Misbehaving Maoists or Media Misrepresentation?

As Nepal’s elections near, Maoists are increasingly being blamed for disrupting other parties’ campaigns, but Maoist chief Prachanda cries foul.

With polls just over two weeks away and campaigning in full swing, there are daily reports of Maoist cadres attacking opposition campaign rallies and beating up attendees. Election Commission officials have claimed that two Maoists were involved in the murder of RJN candidate Kamal Adhikari on March 18.

Maoist leaders vehemently deny the charges. Last week number-two Dr. Baburam Bhatterai said that reports of violence by the Young Communist League – the Maoist militia, reformed after the end of hostilities two years ago – were slanders against the Maoists, appearing now because popular support for the party was growing so rapidly. On Sunday Maoist leader Prachanda called the media biased for blowing “minor incidents” involving Maoists “out of proportion” and “blacking out” news about other parties’ misbehavior, and he denied that Adhikari’s killers were Maoists.

Two official reports on the run-up to the election have recently been released, one from the UN body that is monitoring compliance with the peace agreement, and another from the National Human Rights Commission. Both reports cite all parties for failures but place the blame for most of the violence on the Maoists.

In a heated response to the UN report, Prachanda said that it “mentions nothing about brutal killings of our cadres,” a total, he says, of 60 Maoists murdered since the end of hostilities. Since elections were announced, six Maoists have been killed, most of them by ethnic separatists in Nepal’s south.

In contrast, reports of Maoist violence come from all over the country, and the attacks appear to be organized.

Two weeks ago a Nepali weekly, Drishti, published a purported secret directive to Maoist party workers, ordering them to “use all the tricks known” to win the election. Among the instructions, local Maoists are to keep lists of people who don’t support them and lists of people away from their homes or recently deceased, so that they can vote.

According to the report, the circular also tells party workers to make it difficult for opposition parties to stay in the villages and to “hit them hard.” The weekly quotes the instructions as saying that “the security forces and the police are afraid of us,” so there’s no need to fear them. The YCL is instructed, it says, to keep knives, sticks and “other weapons of self defense” in readiness.

On Monday top leaders of six of the seven coalition parties met and agreed, according to Bamdev Gautam of the UML, to “caution cadres of the respective parties against disrupting rallies of other parties.” An NC leader, Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat, said that the leaders took seriously the Maoist charges about the deaths of their cadres, and that in return Prachanda agreed to control his party.

As that meeting was in progress, police in eastern Nepal reported that YCL members attacked UML leader K. P. Oli’s car as he was headed to an election rally and broke its windows, and that YCL cadres in Pokhara broke up a royalist party’s meeting by throwing stones at the stage.

Election observers from abroad are now arriving in Nepal, and their reports should soon show whether the Maoists are being unfairly maligned or are indeed using every trick to capture the election.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.