Nepal Watches Anxiously as Maoists Debate Party’s Path

A feature article in the current issue of the Nepali fortnightly Himal Kabarpatrika explores the violence being played out in Nepal by and between party-sponsored youth movements. The Maoists’ transformed militia, now called the Young Communists League, comes in for the most criticism, but the UML’s equivalent body, the Youth Force, formed to counter the YCL, is also strongly faulted in the article titled “Gundaraj,” Thug-ocracy.

In response to the story, youth gangs stoned Himal Kabarpatrika’s publisher’s car and attacked the magazine’s distribution house, burning several thousand copies.

The continuing lawlessness despite Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda’s assurances to reign in and transform the YCL illustrates the bitter split within the Maoists over their path. Even before the end of the insurrection it was clear that a pragmatic faction among the Maoists was ready to make an early peace and join in a pluralistic power-sharing polity, while a hardline faction wanted to continue with armed struggle until a “people’s republic” could be established directly.

The pragmatists, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Dr. Baburam Bhatterai, prevailed then, and the two are respectively prime minister and finance minister in the government formed after the April 2008 elections. The pragmatists however face their most serious challenge yet this week, when the hardliners, led by Mohan Baidya, will table an alternate platform at a national party meeting.

PM Dahal’s program is said to emphasize participation in the coalition government, constitution drafting, and integration of the Maoist combatants into the security forces. Baidya is believed to be ready to propose a return to revolutionary struggle which, he says, would quickly lead to an outright Maoist victory. The YCL would play a key role in the hardliners’ plans.

Since the group’s formation almost two years ago the YCL has been the hardliners’ main action wing: Hardline influence and the presence of People’s Army commanders in the YCL senior ranks explain why Prachanda has been consistently unable to make good on his promises to control the group or mitigate its actions.

The YCL however may have gone a step too far on the eve of the Maoist meet. Kathmandu was deserted Thursday after a general strike called to protest the murder of two activists of the UML, the main partner to the Maoists in the government coalition. The two men were returning home after coming to Kathmandu for the funeral of a YCL cadre killed last month in a clash between Maoist and UML supporters.

Despite Maoist denials of involvement, public sentiment and political rhetoric over the issue is unusually hot. Nepali Congress vice-president and former speaker of parliament Ram Chandra Poudel is quoted in the morning newspapers as saying, “they are simply lying,” in response to a claim from YCL leader “Sagar” that the two men were killed by a rival faction inside the UML.

The timing of the strike and widespread outrage over the killings may blunt the hardliners’ attempt to turn the Maoists’ path at this week’s meeting. They were never likely to succeed in full, but they were expected to be able to make it far more difficult for the pragmatists to compromise with Nepal’s other parties and to establish democratic credentials with international community.

That could still happen, but the public protest on the day that the hardliners’ platform is to be introduced will remind all the Maoist delegates, however fervently they wish for the people’s republic, that Nepalis are fed up with the path of violence.

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.