Nepal Maoists Disagree About War’s End at Anniversary Rallies

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Nepal’s Maoists have a problem: Their 17-year civil war is almost over. The monarchy is gone, and the Maoists took more votes in the subsequent election than any other party. But they promised their fighters, the paramilitary cadres, and party supporters much more than that.

The Maoists need to describe the new constitution, due at the end of May, as a victory. With hundreds of decisions about the new charter already made and only a dozen or so hard choices remaining, it is clear that the forthcoming document will not bring about the sort of radical change the Maoists promised: a people’s government, major land reform, and the end of comprador capitalism.

The question of how to construe the new constitution as a fulfillment of the revolution and worth the 15,000 dead divides the Maoists into three factions. All three pitched their answers to Maoist crowds at rallies to mark the 17th anniversary of the declaration of the “People’s War.”

The hardline faction doesn’t believe that it’s possible. They say that the coming document is just too “regressive” and “revisionist” – too much like the current interim constitution. The party General Secretary told a western audience Monday that capturing the state and creating a people’s government run by the Maoist party was the party’s goal and that a people’s revolt was a necessary final stage of the war.

The pragmatist faction believes that the new constitution will be victory enough if the remaining issues can be tilted sufficiently their way to make the overall document “pro people.” A politburo member from this faction told his audience that “peace and constitution are a means to reach the goal of revolution.” Faction leader Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai promised flexibility in negotiating the remaining issues and said that “the main aim of the People’s War was to establish a republican system by ending feudalism. We are gradually succeeding at that.”

The middle faction is run by Party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and it controls nearly all of the party income, both legitimate and black money. Dahal threatened a people’s revolt too, but only if the new constitution is a “new edition” of the 1990 (monarchist) statute. That is a red herring, as is his insistence that it have an “anti-imperialist and anti-expansionist” basis. Control of party power and pursestrings requires sounding like a hardliner and acting like a pragmatist.

The hardliners can see the writing on the wall in the draft statue: a merely liberal document with insufficient change. And they can see too that the Dahal faction will ultimately go along with the new constitution for pragmatic reasons. The hardliners’ ideological leader, Mohan Baidya, spent part of his rally address talking about unity. “Unity is based on the similarity of political thoughts. Without the correct political line, we cannot form a party.”

That is a clear sign that the end of the war also spells the end of many of the things that have bound the three Maoist factions together for 17 years. That is their real problem.