Rumblings in SPAM Utopia: Precursor to what?

Bizarre happenings are taking place in the SPAM world – one half composed of a seven-party conglomeration led by the political Gods who failed democracy and the other of foreign-inspired revolutionaries who have launched a bloody ten year-plus war against the State for the realisation of a Maoist Utopia.

Maoist Lament

For one thing, on the eve of the much hyped, four-day political typhoon, April 6-9, that will supposedly wash away the State and all that it represents in one furious tidal wave in the capital, the leaders of the SPA seem to be talking from both sides of their mouth.

In fact, while Home Minister Kamal Thapa has warned that the second reported understanding on 19 March between SPA and the Maoists – where else but in New Delhi? – could lead the government to treat the SPA as Maoists, Maoist supremo Prachanda lamented the SPA’s less-than-enthusiastic response.

As Prachanda himself put it: “During a crucial moment of the movement we are for a common slogan, a common front, a common appeal and a common programme. We understand the difficulties of factions in the alliance. We accord priority to substance over form. We are desirous of synchronizing form and substance.”

Prachanda’s understated disappointment is not very difficult to fathom. Indeed, practically every public statement that SPA honchos have made over the past week or so has contained as much criticism of the Maoists as of the “autocratic regime” their partnership is designed to topple (of course, with the generous, if often disguised, help from sundry affluent, foreign quarters.) As examples, consider the following shortlist.

There is UML’s Amrit Bohara, sitting in for Madhav Kumar presently in detention in Kakani, who, even while upholding high the anti-Monarchy Maoist banner at a local forum insists that “the Maoists must declare a cease-fire, even unilaterally, if they want to see the end of autocracy.”

SPA Critical

Incidentally, it is none other than Bohara who, at another public forum in Kathmandu, repeated the very same mantra, this time in the guise of an explanation why the 8 April “massive rally” in Kathmandu is to be rescheduled and replaced by a strategy of holding mini-rallies in all 75 districts of the Kingdom. That, as he explained it, is because of – now hear this – “the continued violent activities of the Maoists.”

Going even further in the past, Bohara, on 18 March, criticised the Maoists for indulging in abduction and extortion and not creating an environment for the displaced people to return home despite their commitment to multi-party democracy in the 12-point pact.

Since a four-day strike-cum-massive-rally-in-the-capital strategy to topple the incumbent regime was at the very core of the SPA’s series of recent brainstorming sessions, their desire to take full political credit for anticipated regime change translates into this: in the reordering of state powers, the SPA seeks an equal, perhaps even preponderant, share of the political cake. (Don’t laugh. The SPA captains, at least, seem dead serious.)

Much the same conclusion can be drawn from NC’s Arjun Narsing KC’s public comment last week that the SPA’s call for a general strike, April 6-9, was not done under Maoist pressure: in other words, SPA is perfectly capable of toppling the State on their own steam – thank you, very much, Maoist comrades.

One may wonder, though, what KC makes out of the Maoists’ most recent decision to ALSO call a four-day strike in the capital – after earlier having responded to the SPA’s call to abandon their plan for the blockade of all district headquarters as also of their indefinite country-wide strike.

To me, at least, two things are suggested: one, their desire to propagate the perception that the SPA and the Maoist are now political clones; and two, not to allow the SPA to take “full credit” for whatever political victories may – to their fevered minds – seem imminent.

Forked Tongue

Let’s now take another example of the SPA’s recent forked tongued approach to the Maoists. Thus, there is the daughter of the SPA commander, Sujata Koirala (Jost), now running helter-skelter promising all manner of dire consequences if the government attempts to thwart their anti-Monarchy movement. Then, she is equally vocal accusing the Maoists of breaching the 12-point SPAM pact of 22 November by “time and again continuing killings and damaging public property.”

That aside, there is UML’s other leading comrade Bharat Mohan Adhikari going on record saying the following: “The country is reeling under the King’s autocracy on the one hand and violence due to the Maoists-waged insurgency for the last 10 years, on the other.” He added, for good measure, that the conflict has destroyed Rs 60 billion worth of property. He too urged the Maoists to declare a unilateral cease-fire, as such a move would help the alliance intensify their peaceful agitation.

Then, a statement was issued by the UML standing committee on 24 March once again calling on the Maoists to declare a cease-fire and desist from all violent activities “as such acts bear negatively on the peaceful movement of the seven party alliance.”

The double-barrel or two-tier thinking in SPA cabals can perhaps be partly explained by pressure on the SPA from the (in)famous “international community” to move away from the Maoists and to shun the path of violence. Yet, it is surely interesting that, as a recent Indian Home Ministry report reminds one and all, 180 Nepali Maoists have been arrested in India in the past five years, 40 in the past year alone.

Was that meant, among other things, to send a message suggesting that India is NOT supporting the Maoists, anymore? Ditto for the disclosure by the Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil that the Seema Suraksha Bal (Border Security Force) is to be strengthened by 21 additional battalions, among other reasons, for tackling current difficulties “on the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan border areas.”

Be that as it may, what is equally meaningful is that only three of its seven constituents – namely, the NC, UML and NC (D) – seem to be, as the Americans say, on the same page. As much is hinted at by the fact that at the 27 March pow-pow chaired by NC’s geriatric Girija Prasad Koirala for the purpose of issuing a “joint appeal with certain commitments” only representatives of those three parties were present. What’s that supposed to mean?

Maoist Violence Unabated

Where there is no ambiguity at all is with regard to Maoist violence that continues unabated, 12-point pact or no, second “Dilli Deal” or no!

Surely as much is underlined by the following recent examples: In Sindhupalchowk district, the Maoists’ continued use of school premises for propaganda and related activities resulting in an aerial attack by the RNA.

Then, there are reports every day of abductions and killings of innocent civilians by the Maoists forcing even otherwise complacent human rights organisations known to turn a blind eye to such activities to complain.

In Banke district, they set off bombs at the Agriculture Development Bank while a powerful bomb was exploded in the Mahendra Multiple Campus in Nepalgunj on the morning of 26 March while students were sitting for their exams.

Plainly, nasty problems have visibly surfaced in the SPAM Utopia. A lot of that, I would presume, has to do with the familiar who-is-the-top-dog or the who-controls-whom question. It is, very possibly, also connected to the SPA, or at least some sections, wishing to pave the way for a withdrawal from the bear-like hug of the Maoists or, should one say, like a fly attempting to escape from the Maoist web?

Given that US pressure on India has possibly been exercised as far as the Maoists are concerned, and noting a certain cooling in ardour of certain external forces to the SPA after their blatant jumping into the Maoist bed, what we are witnessing, in fact, could very well be the beginning of a discreet tug-of-war between the SPA that now wishes to opt out, or dictate its own terms to remain with the Maoists, and the latter who are clearly determined not to allow the SPA to slip away from their vice-like grasp.

The near future, in any case, promises to be interesting.

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.