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IDSA COMMENT

Come November in Nepal…

September 09, 2013

The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), which split from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” last year, initially put forward two preconditions for its participation in the poll: first, a roundtable meeting of all-stakeholders to settle the outstanding constitutional issues; and second, dissolution of the current election government headed by Chief Justice Khilaraj Regmi.

But the disgruntled party led by radical communist leader Mohan Baidya “Kiran” later became somewhat flexible in its demands. Downplaying its demand for the dissolution of the election government, the party began negotiations with the top brass of other major parties in the High Level Political Committee, popularly known as the political ‘syndicate’. But the negotiation process came to an end all of a sudden last week when the ‘syndicate’ rejected its demand for a roundtable conference.

Kiran has argued that the country should hold a roundtable conference comprising all-stakeholders to isolate the reasons for dissolution of the last constituent assembly in 2012 and evolve a political consensus to avoid the same mistakes in future. But the ‘syndicate’ holds that the demand is merely a poly to defer the election and make attempts to foment an insurrection for state capture. This argument deserves some merit. In fact, state capture through an urban insurrection amidst socio-political disorder is the ‘official line’ of the Kiran-driven party.

But there are real indicators that the party has been compelled to rethink its policy after the urban middle class ignored its call to unite and take to the streets over the issue of safeguarding “nationalism” or “national sovereignty”. The party’s call for urban-centric demonstrations began two weeks after it submitted the 70-point demand to the government on September 10, 2012. The party even enforced a ban on the screening of Bollywood movies and the movement of vehicles bearing Indian number plates, but had to lift the ban in October 2012 due to widespread public anger. The party’s call for urban-centric demonstrations also failed to garner the popular support.

Subsequently, party General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” has presented a proposal in the party to contest the elections by forming a political front under the leadership of CP Gajurel “Gaurav”. It may be recalled that the Maoists had contested the general elections in 1991 by creating such a political front under the leadership of Baburam Bhattarai. But Badal’s proposal has been seriously opposed by the most influential party leader Netra Bikram Chand “Biplov” who is for election boycott.

Ironically, the decision by the syndicate to ignore Kiran has virtually ended th intra-party conflict within the Kiran-led Maoists party. The move has also given Biplov the “justification” for election boycott and significantly strengthened his position in the party. Thus the senior leaders are being dragged along the political line of Biplov who has argued that the party should either boycott the election or unify with the mother party led by Prachanda.

According to media reports, the purpose of Biplov’s China visit last week was to seek that country’s support for election postponement. But, the Chinese do not seem to be in the position to help him much. Given the level of hostility and mutual mistrust, the party re-unification is also easily said than done.

Then, how will Kiran’s party move ahead?

The official document endorsed by the recent central committee meeting states that the election will be sabotaged through the mobilization of the “youth resistance groups”. The leaders say they have already begun the “exposure campaigns” against the “regressive elements” that will continue till mid-September. The party then plans to launch its “The Third Push” programme. In the Maoist phraseology, “The Third Push” means the final confrontations with the state security forces for state capture. The secret party document also states that their targets will primarily be “the political parties and selected stooges” during the election.

The government is likely to come up with strong security arrangements involving the army to counter the attempts by the party to foil the elections, which may force the party to go underground. It may be recalled that the confrontation between the Maoist cadres and the police during the infamous Operation Romeo in 1995 was the immediate factor that pushed the Maoists to go underground and declare the People’s War from the geographically treacherous mid-western hills of Nepal. Secondly, even if the party does not go underground, they do not seem to stay peacefully outside the new assembly that will be elected for a term of five years.

Apparently, Kiran’s party does not have popular support base. But it does have the support of more than half of the insurgency-period central committee members and party cadres who have vowed to complete the remaining tasks of “revolution” in Nepal. Similarly, it has the support of around 90 members of the dissolved Assembly. Going by this figure, it is the third largest party in Nepal.

But there could be some defection to the Prachanda-led party. Moreover, not all the leaders may go underground. Kiran himself is in his dotage and many other leaders in the party are accustomed to the comforts of the city life. But this may not dissuade an ambitious Biplov from going underground. He enjoys overwhelming support from the mid- and low level cadres who call themselves “genuine revolutionaries”. He worked as the party in-charge in the mid-western hills during the insurgency and is still popular among the locals.

Similarly, if they really launch an insurgency, will they succeed? Literature on revolutions hints at three key structural factors for the growth and success of an insurgency: 1) split in the military; 2) serious fiscal crisis; and 3) contradictions among the ruling elites. The unresolved contradiction in the ruling elites – King, Maoists and parliamentary parties – was the major factor behind the partial success of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal earlier. But, these structural conditions no longer exist in the present-day Nepal. The military and bureaucracy are intact; the country has a rather stable economy due to the inflow of remittances; and the contradictions among the ruling elites, if any, are only superficial.

But the growth and success of the insurgency is one thing, and the prospect of violence during and after elections quite another. Radical communism has deep roots in Nepali society and the fissiparous tendencies of the communist parties in Nepal always keep the dream of communist revolutions alive. When one faction of the communist party joins the political mainstream, the more radical faction splits.

Against this backdrop, Nepal’s mainstream parties and the international community, especially India, can play important roles to convince Baidya’s party to participate in the election. There is nothing wrong in holding a roundtable conference and postponing the election by three months. Even if the party doesn’t participate in the election after such persuasions, the move will only weaken its position further at the political level. And if it does, it will have no reason to advocate violence. So, why not give it a go?

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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