Jan 6, 2012

Maoists in a dilemma

By Ashok K Mehta

Those Maoists who are not part of the Government in Nepal are pushing for revolutionary capture of the state. But restraint should prevail over revolt.

Capture of power has been the dominant theme of the Maoist lexicon and strategic discourse in Nepal. Flexibility underlines the tactics used to acquire power — military force, subterfuge and electoral means. Contingent upon whether Maoists are in power (as part of a coalition or heading a Government) or out in the cold, pursuit of revolt or the democratic path, cornerstones of the Maoist two-line strategy, have alternated as the preferred option.

Lately revolt has been captured by the hardline faction led by senior vice-chairman Mohan Baidya to demonstrate dissent and frustration on being deprived of the loaves and fishes of power that the main-streamed Maoists are enjoying. Barring Mr Baidya himself, an old school revolutionary of Mohan Bikram Singh vintage, others with him are mainly seeking office and perks. Capture of power has acquired this added connotation with little to do with ideology or the two-line strategy. The current strife within the Maoist fold, which threatens to delay the peace process and the longevity of the Government led by moderate Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, will not disappear anytime soon.

How does the Baidya faction, which has the support of 100 of the 238 Maoist legislators, hope to execute an immediate revolt to establish a People’s Republic and Constitution when earlier attempts last year at urban insurrection and people’s revolt failed as there was no critical popular support? The military option was exhausted in April 2005 after the catastrophic battle of Khara, the Maoists’ waterloo.

The Chungwang plenum of October 2005 put to rest strategic offensive in favour of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement a month later. The resurgence of revolt is both the result of ‘loss of power’ by the Prachanda-led Government in 2009 and accommodating dissent to keep the flock together. The Palungtar plenum (2010), which hardliners quote chapter and verse, harmonised three lines: Revolt (Baidya); consolidating the peace process (Bhattarai); and, the middle line, accepting revolt as necessary but impossible under new conditions (Prachanda).

The ideological sparring in the ongoing Central Committee is likely to be papered over by a compromise resolution by Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, in the interest of party unity. On December 3, 2011, Mr Dahal reportedly said that revolt as an option was not abandoned but peaceful accommodation was preferable, a typical Prachanda doublespeak which addresses symptoms, not the disease.

This infighting raises two questions. First, have the Maoists given up violence as a means of achieving their political goal? Second, have they transformed from an underground guerrilla force into a political party respecting multi-party democracy, rule of law and human rights? Their goal of a single-party state appears as impractical as the Indian Maoists’ objective of capturing power in New Delhi. At a Hindustan Times summit in New Delhi in 2007, Prachanda stated that his party had given up violence though later he reneged, keeping revolt as a strategic option. The makeover of the Maoists is work in progress and related to their share in Government and power which they have used to bargain a favourable deal on integration of armies.

Evidence of Maoist democratic behaviour is manifest in the current predominantly moderate ideological line, agreement to wind down the PLA and dual security, transfer of the PLA command and keys of weapons containers to a special committee, decentralisation of power in what is called the Dhobighat Agreement on the principle of one-man one-post by the all-powerful Prachanda and in the overall political demeanour of the Maoists. While steps have been taken to return confiscated land in Bardia, dismantling of the Young Communist League will take time. The Americans have welcomed the change though Maoists are still on the US Terrorist Exclusion List which is mainly tied to visa and travel restrictions.

Since Mr Bhattarai, who is seen as pro-India, became Prime Minister and the arrival of the new Ambassador, Mr Jayant Prasad, anti-India sloganeering and sentiments have been subdued. New Delhi’s belated recognition of the indispensability of the Maoists to the peace process and India-Nepal relations has to extend towards constructive re-engagement of Nepal, especially trust-building with the Maoists.

The momentum of the peace process has slowed down. The Supreme Court has refused to entertain a Government review petition challenging its verdict of a last six-month extension of the Constituent Assembly till May 28. Internal dissent is a serious distracting factor. Fresh problems have been created by the Maoist combatants exercising the integration choices. Of the 16,400 (3,100 were absent) PLA cadre, 9,454 have opted to integrate, 7,566 have decided to retire voluntarily and only six have chosen rehabilitation.

According to the earlier agreement, only 6,500 PLA cadre were to be integrated with the new non-combat Nepal Army Directorate consisting of 65 per cent of Security Forces and 35 per cent PLA. Accommodating the surplus 3,000 combatants who have opted to join Nepal’s Army is a new problem. The Maoists are insisting on their senior commanders being taken up to one-star Brigadier rank whereas the offer is restricted to the Colonel level. Further, the Maoists want flexibility over integration criteria. While a monitoring committee has been set up on the implementation of integration and for resolving disputes, all of it will take time. Fortunately most of the 3,000 women fighters, who are married and of whom many are pregnant, have taken voluntary retirement.

Locked in the peace process and in power for the third time, the Maoists are unlikely to fritter away the gains of the ‘People’s War’ and their stellar role in it. The majority of the Maoists seem ‘transformed’ with some still driven by the illusion of revolution. The Baidya faction has not only to be pacified with lessons on the new ground reality and the futility of revolt but more importantly brought into office and power-sharing. Some of the die-hards among the hardliners have to be converted into practitioners of democratic politics. Capture of power when the Maoists have it de facto and de jure is an idea whose time has run out. Exaggerating or under-estimating capabilities, apart from intentions, is risky business for both sides.

Two peace processes were being played out on the Indian sub-continent in 2005. Sri Lanka was forced to take the path of a military solution as the LTTE insisted on revolt and was crushed. In Nepal the Maoists have abandoned the gun and joined the political mainstream to win the elections. The Maoists lost power when they deviated from the democratic path but regained it by retracing that very path. Clearly restraint, and not revolt, is the take-away for the Maoists.

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