There is simply no mistaking the ominous signs on the political horizon: in Hollywood terms, a ‘perfect storm’ looms menacingly ahead. Indeed, the constituent elements of what, in Churchillian phraseology, could be called the ‘gathering storm’ are not difficult to discern.
A shortlist of the same include strident threats and ultimatums by the Maoists that they may once again rise in armed revolt if their demands are not met urgently. Much the same depressing conclusion comes across in the widening differences not only between the SPA government and the Maoists but even within the SPA combo.
As much is also suggested by the din of constant accusations against “some foreign powers” – political shorthand for the United States, India and others – for, now, allegedly backing the former regime. Notably, that tom-tom is being banged vigorously by a multitude of hands including those of the so-called civil society, as also of the SPA grouping and sections within the government.
With the “arms management” issue now being transformed into rip-roaring political football, if not outright farce, and with the UN team now looking forlorn and embarrassingly out of place, there is the icy prospect of either conducting CA elections with rebel arms intact or of that political goal being scrubbed. Neither possibility is cheering given the fevered build-up those two key issues have received in the recent past.
What is also greatly disconcerting are constant reports of Maoist extortion, violence, and forced donations (even from school children), not to mention such quintessential Maoist activities such as “people’s courts” and “tax” collection by its cadres continuing in full swing.
Meanwhile, the significance of frequent clashes between ordinary citizens and the Maoists is not lost on the hoi polloi, including this cardinal lesson: that there is a limit to what even the most docile people will tolerate.
Incidentally, the incessant political pressure on even the now largely-sidelined Monarchy and the Army, and this not only by the Maoists, also contributes in no small measure to stoking apprehension and uncertainty about the awful shape of things to come.
People murmur there is a limitation to all things; that it is simply not politic to engage in constant brinkmanship; as also, as Newton’s Third Law of Motion reminds, that to very action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Truth be told, who can tell whether such tactics will not translate into a wave of sympathy for the Monarchy – if, that is, there is a free and fair CA election or even a referendum to decide its future?
The nagging uncertainty about the interim constitution, and the flawed, absurd fill-in-the-blanks draft that has finally emerged, has also generously contributed to an uncomfortable sense of foreboding. That, after all, is a stark reminder of basic differences flowing from differing histories and ideologies of Nepal’s diverse political parties.
Besides, the headlong rush to ram down an interim constitution without taking into account all political shades of national opinion, including those that still favour retaining the Monarchy, is, per se, a recipe for a future disaster.
Having briefly outlined the general contours of the worrisome political landscape, as it appears on the threshold of the Bada Dasain festival, it may now be useful to flesh it out with a sampling of some specifics.
Maoist threats against the SPA government for allegedly dilly-dallying, or allegedly attempting to align with the Monarchy and “some foreign forces”, have been particularly repetitive following their recent strategy conclave in Kamidada, Kavre district.
While Prachanda now personally heads a 10-member team to bring peace talks to a conclusion, his spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara was quick to issue a 10-day ultimatum to the government to demonstrate seriousness in taking the peace process forward or his party would launch a “Kathmandu-centric revolution.”
Revealingly, Maoist demands are steadily escalating, in salami slicing fashion: from referring vaguely to arms management only after settlement of political issues Mahara now declares “we are not going to lay down weapons until ethnic and regional autonomy with the right of self-determination is guaranteed.”
He also now emphasises that there can be no question of Maoists laying down their arms “until the Monarchy is abolished and the Army restructured.”
In effect, it would appear from such elastic conditionalities that the Maoists want the State to capitulate before they lay down their arms. Of course, in the unlikely event that it ever does, there would be no one around to make them to do so! They would, after all, be the new lords and masters.
Mahara, it may be noted, also took exception to what he called the movement of US armed trainers in Kathmandu and talks between SPA leaders and palace officials, which in his view is indicative of a conspiracy against the Maoists. Cast in most sinister terms in such a reference was a brief meeting between Prime Minister Koirala and the King last Thursday.
