Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


Assumption of the office of Prime Minister of Nepal by Prachanda, the leader of United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), [UCPN(M)], was greeted by democratic forces the world over; his  resignation following  insubordination by the Army Chief and the support to this act by the ceremonial President  is, on one hand, a matter of great discontent and surprise, and on the other hand, quite worrisome because in a way it is a coup. What went behind closed doors within and outside Nepal to precipitate this development, which installed Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) [CPN-UML] as the Prime Minister with the support of the Nepalese Congress, is nothing but dirty politics. Have the Maoists been defeated in the end game? Or will they re-emerge with popular support?


Prachanda’s assumption of the office of Prime Minister of the first democratically elected government in the history of Nepal was seen by many as the harbinger of a new and hopeful era in the isolated and impoverished country, sandwiched in the Himalayas between the two Asian giants, India and China. In the democratic elections of 2008, which ended over two centuries of feudal monarchy, including the last decade of the despotic regime of Gyanendra, Prachanda’s party, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won by far the largest number of seats of any single party although they were not able to get an absolute majority. This result was a surprise to many and a shock to some, including Nepal’s neighbors, the US government, and other foreign powers; they could not imagine that the Maoist guerrillas who led an armed struggle against the feudal regime for a decade would ever be able to get the most votes in a popular, democratic and free election.   As the leading party in government, UPCN (M) pushed for a popular progressive reform program of promoting literacy, women’s empowerment, redistribution of land to the peasantry, reducing poverty, and integration of their guerrilla cadres in the Nepal Army (formerly the Royal Nepalese Army that had traditionally served as the repressive arm of the monarchy). From the start, however, the old guard forces, including pro-monarchists but principally the Nepalese Congress, which had played its role as the “democratic” face of the old monarchical regime for many years, began to do what it could not achieve at the ballot box: undermine support for the UPCN (M) led government.  In this they were aided by the rank opportunist Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), or CPN-UML, which was ostensibly a coalition ally of the UPCN (M) in the government.


Opposition to the smooth functioning of government was brought to a head by the Nepal Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal, who continued to obstruct the integration of the 20,000 strong guerilla cadres of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the National Army.  This had been largely agreed on at the time the UCPN(M) decided to suspend armed struggle and enter into mainstream, democratic politics. According to the latest issue of Frontline magazine “Katawal, it seems, was determined to spark a confrontation with the Maoists, who had won the most number of seats in elections to the Constituent Assembly. In December 2008, he refused to stop the army’s recruitment drive, which was in clear violation of the 2006 peace agreement. After that he refused to implement the government’s order not to extend the services of eight brigadier generals. Then, in another calculated insult to the civilian government’s authority, he ordered the army to boycott a national athletic meet on the grounds that former Maoist rebel fighters, now cooling their heels in cantonments under U.N. supervision, were also participating in it. Katawal was trained in India and is an Honorary General in the Indian Army.”


It is clear that this deliberate flouting of the orders of the civilian government left Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) no choice but to demand the resignation of the Army Chief. But something must have been cooking behind the back of Prachanda or else Katawal would not have refused to abide by the decision of the civilian authority as stipulated in the new Constitution. Nor would the ceremonial President Ram Baran Yadav, a member of the Nepal Congress, have been able to side with the Army Chief rather than the Prime Minister of the country. As the situation evolved, it became clear that it was not an exclusive military coup but a military-cum-political henchmen coup against a communist-led government.


The May 9, 2009 Editorial of the Mumbai-based Economic & Political Weekly criticized the Indian government for turning “a blind eye to violation of civilian supremacy” in Nepal. What India did or should have done is unknown but it is very likely that all those in Nepal who disobeyed the orders of its Prime Minister Prachanda were cognizant of India’s sympathy, if not outright support, for their illegal action. Prachanda claims that he was aware that the President would side with the Army Chief rather than with him at least two weeks before it actually happened.


It is very likely that India, China, the USA and a host of other countries wanted a tamed-down monarchy rather than a Republic in Nepal, which was the avowed objective of the UCPN (M). However, once the UCPN(M) outdid every other party in the elections, although it fell short of an absolute majority, those averse to the abolition of the monarchy had no choice but to concede to UCPN(M) forming the government with Prachanda as the Prime Minister. In the election all the main leaders of CPN(UML) were trounced forcing Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign as its leader.  But that did not mean that the anti-UCPN(M) forces which include the other two major parties of Nepal, Nepalese Congress and CPN-UML, had conceded final defeat.  Even though CPN-UML was in a coalition with UPCN (M), the anti-Maoist forces in their party led by the K.P. Oli faction were actively undermining it from within.


Having done poorly in the elections and having been proven wrong that the King of Nepal was merely a ceremonial figure until Gyanendra suspended all democratic rights in February 2005 to crack down on UCPN(M), CPN(UML) grabbed the occasion of Prachanda’s resignation to install its leader Madhav Kumar Nepal as the Prime Minister on May 25 with the support of their otherwise traditional rivals, the Nepalese Congress of Girija Prasad Koirala.


To pretend magnanimity while knowing full well that it would carry no weight, Prime Minister Nepal invited the UCPN(M), to join the government. As was expected UCPN(M) along with 6 other parties (CPN-United, Rastriya Janamorcha, Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, Nepal Sadbhawana Party-Anandidevi, Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal and Nepal Janata Dal) refused to be a part of the government and decided to remain in opposition.


It is obvious that the UCPN(M) of Prachanda has been outmaneuvered for the time being. The ascent of Prachanda to the highest office in Nepal was a sore to reactionaries and liberals alike. But has Prachanda’s UCPN(M) also been overpowered? Only time will tell but all indications are that CPN(UML) by allying with Nepalese Congress, notwithstanding any blessings from other quarters, has embarked on a suicidal path. In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, CPN(M) was able to win almost 40% of the seats in the National Assembly, on a par with the combined number of seats obtained by Nepalese Congress and CPN(UML). In the meantime, UCPN(M) has been able to Mount Massive public support on the streets of the capital Kathmandu and other towns for their policies. They have the organization, the discipline and the will.


Two factors need to be considered in understanding the likely evolution of events. First, CPN (UML)’s decision to take advantage of Army Chief’s refusal to step down boosts the morale of the army and given the history of feudal-military rule in Nepal, they might have entered on a suicidal path. By conceding to military supremacy, CPN-UML and Nepali Congress are undercutting the credibility of civilian democratic government itself. Second, it would be wrong to consider that the sole strength of Maoists lay in their PLA and arms. However, through their armed struggle and constructive programs in the areas they controlled, Nepal Maoists have created a public support of a magnitude unknown for any other similar organization in the country. Given this scenario, the present government of CPN (UML) is not only against the Maoists but also against the wishes of the Nepali people. In short, Nepalese Maoists are as much there as they were when they were localized in jungles and mountains. If they deal with the current situation with maturity, which they are very much capable of, they will eventually emerge victorious. This is all the more so, because in the short period they have been in governance, they have respected democracy and the will of the Nepal nation.

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