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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2583

Koirala’s India visit amidst rebel trouble at home

By Malladi – Atul - Syndicate Features

Nepal Prime Minister G P Koirala’s visit to Delhi so soon after he took over the reins of his country helped India gain a better in sight into his problems and his plans to address them in a way there is room for less discord in the trouble torn Himalayan country. It also helped to set at rest speculation as to what his government meant when it declared Nepal a secular country and had upset it’s the Hindutva forces here in India. Koirala’s rhetorical question when we were not secular really stumped L K Advani, the erstwhile strongman of the BJP.

Though Nepal has been a Hindu Kingdom with a ‘Hindu monarch’ it has always upheld secular values whether by design or by default. What ever be the fact, it has been a home for not only Hindus but also Buddhists and several other religions.

Koirala’s talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his colleagues covered the familiar ground – economic aid for reconstruction and rebuilding of Nepal and help in addressing the knotty question of disarming the Maoist rebels. Was the response from his hosts commensurate with his expectations? Koirala did not field this question but from what his aides have said, on and off the record, he was neither fully satisfied nor fully dissatisfied.

Because, back at home, at a time when the energies should be better utilised for preparing a roadmap for peace and prosperity, his government is facing an odd but not an unfamiliar problem, the blame for which, right or wrong, has been laid at the door of the Maoists. Trouble with groups nurtured in ruthlessness and use of excessive force, such as the Nepalese Maoists, is that even when their leaders appeal to their cadres for a bit of moderation, acts of violence and lawlessness do not stop altogether.

That may well be the case why many factory and mill owners in Nepal say they continue to face the danger of extortion, styled as ‘donations’, and threats of physical violence from the rebels as a result of which nearly 4500 small and medium factories in the Birgunj- Pathlaiya corridor in western Nepal have decided to shut shop. One of the bigger groups among the affected business is part Indian owned consumer goods manufacturing unit, Dabur Nepal.

The Maoists have denied that their trade union was behind these acts, but the business chambers have said that members of the All Nepal Trade Union Federation, affiliated to the Maoists, entered some of the factories, demanding a ransom of Rs 100 million and forcibly taking away workers to attend a ‘mass meeting’. The ALTUF members were also accused of assaulting the management and in one case made senior officials walk five miles to safety. The Federation has presented a 22-point demand charter, which bears the clear stamp of a trade union: minimum salary of Rs 3000 per month for unskilled workers, payment of dearness allowance, medical, insurance and pension benefits, 55 days’ annual paid leave and permanent jobs after 180 days of employment. Non-compliance with the demands would invite ‘tough action’.

Despite the Maoists’ denial, the seven party alliance governments has taken the matter quite seriously and the prime minister, G.P. Koirala is believed to have spoken to the Maoist leader, Prachanda, the fierce one, asking him to instruct his cadres to end threats of extortion and intimidation of the business and trading community. Prachanda is said to have promised to ask his cadres not to harass and bully anyone. What he tells his men and women and what they do is a different matter, but not very long ago Prachanda was reported as having said that his cadres needed ‘donations’ for their upkeep. Since the Maoist forces have neither been accepted as government force nor are they being disbanded it can be assumed that the need for ‘donations’—almost always under force—will continue to be felt for at least quite a while.

Another disturbing fact is that even during the days of unilateral ceasefire, the Maoists were regularly accused of extortion and recruitment drives which were particularly harsh as many underage children were forced into joining the guerrillas. In fact, the ‘donation’ campaign, some say, has been stepped up after the latest three-month ceasefire. The deputy prime minister of Nepal had even chided the Maoists for jeopardising the proposed peace talks between them and the government.

The activities of the rebels or whoever it is cannot be justified, but at the same time such acts should not be allowed to hamper the peace talks that are due soon. Home minister, Krishna Prasad Sitaula will lead the government delegation while the Maoist side will be led by Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Each delegation will have three members and their talks will be followed by Koirala – Prachanda summit.

After the people of the country showed their power and courage in defeating the autocratic rule of king Gyanendra, Nepal does not deserve to be pushed back into anarchy of any sort. The memories of 2001 and 2003 failed peace talks should be left behind to look for a fresh and optimistic start. Because, the seven party alliance of mainstream political parties, the Maoists and the people of Nepal are equal stake holders on the road towards peace, stability and development.

The Maoists in Nepal are said to be modelled after the Peruvian Shining Path rebels who believed in the destruction of government institutions and imposing a proletariat regime of peasants. They stand for an end of the monarchical rule, its replacement by a republic, and opposition to a multi-party democracy. In recent weeks, however, when it appeared that the entire country was turning against the monarchical system, the Maoists showed some signs of a shift in their stand. They no longer appear to reject the idea of a multi-party democracy and may even accept a monarch who is nothing more than a ceremonial head of state.

But by their failure to put an end to acts of violence and coercion - violence and bloodshed since 1966 has claimed over 13000 lives, many of them children - the Maoists will, needlessly, be queering the pitch. They have to realise that the otherwise much discredited politicians have come round to their point of view on some vital matters like calling for elections to elect a legislative assembly that will draft a new constitution. Some ‘symbolic’ gestures have already been made to yield to the Maoists demands like removing the ‘royal’ tag from the country’s army and, indeed, the name of the country itself. The national anthem that eulogised the king has been scrapped.

The Maoists have welcomed the steps taken by Koirala government but want it do more to meet their aspirations. They will do well to realise that it is basically the aspirations of the people that a government has to cater to first not that of any group, howsoever, powerful it might be. And the people of Nepal want an immediate end to the decades of bloodshed and see their country, groaning for centuries under extreme penury, ushered into an era of plenty.

-Syndicate Features -

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