How Clever Is Nepal’s Prime Minister?

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Several segments of politically tuned-in elites in Kathmandu think that deep plans are afoot in Maoist ranks. They say that the apparent factional rift between Maoist Prime Minister Dahal and ‘hardliners’ in his party is just a smokescreen and that the drift into chaos in Nepal – failed governance and ethnic and party tensions left to smolder or surreptitiously fanned – is a Maoist master plan to drive the ‘bourgeois regime’ which they lead into collapse. It’s the final phase of the Maoist war, they say.

What makes the theory so interesting is that it’s not just the royalist parties and the Nepali Congress, which chose to play opposition leader rather than third fiddle in the government, sounding off against the Maoists. Now media outlets and social activists who helped the spring 2006 people’s revolution against royal rule succeed have become conspiracy theorists too.

Is the PM floundering or faithfully fulfilling the party plan?

If the Maoists really are practicing a calculated destructive opposition to their own government, then several things would have to be true. First, the Maoists would have to be basically free from faction. Given past evidence such as the sacking and rehabilitation of Baburam Bhatterai in 2005 and considering that every other party in Nepal is riven by faction, the premise is questionable.

Then the unified Maoists would have to have an ultimate goal that is neither the participatory role in government of the Prachanda non-faction nor the back-to-the-jungle threat of the hardline non-faction. This is entirely plausible: senior Maoists have said many times that their aim is a people’s republic and that the end of the armed struggle was not the end of the revolution.

The Maoists would also have to have a plan to build a new political structure, not just to destabilize the old one. Destruction is easy; creation is not. To argue seriously that this is the Maoists’ strategy requires an explanation of what that plan might be, something more convincing than dark warnings of impending totalitarianism.

Senior Maoists would all have to be very good actors indeed to keep up appearances of a bitter intra-party dispute over months or years, and extraordinarily discreet never to let the truth slip. And managing the growing chaos would take great political skill: one imagines politburo members debating just how bad to allow this or that particular problem get before intervening.

Concern about Maoist intentions to seize unilateral control in Nepal isn’t Chicken Little, since they clearly would like to do just that. But the theory of a master plan of deliberate chaos isn’t convincing. Apply Occam’s razor. Which is more likely in the present context: a sophisticated plot, brilliantly executed to appear to be inexperience and incompetence, or actual inexperience and incompetence in the face of major problems?

Nepal loves conspiracy theories, but a Maoist master plan to burn down their own house isn’t the simplest or most plausible explanation of the country’s troubled state.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.