Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Blame Maobadis for mess in Nepal

Prachanda’s folly, not Nepal’s

Kanchan Gupta

Left to himself, it is possible that Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, the Maoist Prime Minister of Nepal who walked out of his office on Monday, would not have precipitated a political crisis by locking horns with the Army chief, Gen Rukmangad Katawal. If blame must be apportioned, most of it should be shared by Mr Dahal’s comrades in the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). For, it is the Maobadis outside the Government, nearly all of them impulsively intolerant of the democratic process, who pushed Mr Dahal into taking a position from where he could not retreat without being seen to have suffered a humiliating defeat.

The crisis that reached flashpoint on Monday has long been in making. The Maoists have never been comfortable with Nepal’s Army, their principal enemy during the bloody insurrection that ultimately led to the passage of Singha Durbar into the annals of history. The demise of the 240-year-old monarchy, founded in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah who forged warring fiefdoms into a unified kingdom, was a logical, if undesirable, conclusion of relentless political strife and disruptive social discord.

King Gyanendra’s unceremonious eviction from Narayanhity Palace, which has been converted into a national museum and where relics now gather dust, should have marked a rupture with the past. But the Maobadis did not quite see it that way. Nor did their participation in the Constituent Assembly election, which, contrary to the expectations of the Maobadis, did not fetch them a parliamentary majority, and subsequently forming a Government with the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) rid them of their insecurities, primarily their fear of the Army seizing power sooner or later and reinstating the dethroned King.

To prevent such an eventuality, the Maobadis insisted that 19,000 demobbed members of their ‘People’s Liberation Army’ should be absorbed in the Nepal Army. That would be the first step towards converting the Army into a loyalist force, to be used for perpetuating Maoist rule and eventually converting Nepal into a Maoist state. But Gen Katawal refused to play ball with the Maobadis; whatever his personal predilection — he is believed to be close to King Gyanendra — even his detractors would concede that he is a professional soldier whose primary loyalty is to Nepal.

While accepting the supremacy of the civilian Government, he firmly rebuffed all attempts to undermine the Army and pack it with yesterday’s guerrillas steeped in Maoist ideology and scornful of an established command and control structure. To browbeat Gen Katawal, Mr Dahal used his powers as Prime Minister to forcibly retire eight senior Generals perceived to be close to the Army chief. That order was rendered ineffective by Gen Katawal who sought judicial intervention.

Meanwhile, the Maobadis, increasingly restless, took to taunting Mr Dahal for not being able to promote his party’s interests — serving Nepal’s interests was of no importance to them; they wanted him to act or quit. And so push came to shove with Mr Dahal trying to sack Gen Katawal; the Army chief refusing to accept marching orders; and, finally, President Ram Baran Yadav, a veteran politician in the traditional mould, stepping in and using his powers as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to rescind the Prime Minister’s impetuous firman. By then, of course, the Government headed by Mr Dahal had lost its majority with the CPN (UML) pulling out of what was clearly an uneasy alliance between two parties with little in common apart from their hostility to the monarchy.

But if Mr Dahal, notwithstanding his maudlin declaration that he was resigning to “create a positive environment, to save democracy, nationalism and the peace process”, thought that his dramatic exit would cause sufficient political disarray and popular outrage to force the President to let him have his way, he was utterly wrong. If he acted on advice, it was entirely misplaced; if he allowed his comrades to get the better of him, then he is likely to suffer loss of stature in the ranks. Neither is a happy prospect.

Instead of allowing the political crisis to deepen, Mr Yadav has acted swiftly and in a commendable manner. He has asked the other political parties to form a Government by Saturday, and they have responded with near unanimity. By Tuesday evening, 21 parties, which have collaborated in the past, had decided to form a ‘national’ Government under the leadership of the CPN (UML). Together, these parties, including the Nepali Congress, the Terai Madhes Democratic Party, the Sadbhavna Party and the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, have 280 MPs in the 601-member Constituent Assembly. Sensing an opportunity, most of the 53 MPs of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum are believed to have expressed their desire to join the Government — in true South Asian style, they are willing to split the parent organisation if it does not endorse participation in the new Government.

The Maobadis, presumably, did not factor in ‘horse-trading’, the key to political stability in this part of the world when parliamentary majority eludes any single party or alliance. Presumably they also realise that there is no percentage in crying foul at this stage, not least because the anticipated street protests have not quite materialised. Whether that precludes political violence cannot be said with any certitude. That could follow once the implications of loss of power have sunk in. The CPN (UML), in a grand gesture, has said that Maoist cooperation is “necessary for permanent peace”, but only the naïve will read a deep political message in this.

If the remarkably quick response of the political parties to the crisis precipitated by Mr Dahal is worthy of praise, so is the overwhelming rejection of the Maobadis’ attempt to rouse public passions by slyly suggesting that India caused the problem by ‘interfering’ in Nepal’s internal affairs. Despite stories being planted to the effect that India’s Ambassador tried to persuade Mr Dahal into abandoning his plan to sack Gen Katawal, there has been little or no demonstration of anti-India sentiments.

On the contrary, Kathmandu’s intellectuals have come forward to forthrightly reject all such suggestions of ‘interference’ by India and pointed out that it was Mr Dahal who had recently “summoned” the Ambassadors of eight countries to seek their support for his move to sack the Army chief. But none of them was willing to endorse his action. According to noted civil society activist and Constituent Assembly member Nilamber Acharya, “Prachanda (Mr Dahal) himself met India’s Ambassador Rakesh Sood half-a-dozen times in connection with the issue of Army chief and when he did not get a favourable response, he is talking about foreign intervention, which is ridiculous.”

Yet Mr Dahal and the Maobadis are not entirely friendless, at least in India. The people and politicians of Nepal may scoff at the suggestion of “foreign intervention”, but Mr Sitaram Yechury has been prompt in warning India that it should steer clear of interfering in Nepal’s affairs. It’s not easy to reconcile yourself to the fact that you no longer have access to the corridors of power — neither in New Delhi, nor in Kathmandu.

The Pioneer | EDIT Page Main Article | Wednesday, May 6, 2009

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