Nepal Maoists Divided On Strategy

Apparent contradictions between Maoist leaders’ words and their cadres’ actions are the result of two factions in the Maoist party, not leaders’ loss of control, premeditated treachery or mass schizophrenia, though all have been suggested in the media. Both factions, one in charge and the other waiting in the wings, are pursuing their own plans.

The dominant faction, supported by a majority of the leadership, is in Kathmandu. Top leaders Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhatterai are chief negotiators and strategists, while other politburo members hold ministries and sit in the legislature as part of a power-sharing deal. This group is pursuing victory in the “street, parliament, and government,” as Prachanda told the media in April.

The Kathmandu faction’s plan is to work from inside and outside, exerting pressure from the street to force the other parties to yield in the cabinet and parliament. This is the main role for the YCL, which Prachanda told Indian television was formed from “paramilitary forces we had organized during the conflict – the militia.”

The YCL, however, are commanded by Maoist PLA officers. They and their leadership form the other faction in the Maoist ranks. The hardliners, perhaps led by PLA commander Badal, who is the most senior politburo member still underground, want direct action. They are fed up with cooperating with the bourgeois forces and believe the “old regime” is ready to collapse. They advocate pulling out of the government and combining a mass movement with armed combat: They think victory would then come very quickly.

The YCL is key for the hardliners because the militia would become the vanguard of a mass movement. Conflicting orders from the two factions to the group account for its apparently contradictory behavior. Kathmandu speaks and the YCL organizes political intimidation against the other parties’ cadres and anti-smuggling campaigns to dry up the other parties’ funding. The hardliners order stronger action, and they get that too.

So far Prachanda has managed his hardline faction skillfully, keeping them from an open split while pursuing his gradualist agenda. The hardliners have been given command of the YCL and apparent license for their excesses; they have been allowed to retain almost all “confiscated” property and, perhaps, much of their armory; and they still block most attempts to re-establish police and government functions in the countryside.

These concessions are the cost of keeping Maoist hardliners on board the current peace process, just as Prime Minister Koirala has apparently quashed the Rayamajhi report and protected the monarchy as the cost of keeping the Nepal Army with him. Koirala’s job seems the trickier, for he has to satisfy his seven political partners too, each with its own factions.

Nepal has a long history of political party splits, palace plots, and bitter political rivalries. Factionalism has cost the country dearly. Containing and managing it while moving to constituent assembly elections and a new constitution is a high-wire balancing act for Prachanda and Koirala, but doing so successfully is the only way to get Nepal off the tightrope.

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