The Maoist Surge

By: Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

While the current interim government has built up an astounding track record of messing things up and failing completely, utterly and entirely to deliver on their promises, it develops a considerable amount of energy in order to cling to political power.

Of the many shortcomings that it has, the biggest one probably is its illusion of having the mandate of the people and acting accordingly, being blissfully ignorant or conveniently overlooking the fact that this was not the case from the very start of its tenure.

The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) with the massive domestic support of the Maoists and the external backing of the Indian government managed to stage street agitation and demonstrations to oppose and finally bring an end to the direct royal regime. The subsequently formed government has sought to establish its legitimacy from the so-called People’s Movement II, but this is a spurious claim in every respect.

In principle, only a direct mandate from the whole people by virtue of a democratic electoral exercise would have given the government the necessary legal and constitutional status. To a certain degree, an interim government may have to go without the former and/or rule by decree in emergencies for a limited period of time. However, its actions must be the subject of a review by a legitimately elected government that has the full right to nullify any decree or decision made by the preceding interim government.

As we all are fully aware, this government has failed to seek legitimization by elections, but at the same time, it arrogates to itself the power to make decisions it is not legitimized to make. Nor is it making any effort to repair the already major damage. Thanks to its tireless efforts – specifically in the field of making no effort whatsoever – the country has become a laughing stock in the international arena and – as unthinkable as it may sound – come closer to becoming a failed state.

Now PM Girija Prasad Koirala has made the statement in Biratnagar last week that he would finally resign after the elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA). He failed to state the reasoning behind this argument. The authors are not too sure whether his reasoning really matters that much. Lets face it, at the rate the government or its – shall we say – ex-parliamentarian opposition – continuously postpones the CA-elections again and again, Koirala could still become PM for life without going back on this statement.

From the standpoint of his government’s lost legitimacy, he should not procrastinate any longer and resign now to clear the path for a government of national unity and reconstruction. The fossil of Nepalese politics can no longer contribute in a meaningful way to Nepal’s political development. He has developed a thick skin with regard to genuine critique and has gone the way of eccentric and erratic behaviour. He forgets that he has the prime responsibility to the supreme people, whether he has a mandate or not.

But the Gang of Seven (constituent parties in the government/SPA) are clinging on to him like leeches, in order to hang on to power. The mainstream communists, the United Marxists-Leninists (UML) went to the extent of praising Koirala’s ‘leadership’ while at the same time lambasting the home ministry for its failure to control the law and order situation in the country as a whole.

On the other hand, the chairman of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF), Upendra Yadav has categorically demanded Koirala’s resignation for failing utterly to fulfill the ‘mandate’ of the April 2006 movement and above all to contain the spiraling incidents of murder, abduction and looting. His devastating judgment: the government was totally impotent with no hope of redemption.

Now as a way out of the deepening political impasse, the PM’s daughter Sujata has pleaded for a revival of the Constitution of 1990 and scrapping the current interim constitution (which in any case has no political legitimacy at all). She was in favour of retaining the monarchy with curtailed powers until the CA-elections) and against the interim parliament ‘proclaiming’ a republic. The deep schism within the nominally democratic party, the Nepali Congress (NC) came to the fore in her scathing criticism of home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula and coterie when she remarked that they had (blindly or willfully?) led the NC and the country at large into a Maoist ambush.

The rift in the governing coalition on the one hand, and between the NC and the Maoists on the other are also quite apparent. Last Sunday, Maoist honcho Baburam Bhattarai caused a sensation by categorically demanding that PM Koirala and his NC should immediately implement the interim parliament’s ‘instructions’ regarding the proclamation of a republic before the polls and adopting a fully proportional electoral system or quit the government. This of course does not exactly smack of a good understanding of either democracy or the parliamentary process.

He claimed that SPA had already found an alternative to Koirala and was confident of holding the CA-elections in a “free and fair manner” even without him. However, and this is the crux of the matter, he repeated the usual verbal diarrhea that these would definitely not be possible without the declaration of a republic beforehand. Moreover, he challenged the other political parties to attempt to go to the polls in the villages without having addressed the Maoist demands.

Bhattarai reached the pinnacle of intimidation by menacing to launch street protests countrywide (however, not returning to the jungle and the killing terraces) if the interim parliament did not act accordingly. In his use of strong-arm and steamroller tactics, Bhattarai is a worthy student of the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. He and his cronies would do well to watch Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator’ once in a while in order to not drown in their grandeur.

The SPA, and especially the NC are now in a serious quandary. However, this problem is of their own making, having first allied themselves with a terrorist group, and then by progressively giving in to the Maoist demands (applied in the insidious salami tactics fashion). By buying short-term benefits and time by following an appeasement policy, all caution was thrown to the wind. A section of the NC is of the firm opinion that the Maoists want to avoid the CA-elections at all costs because they truly fear the verdict of the people, and now want to heave the UML-General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal (aka: Makune) into the PM’s chair because he would be more pliable. Makune himself is personally overtly ambitious, has been jockeying for position and has been ingratiating himself with the Indian embassy. The Maoist leaders themselves defended their recent visit to the same embassy for “technical reasons”, but failed to disclose what these reasons were.

Since the Maoists have already stepped up their pressure on SPA, it is quite possible that the government bows down to their illegal and unconstitutional demands. The floodgates would then be open for the establishment of a Maoist-Communist dictatorship. The CA-elections would recede completely into the background. Makune would be ‘elevated’ to a figurehead PM, and the so-called interim parliament reduced to a rubber-stamping body. The Judiciary would soon be non-functioning and the officer corps of the Nepal Army eliminated, making this institution ineffective. The Maoists would virtually be handed political power on a silver platter – thanks to the machinations of some foreign powers, in a pseudo-legal manner. The lighthearted words about Charlie Chaplin aside, one is indeed reminded of how Hitler came to power in Germany before the Second World War.

At the time of writing, only some leaders of the NC were offering token resistance. They have warned that they will not follow the party whip if the legislative wing is asked to vote for the immediate declaration of a republic. But this will not be a bulwark against the rising tide, if the top leadership of the NC chooses the path of least resistance.

The writers can be reached at: [email protected]

Shashi P.B.B. Malla writes incisive political opinion about the politics and politicians of Nepal. He sometimes writes with fellow contributor, Chandra Bahadur Parbate.

Educated in Darjeeling, India, with a certificate from Cambridge University, he went to College and university in Calcutta: I. Sc./St. Xavier’s, B.A. (Hons.)/ Presidency, M.A. (International Relations)/Jadavpur, India. He was Assistant Editor: The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu.

He is or was the Country Representative, DAV Summit Club, Munich (Germany’s leading adventure tour operators in mountaineering and trekking)

He is a Senior Lecturer, Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu