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May 17, 2009

Page: 8/35

Home > 2009 Issues > May 17, 2009

News Analysis

Maoists get trapped in their own web

By Shyam Khosla

Maoist-led government that came to power in Nepal last year collapsed in just eight months, thanks to Maoists? crude attempt to foist a fake ?people?s democracy? on the republic by subverting democratic institutions. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had no option but to quit office after two major alliance partners?the third largest party in the House CPN-UML and Nepal Sadbhavna Party?withdrew support over the Prime Minister?s unilateral decision to sack the Nepal Army chief General Rookmangud Katawal.

What led to the complete isolation of the former insurgent is the boycott by two other partners in the coalition of the cabinet meeting summoned after the government was reduced to a minority. As of now, the Maoists with 227 members in the Constitutional Assembly with an effective strength of 595 seats?there are six vacancies in the Assembly that also doubles as parliament in the interim period?are in a hopeless minority. They quit saying they would fight ?reactionaries and foreign powers? (read non-Maoist parties and India) legally, politically and on the streets.

While no tears need be shed over the demise of the Maoist-led government, their dark threats of fighting on the streets have caused a deep concern in Nepal and elsewhere about revival of insurgency in the country.

The crisis that led to the doom of the CPN (Maoist) was of its own making. It insisted on sacking General Katawal in the face of stiff opposition not only from the Nepali Congress?the principal opposition party?but also from allies in the ruling coalition. President Ram Bahadur Yadav too had cautioned the Prime Minister against precipitating the matter because the issues involved were extremely sensitive. A defiant Prachanda went ahead and fired the Army chief. President Yadav intervened and asked the General to stay on. Prachanda and his party are now pretending that they sacrificed their government on the issue of civilian control over armed forces. This is a red herring. The fact of the matter is the Army chief had reiterated again and again that he stood by the military value of civilian control and that he would accept decisions of the government even while putting forward Army?s viewpoint on issues concerning internal affairs of his force. The dispute is not over civilian control but the Maoists? game plan to subvert Army?s command and control structure by their dubious attempt to induct indoctrinated insurgents on senior positions in the force. Tension between the Army and the Maoists has been building ever since Prachanda took over as Prime Minister. Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa?s decision to ?retire? eight brigadier generals was perceived to be a clever move to create vacancies so that insurgent commanders could be inducted into the higher echelons in the Army. Army chief?s recommendation to reinstate the said ?retired? senior officers was not considered by Thapa, nor did he take the issue to the cabinet. The affected generals approached the Supreme Court, which stayed the minister?s order. The enraged Prime Minister accused the Army chief of insubordination and asked him to resign, which the later declined.

Prachanda then fired the General?an order that was rescinded by the President who is the Supreme Commander of the Army. Major non-Maoist parties, including the principal opposition party, stood by the President and the Army chief. Rest, as they say is history.

At the core of the recent controversy is not the fate of eight brigadier generals but the controversial demand to integrate Maoist cadres into the Army. Maoist leadership was under tremendous pressure from 30,000 insurgents living in 28 camps for their induction into the Army. These cadres are living on a meager stipend of RS 2,000 each per month and are restive. Around 20,000 of them have been declared eligible to be treated as combatant. Maoist leaders are desperate to integrate these cadres into the Army. Army resisted the induction of former insurgent commanders on senior positions on the ground that they lacked military training and education. China offered to train them. This further confirmed the suspicion that Maoists with the help of China plan to manipulate the Army from within. This, it was argued, would affect the Army?s discipline and destroy its professional and apolitical identity. A largely held perception is that Maoists plan to destroy nascent democracy and impose one-party dictatorship in Nepal in line with their ideology. That is what has brought several communist outfits to join hands with Nepali Congress?the largest non-communist party.

While no tears need be shed over the collapse of the Prachanda government, formation of a national government or a coalition of non-Maoist parties is the paramount need of Nepal. CPN-UML with 108 members in the Assembly has offered to lead a new coalition. Nepali Congress with 115 seats in the House has positively responded. Leaders of 21 parties with a total strength of 280 members in the House with an effective strength of 595 met on Tuesday and unanimously resolved to lay claim to form a government. They are in touch with Madeshi Janadhikar Forum?52 seats?for support failing which they hope to split the Forum to secure the support of a majority of MPs from the Forum to cross the magical figure of 293. CPN-UML has given the Maoists an option to join the coalition led by the former. If the Maoists respond positively, it would indeed be a national government.

Otherwise, Maoists will have no option but to sit in opposition. There are strong suspicions that loss of power has so rattled the former insurgents that they would not act like a responsible opposition and may create disturbances in and outside the Assembly.

The CPM having lost its clout with the UPA, one expects New Delhi to initiate deft diplomatic moves to strengthen democracy in Nepal, which has a long history of deep cultural, religious and political ties with India. We have an open border with Nepal and are deeply concerned about developments in the friendly country. Or is Dr. Manmohan Singh too pre-occupied with losing power to make any meaningful move on the Nepalese front?

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