Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
2010's men


As 2010 ends, here's what the key political actors will be thinking about the year gone by and the one that lies ahead.

For the president, this has been an excellent year. If 2009 saw him at the centre of a controversy, Dr Ram Baran Yadav's spin doctors have managed to salvage his reputation almost entirely by now. He has played the role of the concerned statesman perfectly ‚Ä" expressing concern over the political deadlock, and repeatedly conveying how he is not empowered to act. He made successful visits to India and China; built up a support base in Kathmandu¬†among army generals, lawyers, journalists, and a section of the business community; chose his public commitments carefully; and maintained his links with NC while expanding outreach among politicians of all hues.

Dr Yadav knows what will be asked of him this year and has set the stage accordingly. The tenor of his message is ‚Ä" I do not want to go beyond the limits of this office, but if there is no choice and democratic forces and the international community support me, I am ready to step in. But don't be swayed by this seeming reluctance: the president is an active politician and will relish the power that comes his way. But aware that his institution is still in a nascent stage, he will ensure there is a cushion around him before he acts.

General Chhatraman Singh Gurung will be a happy man too. He has played his part in rehabilitating the Nepal Army (NA) and erasing its none-too-glorious recent record from day-to-day political discourse. Careful about the army generals below him who have greater influence, pedigree and connections, the chief has nonetheless carved out his own niche.

Gurung took on the prime minister on certain postings; he launched a belligerent campaign on UNMIN and succeeded in forcing the Maoists to concede that NA and PLA could not be equated by way of the four-point agreement in September; the army's public relations drive has been a success. And NA has offered a quid pro quo to the politicians ‚Ä" we don't want direct power, we will symbolically plead allegiance to you, but don't mess with us or interfere in our functioning. Many parties have signed up to the deal.

2010 has been an even more terrible year for the Maoists than 2009. Last year, they had to give up power but retained the moral high ground and sustained a public movement that energised the organisation. This year, the May strike brought home to them the limits inherent in inciting urban unrest when the state, middle class, international community, and media are on the opposite side. This dampened the morale of cadres, from which they are yet to recover, leaving the party gasping for alternative paths.

The party fell into the trap laid out for them by anti-Maoist strategists in Delhi and Kathmandu, whose aim was to strengthen the hardliners by keeping the party out of power and generating an existential crisis. There are now deep divisions in the leadership, and an increasing perception that the Maoists are solely to blame for the present stalemate. The fact the party did not split while managing to break the 'democratic alliance' ranks as its only achievement of the year. While Chairman Dahal remains the foremost national leader, his reputation did take a massive dip with failed attempts to become PM, and refusal to make compromises that would help win the trust of other parties and convince them of the democratic commitment of the Maoists.

In 2011, if the CA is not extended and another regime takes over, the Maoists will become the face of the resistance. In a way, this would suit the party as it would be the culmination of their plan to polarise politics; they did the same by helping bring NA into the battle in 2001. But it is highly unlikely that the Maoists will be able to use the streets to get back to power and impose the political system they desire. Their political achievements, and their growing integration into the political system that has proved financially profitable, could well be reversed if they took this path. Unlike a massive homogeneous movement, the resistance may take the form of multiple mutinies dictated by local conditions.

But if any one person was the face of the stagnation of 2010, it was Madhav Kumar Nepal. Nepal's smug smile over the past six months is representative of how most of Nepal's NC-UML politicians think ‚Ä" irrespective of the state of the citizens, as long as their positions are secure, Nepal's democracy is safe. But if they do retain any of their democratic values, it will be time to make some tough decisions in 2011.


A year of false dawns, NARAYAN SHRESTHA
Ignored lessons, DAMAKANT JAYSHI

1. Battisputali
The article is titled "2010's men". Sounds like some of the successful actors in 2010 were the strategists (in Delhi and Kathmandu) who were able to keep the Maoists out of power  and create conditions for division within that party. Who are they? 

2. Ritu

Good one, Prashant, and a great concluding para - you have voiced our collective frustration with MKN's obdurately complacent smile. Hope you'll continue to make Nepali Times worth-reading in 2011, happy new year.

