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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Party poopers in Nepal

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

Politicians in this country are known more for their dourness than a sense of humour. There are, however, few exceptions like George Fernandes and Atal Bihari Vajpayee who crack ‘jokes’ when they discuss serious matters or reply to queries from journalists. Now, it appears that a prominent Nepalese leader has also acquired a taste for banter. Reports say that the chairman of Nepal’s Maoists, Prachanda (‘the fierce one’) was only ‘joking’, a la Fernandes-Vajpayee, when he said that many of his armed followers have remained unregistered with the United Nations. What this ‘joke’ means is that last year’s peace agreement does not bind the Maoists who are ‘unregistered’ from going around with their ‘bombs’ even after being disarmed by the UN.

Arguably, the most important feature of the November 2006 peace agreement between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance (SPA) of political parties that brought an end to the 10-year insurgency was that the rebels will give up all their arms. The United Nations had moved in to supervise the ‘locking up’ of the rebels’ arms and see that the army went back to the barracks as it was no more necessary for it to hunt for the armed guerrillas who were fighting a two-way war against the king’s army and the corrupt, quarrelsome and inefficient politicians.

Under the terms of the peace agreement, the Maoists’ armed cadres were to be registered with the UN and moved to seven cantonments till the country’s first democratic elections in eight years are held—scheduled for June 2007, though it now looks quite unlikely. The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) might have succeeded in locking the small firearms of the rebels, but obviously the Maoists inventory of its firepower is larger and not all of it can possibly be kept under lock and key because certain types of bombs are easily made from material freely available in the market. And there are many Maoists outside the UN camps who have not lost their expertise in making bombs.

When Prachanda’s statement (‘joke’) did not go down well with his new found political allies, his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, a former student at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that the chairman’s remarks were misread because what ‘the fierce one’ meant was that while all the small firearms with the Maoists have been handed over under the UN supervision, there were enough Maoists who knew how to make small bombs, the most favoured and frequently used weapon of the rebels (not the gun) during their decade long struggle. He suggested that the insurgents had few firearms and these have been deposited under the UN lock and key, as stipulated in the peace agreement.

Bhattarai admitted that there were ‘thousands’ of Maoist cadre in Nepal who could make and use crude but lethal bombs. But many of these Maoists were more explicit when they said that they would return to their violent ways if they found that the peace agreement was some sort of a ‘conspiracy’ to disarm them.

Obviously, the Maoists already have a justification for any armed campaign by them in coming days.

That the road to democracy in Nepal, after stripping the monarch of his powers last summer, was going to be rough was never in doubt. But lately far too many party poopers have been appearing on the stage to dim the optimism about democracy getting another lease of life in Nepal.

The Election Commission has warned that it would be difficult to hold the polls in June if the political parties do not cooperate; there is more than a residue of mistrust between the Maoists and the politicians; the Maoists are yet to join a more representative interim government and violence and unrest continues to plague parts of the Himalayan country, especially the Terai region in the south-eastern plains inhabited largely by the Madhesis or the people of Indian origin.

There are allegations that the Palace and ‘Hindu extremists’ who are unhappy to see the world’s only Hindu kingdom being declared a secular state were fanning the Madhesis agitation. The allegations may not be true, but even with his wings clipped considerably, the king can spoil the party and the danger from the ‘Hindu extremists’ cannot be completely undermined given the fact that their philosophy does have some appeal for many Nepalese, who revere the king as an incarnation of God.

The change in the political atmosphere in Nepal is in marked contrast to the mood that lasted at least till January when the Maoists looked set to embrace democracy and non-violent ways after renouncing violence as the means of change. Their decision to participate in the political process had suddenly transported them into the mainstream. They sent 73 of their cadre into Parliament and nominated another 10 members to become the second largest group in the legislature. More commendably, nearly a third of the nominated Maoist candidates were women and the Maoist members also included representatives of the hitherto neglected ethnic, linguistic and caste groups.

The mood of euphoria that prevailed at the time did not permit pessimism though reports had also started coming that some Maoist insurgents, dubbed ‘rogue elements’, had not given up their old ways as they continued to threaten and kidnap people and used violence against their opponents. Some of the victims of these ‘rogue elements’ said they were beaten if they did not extend hospitality to the armed Maoists or expressed their inability to accede to their requests like appointing persons recommended by the Maoists. The terrorised victims said they did not believe that the Maoists have had a change of heart. A common reaction of such people was: ‘They (Maoists) have guns and bombs; we cannot trust them’

The Madhesis, who form nearly 50 percent of the country’s population, have long felt discriminated and exploited. The Maoists during their years of struggle had advocated a fair deal for them to win sympathy, if not actually large following, in the numerically large community that has hardly any presence in the security forces and the bureaucracy.

Madhesis may have a different opinion of the Maoists now. Some time ago Prachanda had denounced the agitation by the Madhesis as being run by ‘criminals and gangsters’. Prime Minister Koirala has spoken some words of reassurances to the beleaguered community. But meeting the aspirations of the Madhesis is not the only problem if Nepal has to embark on the road to a stable ‘democratic republic’.

- Syndicate Features -

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