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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 not humiliation.

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 of consolidation.

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)





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