Troubling Times For Nepal’s Maoist Rebels

These aren’t easy times for Nepal’s Maoists. Rebel supremo Prachanda announces that he would lead the insurgents to a summit with the new representatives of the old state on building a new Nepal. It takes Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala several days to respond, and then he ends up naming Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to head the government team.

Sitaula isn’t the problem here; he was the Nepali Congress representative most closely involved with the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA)’s 12-point accord with the Maoists. It’s his rank. King Gyanendra had shown greater deference to the Maoists in 2003 by deputing Deputy Prime Minister Badri Prasad Mandal to the negotiating table once it became clear that Maoist No. 2 Dr. Baburam Bhattarai would represent the rebels.

Although the Maoists have gained much from King Gyanendra’s capitulation, they have solid reasons to feel bruised. Even in victory, the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) continues be tight-fisted, insisting that People’s Movement II was primarily an enterprise of the mainstream. The evidence clearly exonerates the disgraced and detained ex-home minister, Kamal Thapa, who unleashed the full force of the state against the street protests contending that the Maoists had infiltrated them as part of a revised strategic offensive.

Specifically, King Gyanendra’s reinstatement of the House of Representatives last month was hardly the triumph the Maoists wanted. They had, after all, raised arms against constitutional monarchy AND parliamentary democracy.

After denouncing the SPA’s “sellout” to the palace, primarily to placate the rebel base, Prachanda acquiesced in the roadmap. The legislature was expected to assemble only for a short session and that, too, to invite the Maoists to join the interim government that would hold elections to the constituent assembly. Instead, the legislature seems to be acquiring supernatural powers of its own with each sitting.

With the Nepali Congress heading the executive and the UML at the top of the legislature, it’s all in the SPA family. Prachanda makes Matrika Prasad Yadav – whom the SPA government recently freed from prison as a goodwill gesture – to assert the Maoists’ right to lead the interim government. UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, in effect, dismisses such talk as premature.

Now Prachanda has internationalized the issue. In a May 21 interview with The New York Times in an Indian city – which correspondent Somini Sengupta refused to identify on Prachanda’s insistence – the rebel leader has let off his pent-up fury.

While The Times led with Prachanda’s refusal to disarm his fighters before the CA elections, unless the Nepal Army does, the rebel leader resonates the most in his frustration with SPA leaders.

“Now they want to marginalize us, they want to bypass us, and they want to minimize the role of the Maoist movement,” Prachanda says. “That’s why we are seriously concerned.”

Prachanda delineated what he described were his bottom-line demands for a new Nepal: a federal structure that offers greater rights to Nepal’s ethnic minorities, a new constitution that scraps the monarchy, and “revolutionary land reform” along the lines of Mao Zedong’s principle of “land to the tiller.”

Adding some background and context, Sengupta reminds readers that the rebels have said they would accept the verdict of Nepalese voters on whether the nation should remain a constitutional monarchy. Prachanda probably won’t shoot off a note to the NYT foreign desk clarifying that position.

Ever since emerging a step closer into full public view, Prachanda has been extremely elastic on the monarchy. Invariably, he demands that King Gyanendra be ousted, tried and executed, only to express a readiness to accept the popular will – often in the same breath. The thing to measure in the days and weeks ahead, therefore, will be Prachanda’s malleability in his references to the monarchy.

Maila Baje is a native of Nepal, who writes about the convoluted and often inscrutable politics of his country. His insight points out the things we couldn’t see for ourselves.