Nepali Times
Guest Column
Total control


One cannot be half-free, or half-democratic. The media can never be semi-independent. As the fourth pillar of democracy, the free press is an inalienable part of this country's pluralistic landscape and political future.

The irony, of course, is that dictators and demagogues through history have also understood this. Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot all used the free media to propel themselves into power, and then promptly turned their sights on that very free press that helped them get to office.

The disciples of Karl Marx don't seem to have heeded his high regard for an independent media. Marx had said: "A controlled press is a sign of dictatorship, democracy needs the credibility, its logic and integrity of the media."

Communist leaders throughout history who regarded Marx as their guru, however, saw a free press as an enemy of the revolution and an ally of the bourgeoisie. On 25 October 1917, the day Lenin overthrew the interim coalition, he closed down the independent newspaper, the Ruskaya Volya and confiscated its printing plant. Two days later, a further 20 newspapers that were accused of being "undisciplined" were shut down, and the order bore Lenin's signature.

Here in Nepal, the Maoists left the media alone during the war years. In fact, they benefited from the media's objectivity. It was tactically important to allow the papers to report freely on the excesses of the security forces and to struggle against crackdowns on the media by the royal regime.

True to historical precedence, the Maoist attacks on the media have followed their election to power. This should not surprise anyone, they are just doing what their mentors Lenin, Stalin and Mao? did.?Lenin made workers the vanguard of his attack on the press just as our comrades use the excuse of militant labour to muzzle the media.

Nepal's Maoists have adopted a two-track policy: to pay lip service to the free press while their cadre use violence, threats and intimidation against journalists. The party is riddled with its own contradictions. But the buck must stop somewhere, and the top leadership has to take responsibility over the action of its violence-prone cadre. It can no longer churn out one excuse after another. There is a clear motive that links the Maoist party with most of the attacks on the media, and the burden of proof to refute involvement lies with the Maoists.

Unless there is a credible disassociation by the party leadership from the actions of their cadre with a public directive to stop the threats, it will be clear that the party's goal is one-party communist dictatorship in which there will be no space for the free media.

History shows us that communist totalitarianism, military dictatorship or dictatorial monarchies can't tolerate a free press. The Maoist model is the same as Mao's China and its oxymoronic 'democratic centralism'. Although their revolution has adopted the principles of democracy and human rights as a temporary tactic, there should be no illusions that they haven't given up on their end goal.

Statements, speeches and actions of the Maoist leadership and cadre provide ample proof to back this up. There have been repeated statements that the revolution isn't over and threats to go back to armed struggle. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's public warning last week that his party would take over power by force if voted out is the starkest reminder of the true intentions of the Maoist party.

To be sure, the leadership is under considerable internal pressure from indoctrinated cadre which it brainwashed to follow a violent path to liberation under a cult of personality leadership. How to tell them that their sacrifices were just so the comrade leaders would sit in Baluwatar and Singha Darbar? The leadership knows fully well the dangers of a split and? mutiny within the party.

Although the party is divided between hardline extremists and pragmatic moderates, the end goal of both are the same. It's just that one wants a short-cut and the other says let's take a longer road. One faction is trying to give the impression that it is just half-totalitarian.

The challenge before civil society and democratic parties in Nepal now is to understand that the Maoist attacks on the media fits a pattern, and the party should not be appeased. Similarly, there are some in the international community who seem sold on Maoist slogans of liberation of the poor, discriminated and the downtrodden.

Some European countries, especially, are still giving the? Maoists the Maoists the benefit of doubt despite overwhelming evidence that they are against democracy and a free press.? It's time to ask them some hard questions.

Narayan Khadka is an NC member of the Constituent Assembly from Udaypur.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)