What are the Maoists planning? This question has been at the heart of Nepali politics for the past decade. It remains so even today. This week, the former rebels gave us a glimpse of their strategy, or more accurately, strategies.
On Sunday, they set up a jumbo 'shadow government', with multiple departments, accommodating leaders from all factions, reminding many of the war-time parallel structures.
On Monday, they decided to boycott programs involving the prime minister, signalling that they would continue to challenge the legitimacy of the government.
On Tuesday, they broke the logjam on the composition of the special committee, accepted the PM's leadership, sent two nominees and allowed it to meet. The move was geared to show their commitment to the larger peace process.
Through the week, the party leadership met with striking regularity to review current politics. They also found the time to reorganise their state committees.
Connect the dots and Maoist priorities start becoming clearer. The core aim is to keep the party intact, consolidate, and energise the cadre. Even as they have been involved in larger political negotiations, the Maoists have focused on internal party work for the last few months. All leaders are involved in training programs across the country. They have divided up responsibilities about where to address mass meetings in coming weeks.
The Maoists recognise that all their opponents would like to exacerbate the divide between the pragmatists and dogmatists, leadership and cadre, politicians and PLA, and the party and its ethnic fronts. But they also see other parties are in self-destruction mode because of factional feuds. The Maoist calculation is that if they can stay together, even as others fragment, they will inevitably get back to power.
The leaders may not like each other, but for this larger objective, pride is being swallowed and difficult compromises hatched. And the cadre is being indoctrinated with slogans of change and 'civilian supremacy'. They are being told it is time for another struggle, and that success is near.
Success would mean leading the government again, or at the least, toppling this government, settling the PLA question at a convenient time in a way politically and financially advantageous to the party, writing a constitution which would appease their diverse ethnic base while creating a strong centre and leaving space for hegemonic rule, and going in for elections when victory is assured.
As this week's events show, the Maoists appear to have adopted a three-pronged strategy.
The first is to mount a calibrated movement that doesn't draw international condemnation and a backlash. This is uncannily similar to the strategy they had adopted after withdrawing from the interim government in September 2007, leading to the postponement of the November elections. The idea is to generate pressure, show they are relevant, encourage ethnic movements, but not cripple Kathmandu yet: to prevent the internationals, middle class and media from going on an offensive.
Simultaneously they will keep Madhav Nepal on tenterhooks. This involves stoking GPK's and Jhalanath Khanal's ambitions and ensuring that the government's credibility remains in the dumps. They were delighted at the government's discomfort on the VP issue. They are encouraging local actors and groups to oppose the security policy. And the Maoists' own achievements (essentially Baburam Bhattarai's) are highlighted to show up this government's non-performance.
The third element is to reach out to India and assuage concerns on China, multi-party democracy, and security. The other more gullible internationals are being told: look, we have been deprived of leadership of the executive, legislature, and now the key CA committee, but we continue to be responsible. If you want progress on the peace process, this government has to go.
Whether this strategy will succeed is difficult to tell. The Maoists have to reconcile two conflicting strands: of going in for a movement to enhance their bargaining power, yet projecting a responsible image to show their democratic commitment. Skeptics will see it as a continuation of Maoist duplicity.
The intra-party divisions in the NC and UML complicate the larger politics. Hostile generals lurk in the background. The media will not be kind. India is not in a generous mood, and will judge the Maoists not on what they say, but specific actions.
Enjoy the Dasain and Tihar interlude, for the winter ahead will be politically turbulent.