Giving in completely to the splinter Maoist party may derail the political process while disregarding it in political negotiations carries the risk of conflict
Dark clouds hang over Nepal, promising rain and rejuvenation, but at the same time, threatening a destruction of life and property. The political scene is no different. In the next five months before November 19, the date for the election of the second Constituent Assembly (CA), we will witness the full effect of this year’s politics. By then, we will probably discover whether the peace accord that ended Nepal’s first civil war holds seven years later, or be broken by the splinter Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), led by Mohan Vaidya “Kiran,” frustrated with its marginalisation since the previous Assembly was dissolved last year.
The CPN-Maoist is opposed to elections “under the status quo.” This translates into a demand for the immediate resignation of the Chief Justice (CJ)-led election government, and an abstract call for a “round-table conference.”
Other agitating parties, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal and the Sanghiya Samajbadi Party, have registered with the Election Commission, signalling their willingness to participate. Ideologically, they are not opposed to parliamentary politics either, and a few concessions and “face-saving” gestures should entice them to join the elections. In fact, one of their demands, the formation of a constituency delineation commission, has already been met. There are indications that another key demand — increasing the ratio of seats allocated to proportional representation which will increase representation of excluded groups — will also be met. Such concessions will further isolate a CPN-Maoist unwilling to compromise on its demand that the current government be dissolved. Electoral calculations further complicate the picture.
The Prachanda-led Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is poised to lose votes if its former comrades participate while the Nepali Congress (NC) expects to benefit from the division in the Maoist party. The mainstream Maoists are aware of the debilitating consequence of a similar division in another communist party — the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) split in the 1990s, which helped the NC sail home in the 1999 elections.
The mother party often tries to lure the supporters of the splinter party with talks of reunification or an electoral alliance. The radical party itself appears to be in a dilemma about what course to adopt.
The idea of path dependence is being deployed by both the Maoist parties to prove opposite views. For the splinter party, the current path of the CJ-led dispensation was deceptive from the start and there is no way it will lead to a “pro-people” constitution. And since the CA would not produce the constitution, what is the point of participating in it? For its part, the mother party insists that the current path was necessary to break the impasse and write a constitution, and that it cannot be reversed,
The big question, then, is what lies at the end of the path? In an interview with The Hindu before his trip to India in April, Prachanda said that the splinter group will be isolated and “finished off” if it attempts a revolt. This attitude is buttressed by the conventional wisdom in Kathmandu that people have no appetite for another war. It also says that the mother party understands the methods of insurgency so well that any attempt at revolt by the splinter will be quickly crushed, and that India would have no qualms about such an outcome given that the radical Maoists have been shrill in criticising India’s role in Nepal.
New Delhi’s position, sources say, is to support the November 19 election and encourage the splinter Maoists to join the polls. But if the Kiran-led party tries to disrupt election activities even then, New Delhi feels it must not be allowed to hold the polls hostage, and the state must assert its authority.
The splinter party does have disruptive capacity. A senior official involved in election preparation estimates that the group has 1,200 indoctrinated and trained former guerrillas who would have the motivation and capacity to unleash violence. Others put this number at 2,000.
A pessimistic assessment of the undercurrents is an escalation of hostilities between the splinter Maoist party and the republican state, with an eventual descent into armed struggle. But there’s an “optimistic” reading as well. According to a well-informed diplomatic observer, Prachanda is worried that Biplab, the most dogmatic of the radical Maoists and the one most likely to revolt, is playing the same game he played before the 2008 elections — to oppose polls “under the status quo” and ally with those seeking proportional representation — in an attempt to boost his popularity. The success of this strategy depends on the parties’ willingness to compromise.
Bring them in
Two goals stand out in the current discourse. While the first, to get a fresh mandate from the people, gets great attention, the second, the continuation of the peace process, gets lesser attention. The only way to achieve both ends is to immediately make the CPN-Maoist a part of the political process by remembering the content and spirit of the 2006 peace accord between the state and the rebels, which remains unimplemented except for the disarming of the Maoists. In addition, its numbers in the dissolved Assembly make the CPN-Maoist a legitimate actor that has been wrongfully shunned by the “high level political mechanism” currently directing the government.
“Besides postponing the elections and removing the government, what could we do to bring the CPN-Maoist into elections,” was Bimalendra Nidhi’s query. The answer lies in a new agreement among the parties in the next few months which renews the commitment to the peace accord signed seven years ago and gives in to some of the Maoist demands without jeopardising elections. In the five months ahead, a big test for Nepal’s peacemakers will be to persuade the splinter Maoists to contest the November election, and for the power centres in Kathmandu to make compromises to that end possible. Conversely, attempts to isolate and split the Maoist party carry a risk of a return to levels of violence that will further destabilise Nepal.