What next in Nepal?

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’s resignation on Monday afternoon once again reveals how the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is different from any other ‘mainstream’ party that inhabits the Nepali political landscape. Most observers, including this writer, fail in assessing the Maoists correctly because we end up using the same categories, attribute the same motivations, and expect similar tactics from them as from other political actors.

The PM’s resignation came after a two week long political thriller leading up to the executive’s decision to dismiss Army chief General Katawal and appoint General Kul Bahadur Khadka in his place.

The last fortnight saw hectic political activity – the government seeking clarification from Katawal; the UML initially agreeing with the Maoist move and then backtracking because of internal rift; a section of the NC playing along in the hope of getting space in the cabinet but getting overwhelmed by the larger party view which feared a Maoist takeover of the army; an unprecedented divide at the top echelons of the military; intense media speculation on options ranging from a ‘soft coup’ to a mutiny within the Maoists; the emergence of an active presidency; and direct Indian engagement with the ambassador meeting the PM at least half a dozen times.

But all the negotiations bore little fruit, apart from giving each side a chance to test each other and exposing the stark polarisation in Nepali politics.

On Sunday morning, the Maoists went ahead with their decision to sack General Katawal. Other parties, as expected, opposed it. The UML walked out of government. There was a crisis within the military chain of command when General Katawal decided not to accept the PM’s orders and wait for the President’s instructions, even as General Khadka claimed he was legitimately entitled to head the army. The president stepped in with a letter late Sunday night asking Katawal to stay on – a move that has provoked criticism against Dr Yadav for having overstepped his authority. On Monday afternoon, after a meeting of the Maoist secretariat, the PM decided to resign criticising the president for creating a dual power centre; and foreign powers (read India) for blatantly interfering in Nepali affairs.

So what does all this mean? Where does Nepali politics, the peace process, and the Maoist party head from here?

For one, it has been proved once again that the Maoists are excellent are making the best out of a bad situation. The PM was under enormous pressure from all factions of the party leadership and the party rank and file to assert his authority – after a series of incidents when they have had to back down. He knew that with the UML walking out, it would have been a struggle to keep up a majority. (The only way would have been to somehow bribe MJF into staying on, while luring other smaller parties). The PM also realised that the political situation and constitutional crisis could go totally out of control and even if he succeeded in staying on, this would not be a sustainable regime. Also remember that the last eight months have been extremely difficult for the Maoist party. The party organisation may have become stronger but their credibility had dipped drastically. Failure to deliver on basic promises and bring about any perceptible change has diminished the party’s standing among its supporters, and Prachanda’s own standing within the party. The Katawal row provided Prachanda a pretext to resign.

This may not have been as well thought out and strategic as it seems retrospectively. After all, which party wants to leave control of the state apparatus? However, the PM’s resignation gives the Maoists the moral high ground, and a chance to monopolise the opposition space. It relieves them of any responsibility and expectation that came with running the state; enhances Prachanda’s popularity; energises the cadre; and gives them a much -needed set of enemies they can target. Ram Baran Yadav-Katawal-K P Oli-Rakesh Sood now constitutes the new pantheon of enemies in the Maoist propaganda machine.

Even if the Maoists come back and become a part of a national government, after a renegotiation of terms with other parties and some movement on the Katawal issue, the Maoists have managed to differentiate themselves from other actors on the stage. What they are putting out is this – at a time when the President wants more power than the constitution gives him, the UML and NC want to form a new government subverting the mandate of the CA elections, and India wanted us to relent, we stood up and gave up power. The Maoists are back to doing what they know best, which is play the victim.

This episode clearly brings forth what was quite evident in the last six months. The rapidly deteriorating relationship between India and the Maoists; NC and the Maoists; and the army and the Maoists led to the crisis. Till these three interlinked relationships get back on track, there can be no movement on the peace process or any prospect of political stability.

The Maoists are right when they point out that the Indian role played a decisive part in this crisis. India did play an active role – first in telling the Maoists not to go ahead, then in encouraging the other parties to walk out of the alliance; and in thinking of ways to prevent the implementation of the decision to sack General Katawal. But this should not have come as a surprise to Maoists, who know the reality of Indian involvement in Nepal better than most others given the route they have traversed. Delhi had made it clear innumerable times not only to the Maoists, but also to journalists and others, that they will not tolerate any messing around with the army structure. India had become increasingly suspicious of Maoist intentions, its efforts to cosy up with China, and this incident proved to be the breaking point. As a diplomat put it, “There is no point in pretending anymore. We hate each other’s guts and the gloves are off.”

India may have achieved its objective of preserving status quo in the army chain of command, and keeping the Maoists away from exerting control over it. Other forces may even be grateful to Delhi for paving the way for a renegotiation of terms with Maoists, or an alternative government. But Prachanda’s resignation has pre-empted the Indian move to actively oust the government. The absence of low key subtle diplomacy today makes India look foolish and reinforces the image of as bully, and gives Maoists enough ammunition to generate and capitalise on the ‘nationalist’, read anti-India, plank on the Kathmandu street.

The NC-Maoist relationship is characterised by deep fear and insecurity on part of the NC and excessive ambition on part of the Maoists. The NA-Maoist ties are characterised by the antipathy stemming from the war days; a clash of class interests; and the deep suspicion of NA top brass that Maoists want to take control and suspicion of Maoists that NA will block any move to initiate ‘progressive’ policies.

