Ever since Nepal’s Maoist-led government resigned on May fourth after its attempt to sack the army chief of staff was blocked by the president, they have assumed the role of destructive opposition. Their objective, they say, is to correct the president’s action and establish “civilian supremacy.” But their persistent efforts since May to undermine the current 22-party coalition government lead skeptics to believe that the Maoists are trying to return to power under conditions that would greatly weaken the presidency and armed forces.
The Maoists’ tactics have spanned a wide gamut. They have physically blocked the Constituent Assembly from meeting to carry out its parliamentary duties, allowing the body to function for only three days, and that only to pass the budget resolution necessary to continue funding for the cantonments where Maoist combatants are currently housed. (See “Crunch Time for the Opposition in Nepal,” Newsblaze)
The Maoists have also passively blocked government action by failing to participate in the various commissions and coordinating committees necessary under Nepal’s interim constitution, which requires consensus among the parties for major decisions. Most recently, Maoist supremo Prachanda was a no-show at a high-level all-party meeting to choose a replacement chief justice for the supreme court.
And the Maoists have pursued many nuisance-level activities intended to render the country ungovernable. One of those, an occupation by squatters of a community-managed forest preserve in Kailali district in southwestern Nepal, exploded into violence Friday when police moved in to evict the squatters.
The Young Communists League, a cadre formed by the Maoists from their non-uniformed militia after the 2006 peace agreement ended the civil war, was the driving force behind the squatters. When police moved in, the YCL abducted a police sub-inspector and a constable, calling them “spies.” As police burned about 1,500 huts in the preserve, squatters retaliated by torching a dozen motorcycles, a truck and five passenger busses.
One policeman and five squatters were killed in the melee, and at least 50 people are being treated for injuries in area hospitals. Police responded by mobilizing an additional 1,000 riot-equipped troops and posting hundreds of armed police at the site of Friday’s violence.
On Saturday the Maoists shut down all public transit in the southwest, and on Sunday they called a general strike for the entire country. Major highways were empty of traffic, and in Kathmandu and other cities all major business districts were shuttered. Maoists cadres burned tires at major intersections in most towns to enforce their strike call.
Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai claimed that the government had orchestrated the Kailali incident and deliberately shot landless poor people who had “spontaneously captured lands belonging to feudal lords.” He compared the action to those of Hitler and said that the government was “turning the country into war-torn Afghanistan.”
Government leaders said that both the occupation of the community forest preserve and the violence were initiated by the Maoists, claiming that the squatters had been organized in a military fashion and opened fire on police. The National Human Rights Commission called on the government for restraint but also urged “agitators not to go on the rampage with violence and arson.” Other civil rights organizations condemned the police for using excessive force in the incident.
All of this will suit the Maoists just fine, whether or not they were responsible for inciting Friday’s violence. Chaos, transportation disruptions and business interruptions caused by strikes, they believe, will weaken the government and increase their chance of returning to control in Kathmandu. At the least, Friday’s fiasco will further polarize the Maoists and the coalition government, and that too the Maoists believe will eventually work in their favor.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.