the Maoists that will prove immensely difficult
to retract in case the process breaks down.
So rapidly has the 'peace
process' in Nepal progressed in the weeks since King Gyanendra restored
Parliament on April 24 that it is easy to forget how close the country
had come to the edge of the abyss, and how little has, in fact, changed
in the structures, the distribution and the equation of power between
the contesting parties. Faint, but nevertheless crude, reminders did
manifest themselves during the June 16 summit, over which Prachanda
virtually presided, and there was little doubt who was the victor, and
who the vanquished.
Flanked by senior leaders
of the SPA, Prachanda left little doubt, as one commentator noted, that
he was "the uncontested ruler" of the day, as he rebuked "the Government"
for the poor management of the event, and its many administrative failures.
"I did not want the event of my coming overground in such a poorly managed
situation. This shows how pathetically this Government has been running
the country," he declared, and senior SPA leaders, including the Deputy
Prime Minister and the Home Minister, nodded submissively. Prime Minister
Koirala had displayed the good sense of keeping away from the collective
negotiations, evidently aware of the potential for embarrassment, if
Outside the high-security
venue, triumphant Maoist cadres, carrying ominous bags in which many
believed they carried weapons, ruled the roost, even as the police stood
idly by. Maoist activities, in the weeks succeeding the restoration
of Parliament and preceding Prachanda's summit with SPA leaders, also
suggest that, while the form appears to have undergone some changes,
the substance of power has been altered only slightly. Extortion and
intimidation remain endemic, and reports of the targeting of security
forces, political rivals and 'renegades' by the Maoists continue to
trickle in from different parts of the country, suggesting a quiet process
The renamed Nepali Army,
appears to be trying to make itself as inconspicuous and compliant as
possible. On June 14, the Army formed a committee to probe the alleged
custodial killing of 49 Maoists in secret detention camps. Headed by
Brigadier Sharad Kumar Neupane, the five-member committee will investigate
allegations that a large number of people 'disappeared' around December
2003 after being held in these camps inside an Army barracks. The Office
of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had made public its report
in May on arbitrary detention, torture and disappearances in camps run
by the Royal Nepalese Army's Bhairabnath Battalion.
The report stated that
at least 49 detainees 'disappeared' from the camps. Maoists claim they
have evidence that the prisoners, including women, were taken to the
Shivapuri forest on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where they were extra-judicially
executed and buried. The Army has also clarified that it was in favour
of the proposal to absorb the Maoist armed cadre into its ranks..
Today, every constituency that was opposed
to the Maoists in the past has been substantially disempowered, marginalised
or co-opted into servile collaboration. All hope is now vested in Maoist
good faith and the blind expectation that Prachanda will remain committed
to the agreements that he has reached with the feeble SPA. On the other
hand, Maoists have said that they will reject any settlement that dilutes
their principal agenda.
It is useful, in this context,
to recall that, as recently as September 1, 2005, Prachanda and the
head of India's Maoists, Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy (general
secretary of CPI-Maoist), had issued a joint declaration, proclaiming,
inter alia, their determination to "fight unitedly till the entire conspiracies
hatched by the imperialists and reactionaries are crushed and Socialism
and Communism are established in Nepal, India and all over the world."
( Published in The
Pioneer, July 13, 2006)