However, all SPA elements are not quite prepared to take Maoist ultimatums lying down. That would seem to be suggested by responses such as by NC’s Ram Chandra Paudel who took strong exception to Mahara’s remarks. He reminded that the Maoists were armed while other political parties were unarmed and then emphasised that it was imperative that all political parties present themselves before the electorate with the same status.
Poudel was in fact quoted as retorting: “I did not really like the statement of the Maoists that they would spearhead a movement if the problems are not addressed in time.” Incidentally, if NC (D)’s Bimalendra Nidhi joined the chorus underscoring that the Maoists must not delay in the management of arms, Pradeep Gyawali of the UML described the Maoist threat as “hollow.”
Oddly enough, although a minister himself, Gyawali went on to charge the government with responsibility for the delay in the peace process! It is also notable that his stance on arms management coincides with that of the Maoists as he argued that decommissioning of Maoist arms can only take place after CA elections.
Yet, Gyawali, as many other politicos, did not bat an eyelash in lashing out at Maoist atrocities such as intimidation and forced donation campaigns that cross all limits. He needs to be reminded, I believe, that such activities would hardly be possible if the Maoists did not possess arms!
Illuminating, though contradictory, was his assessment: “There might be resistance from the people, if they continue their extortion.”
For his part, Prachanda was quoted at a local function claiming that the government and some foreign forces wanted them to be “chased away” but “we will not leave Kathmandu.”
Incidentally, a loud and clear message was also sent to the UN team headed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s personal representative Ian Martin. Therein, the Maoist supremo insisted he would not be ready even to confine the Maoist militia to specific cantonments unless both the armies were treated on par.
It may be recalled that not too long ago the Maoists were ready to confine their forces to seven camps for the benefit of the UN peace mission in Nepal.
In the event, UN team members will now be left virtually twiddling their thumbs.
What is striking is not merely that the Maoists are now treating the UN as a virtual non-entity but that, as Minister Pradeep Gyawali has indicated, “we still need to sit with the UN representatives to decide on the modalities of the elections. ” Such phraseology, of course, strongly hints that that is now the only function envisaged for the UN team. I wonder how that will play at UN H/Q in New York.
Incidentally, Gyawali, too, had a crack at “some foreign friends” who, in his view, wanted disarmament “right away.” That, he explained, in the fashion of a headmaster addressing dimwitted school boys, was a no-no since it could only happen “stepwise” because the final settlement on arms and armies would materialise only after CA elections.
Into that simmering political cauldron plopped an explosive new ingredient in the shape of reports, initially Indian, of an aircraft purportedly carrying sophisticated arms for Nepal from Ukraine (or Israel) being intercepted and forced to land in Ahmedabad.
Yet, as Home Minister Sitaula told parliament on Monday, after an extensive inquiry by the government, it has determined that no such aircraft is stranded in India, that it did not fly into Nepal, and that the Ministry of Defence had not permitted an arms consignment, ordered by the Army via a LC on 11 April 2005 but delayed for various reasons, to be brought into the country.
While it was hardly surprising that the Maoists promptly and reflexively pointed at Crown Prince Paras as the responsible party that dangerous allegation was firmly and promptly refuted by the Palace.
As far as this commentator is aware, that patently mischievous piece of disinformation linking the arms deal with Crown Prince Paras’ visit to Austria in March this year (at the invitation of Austrian Chancellor Dr Wolfgang Schuessel), was first reported in the Indian media by a Kathmandu-based Indian correspondent. She should be publicly exposed.
Surely, freedom of the press cannot condone false reportage designed so clearly to further inflame opinion against the Monarchy at a time when Nepal is passing through what is possibly its most dire and fluid period in her modern history. What was the purpose of such reportage, after all?
Finally, that security chiefs met PM Koirala on Monday and informed him that a Maoist Special Team (a hit squad?) had entered Kathmandu has also been taken into account by this commentator as he scans his personal radar screen where a gathering or perfect storm on the political horizon so chillingly looms.