Footprints of uncertainty

Published On: April 22, 2019 01:00 AM NPT By: P Kharel

Nepali governments have a habit of engaging in negotiations only when a conflagration breaks out. Biplav proved to be a tougher nut to crack than Oli-Dahal had imagined

“We will give a fitting response to the fascist government that in the name of banning party has been carrying out search operations and violent activities against our leaders and cadres across the country,” Netra Bikram Chand Biplav-led Nepal Communist Party stated in a March 27 communiqué. Asserting that it was “the true communist party”, the group claimed fighting it was for the welfare of the people and had no option to opposing the government’s crackdown on it. 

That more than 400 supporters of Biplav have been arrested within a few weeks indicates the group’s expansion. Ten years after the 2006 political changes, Maoist party split in 2012 and the breakaway group split not long after. Presently, Biplav’s Maoist, Mohan Baidya’s Revolutionary Maoist and Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Maoist in the ruling Nepal Communist Party are the three faces of the former rebels that waged a war against the state and caused the deaths of 17,000 Nepalis. 

Their past and present highlight glaring contradictions. Dahal is following Oli’s line, as if oblivious of the years he used to criticize the UML leader harshly. Biplav pursues the slogan and methods Dahal had taught him for many years. He accuses his former mentor of abandoning the agendas set during the decade-long armed conflict against the state.

Deep-seated personality clashes between Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and Biplav came in the way of the required congenial atmosphere for meaningful talks. Thapa, too, had accompanied Baidya in the 2012 split but returned to Dahal’s waiting arms in 2016.

Tactical deficiency overpowered Prime Minister KP Oli’s technical advantage of a landslide parliamentary majority. According to parliamentarian Rajendra Shrestha, the late Madan Bhandari dubbed Oli a “big boast but feeble feet.” The prime minister is out of step with the challenges welling up amid ineffective prescription by an incompetent coterie.

Fresh fear

Dahal’s personal state in a flux is indicated by his neighbors’ observation that he invoked the services of a hired priest to ward off unwelcome spirits haunting his house in a hush-hush manner. During the Maoist’s decade-long dance of death and destruction, his cadres would have thrashed the functionary accused of practicing “people-cheating” rituals. 

At the mass level resides an atmosphere of fear and air of fresh armed conflict in the country. It is a fear factor that drives Dahal to dismiss Biplav in public but torments him with the shadows of his one-time comrades-in-arms. His discomfiture, aggravated by the thought of his unsavory past being investigated by international human rights agencies, makes him bitterly sit at the edges of his seat. He would do anything—perhaps even retire from active politics—if he were guaranteed safety from any legal action against his past and the reported wealth he is rumored to have amassed. 

Nepali governments have had the habit of engaging in negotiations only when a conflagration breaks out. Biplav proved to be a tougher nut to crack than what the Oli-Dahal-Thapa trio had originally imagined. Underestimating an opponent can come costly. Home Minister Thapa tried downgrading Biplav as an “element” while Oli termed the group as “looters”. The home minister discounted Biplav, little realizing how quickly the latter had expanded his network. 

Oli and Biplav were fiercely engaged in a war of deadlines, with the prime minister inviting the group to lay down arms and join the national mainstream by mid-April to avoid being apprehended. Biplav retaliated with the same deadline for the government to lift the ban on his party or face the consequence of the government itself being declared banned. Mid-April has come and gone with a whimper and without a whisper from either side on the unmet deadline. 

The Jhapa legacy of throat-splitting of “feudals” and Maoist’s deadly war converged in the shakily unified NCP whose mandatorily abbreviated name is flanked by a pair of brackets. It was an unconvincing move created by Oli’s compulsion of guaranteed comfortable majority and Dahal’s desperate desire to stem the slide in his group’s support base. Until 2015, Oli spared no word and forum to denigrate and demonize Dahal. Maoists, in turn, identified him as an aberration in the country’s communist culture. Subsequent circumstances, however, created a conditionality of mutual compulsions on the 2018 general election eve. 

Pattern of precedent 

Incidents such as flag marches, missives to business companies and local governments for “cash contributions to people’s cause,” and setting up of “people’s government” units bear Biplav’s stamp all over the place. During the earlier insurgency, those engaged in rowdy activities and disturbing local peace or loitering in inebriated conditions were thrashed black and blue, gamblers punished and anyone identified as an exploiter lost limb or even life, with the “culprit’s” house set on fire and land forcibly occupied. 

Today, neither Baburam Bhattarai, who has divorced communism, nor Dahal utters a word on such issues. Particularly in the villages and town interiors, their support base, the anomaly has put the former armed Maoist leaders in difficult light, underscored by their highly patrician lifestyle reminiscent of the feudal lords they previously denounced virulently. 

People no longer appreciate being fed the diet of the government’s flight of fancy and Dahal’s prattles. Influence-peddlers and power oligarchs are cutting through every rung of the state structures that accord meritocracy no recognition but spawn purely political proximity and cronyism in the garb of ideological fraternity.

After a district court convicted Resham Chaudhary in connection with Kanchanpur killings, RJPN stalwart Rajendra Mahato reacted angrily, arguing that if Chandhary were to suffer jail term for his “political activity”, the likes of Girija Prasad Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, too, should have been brought to trial and convicted.

Real risk

RPP Chairman Kamal Thapa calls for probing the assets of politicians, bureaucrats and others by a high-level investigation commission covering post-1991 years. He wants the state to freeze foreign bank accounts of Nepali nationals. The demand-list handed over to Oli includes accommodation of the institution of monarchy, a referendum on federalism and calls for measures ensuring the integrity of Nepal’s territory, including Kalapani, Lipulek and Susta. Until 1990, similar points used to be leftist forces’ major sources of slogan. Biplav as well as Baidya’s groups seem to share some common grounds of agreement with Thapa, perhaps with the exception of monarchy’s return. 

The cramp-effects by the character of Oli’s coterie have proved no better than those of previous governments, except for the two-thirds majority employed to bulldoze its way through any dissent in the ruling party. The government has expended the trust people had in it a year ago. People no longer digest investments in a dream that deluded them for decades under the pledges made by the very leaders who have between them alternated, for nearly 30 years, the seat of power. 

Public disenchantment is the entry point for a new awakening that nothing is going to happen under the existing structural conditions. Some former Indian ministers and authoritative analysts as well as academics sense an imminent change in the country’s political dynamics. Only an unlikely dramatic change in the substance of governance or a long-anticipated popular surgical strike can sustain and soothe the sense and sensitivity of a society seething with anger accumulated over the years. 

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