Till India and Maoists re-establish some trust; till NC and Maoists do not rework terms and a power sharing arrangement; and till NA, Maoists and other parties come to an acceptable political compromise on integration, we are stuck. With the events of the last two weeks, prospects of progress on all three fronts have receded.

At present, hectic political negotiations are underway. There is a real possibility of a Madhav Nepal led coalition government, though as mentioned earlier, some actors are keen on getting the Maoists back on board in a national government with all party participation.

If you are an optimist, you can look at it this way. A serious constitutional crisis has been averted. The Maoists have committed themselves to the peace and constitution writing process and will not return to the jungle. Normal competitive politics is taking its own course with parties slugging it out for influence, power and privileges. And this shock treatment will allow all parties to sit together and prepare a new deal to take the process forward. If you are a pessimist, you can focus on the fact that this will actually cripple the process. No government can function effectively if the Maoists are out and seek to be obstructionist. Any alternative will be short-lived and unsustainable, and the Maoists could come back even stronger with a more dogmatic agenda. Constitution writing cannot move forward without the former rebels. There may now be a temptation in some sections of the army to think of themselves as beyond civilian control, which in turn could lead to them intervening in partisan politics. And this polarisation at the centre will leave the state even weaker and unreformed, thus allowing the anarchy outside to fester.

Either ways, Nepal has relapsed into a sharp political conflict, fortunately without the war and violence this time around.

(First published at http://www.nepalitimes.com)

5 thoughts on “What next in Nepal?”

  1. Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘ Parchanda ‘ Pm of Nepal in his resignation letter said , ” I will quit the government rather than remain in power by blowing down to foreign elements and reactionary forces .We are ready to maintain cordial relations with neighbours but will not accept any intervention .” Mr. Babu Ram Bhattarai , Maoist leader said ,” It was an enormous blunder .It is going to cost India all the goodwill it earrned .”

    The Indian governments dominated by manuwadi mentality never do the development of the masses of India and it also not initiated steps to develop democracy in the neighbour countries being a member of the SAARC .
    Actually the south Asian countries` citizens live a hell like life due its bad rulers .

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  2. well it looks like india was not just playing an ‘active’ role, mr jha. the word is reactionary. the indian embassy should be shut down in kathmandu as it has become a den of spies, power-brokers, right-wingers, connected with the royalist-feudal-mafia elements. it is high time maoists took over ‘total’ power – since the other parties are able to exist not because of any mass support but only since US and India (the local watchdog of the US) have propped them up. the maoists with all their sins are any day better than the best of these imperialist-backed reactionary parties. what a shame – supporting an army general who has blood of the pro-democracy masses in his hands. indian left should learn a lesson or two from the maoists in nepal. we should demand the removal of the top generals of the indian army for their actions in kashmir, north-east, for their role in IPKF. the indian army officers who legitimise and preside over rape, murder and all kinds of brutality (remember the burning of mokokchung) should be removed the way katuwal was removed in nepal. so instead of pretentiously ruing about the instability of democracy in nepal, it is high time we rendered indian democracy slightly unstable. this stability here is totally disgusting. nepal leads. india shed your big brotherly attitude and LEARN!

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  3. you have got it totally off the mark, mr prashant. why doesnt the left in india too demand the sacking of the indian army generals who are responsible for rape murder and brutality in kashmir, north-east, sri lanka and elsewhere? instead to trying to teach nepal how to have a stable democracy, this reactionary stability of indian democracy should be shattered. the reason india is trying to crush the maoists in nepal is because it knows, deep down, that such a revolutionary rupture in india will cost the indian ruling classes and their bloodletting army very dearly. so mr prashant, tell us how we can learn from the nepal maoists, how can we do in india what they are doing in nepal? how can the nepal embassy in delhi help us in destabilising indian democracy? so that finally we can partake of the revolutionary fervour nepal warmly exudes.

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    1. Hrish, you are imagining lot of things in your innocence.
      Even now after he has resinged, Prachanda don’t tire of saying that India should not loose the goodwill that it created by supporting the peace process, in other words by supporting a process that led him to power.

      At the time when Prachanda had come to power, he did not hesitate to acknowelge that Indian governement had helped in cobling together the seven party alliance that led to the vitory of ‘democracy’ in Nepal. You are very right about Indian ruling class. They are a bloody and reactionary force. But as you can see they supported process leading Prachnda to power and him as long as they thought Prachnda is not going to bed with Chinese. The reason for this support was/is that Prachnda was/is no communist revolutioanry. Today too the threat he pose to Indan ruling class is no differnt than the one posed by Zardari.

      Prachanda is just a radical left nationalist.. just as the RSS in Inida is radical right natianlist

      … there is myth propogated by leftists that anyone who use leftist phrase mongering and flaunt the ‘barrel of the gun’ is a revolutionary …. this myth had its making at the hands of stalinist and maoist states in Russia and China and these were nationalist myths that has nothing to do with sturggle of the working class for self emancipation…

      Also thie leftist this myth has no base in the history of ‘Internatioalist’ communist movement till and during the Russian revolution…

      Luckily for us, and Harish for you too, Moaists are not going to win in India and this will keep the door open for the development of real comunist internationalist movement ….

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