3. Arthur
"In 2011, if the CA is not extended and another regime takes over, the Maoists will become the face of the resistance. ... Unlike a massive homogeneous movement, the resistance may take the form of multiple mutinies dictated by local conditions."

So how is that a success for the anti-Maoist strategists and a bad year for the Maoists?

If elections are held the Maoists win and if "another regime takes over" the Maoists lead multiple resistances dictated by local conditions.

Does anyone believe that "a support base in Kathmandu among army generals, lawyers, journalists, and a section of the business community" is sufficient to govern Nepal without elections in 2011?

4. K. K. Sharma

Nice sum-up, thank you. 

Yet, you still think ( as do many Nepali intellectuals)  that the Maoists ( and all true Communists, for that matter ) can be democratic. You may as well think that the goats can be sheep.

So you say that the NC-UNL see " democracy to be safe"  "... irrespective of the state of the citizens". Hope in your next article you will elaborateon NC-UML's, as well as, your  perceptions on "democracy" where people suffer.

5. jange
# 2 Ritu

What do you expect MKN to do? The poor guy has resigned and he has been asked to stay on until the next government is formed. To be fair, MKN did say that it would not be good for him to resign until the parties had agreed on the structure of the next government.

Poor guy. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

6. Battisputali
Some quick comments for Arthur:-

I'd say that strategically it was a pretty bad year (one and half years?) for the Maoists. They were in power. They had to leave. They wanted to get back into power (tried different street based strategies: civil supremacy, national sovereignty) etc. but they couldn't acheive their ultimate end.The strategic failure may have resulted because of Maoists' strategic missteps or it may have been because of a concentrated program of creating a perception of Maoist delegitimacy. Either way it was a strategic victory for Maoist opponents.

Pay close attention to Prashant's language. He says that the Maoists will be the "face" of "multiple mutinities" that may occur with the outcome of another regime (i expect he means a regime seized by brute power). "Face" does not mean "Lead" as you presume. Maoists have the most organized political structure of course and would be highly visible in any scenario of "multiple mutinies". They are also experienced experts at corroding state legitimacy through the medium of insurgency. But there are other regional political organizations around and these actors may want some "self help" and not want to be dictated by the Maoists.

In case of an election in 2011, I'd say that if the opponent's strategy is better formulated, the election (if it happens) will be won by Maoist opponents.

Unfortunately good intentions by themselves (form the Mapoist side: decreasing inequality, strengthening state etc.) and beleif in ideological supremacy  are not enough for the acheivement of political ends. Strategy matters. Prashant knows this and focuses on strategy in his columns rather than ideology and intent.

7. Arthur
Battisputali #6, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree that Prashant has a focus on strategy that is much more useful and interesting than the usual stuff on ideology and intent. Likewise I am interested in your comments on strategy.

I have the disadvantage of being an outsider and may also be liable to "wishful thinking". But I find it very hard to imagine a strategy the old parties could follow in an election that would result in them winning. The rabidly anti-Maoist comments here reflect a mood among "exiles" and the same sort of claims about how unpopular the Maoists are were heard before the last elections from the same sort of people - who do not reflect the wider mood at all.

Although there may be more "middle class" hostility to the Maoists than before, perhaps even costing some seats in KTM, I cannot imagine how the NC, UMLs or Madheshi parties could fail to lose many of their previous votes outside KTM, no matter what they do.

This is also why I don't agree with your first paragraph. True the Maoists were unable to return to office so their opponents were "successful". But if that "success" has resulted in less support for the anti-Maoists then it is not a defeat for the Maoists in the long term. The anti-Maoist "tactics" of desperately clinging to office and doing nothing (except looting) is not a strategy for defeating the Maoists but merely some "noise" before defeat.

The way I see it there are two possibilities.

1. If as Prashant Jha hints, the anti-Maoists resort to ruling without elections (brute force/"Presidential rule") then there will be uprisings. In the worst case it will be back to civil war with the Maoists in a much stronger position than before. More likely the uprisings would be successful. It is the wrong century to attempt to rule without elections, even in Nepal.

I would be interested in more explanation about merely being the "face" of multiple mutinies rather than leading them. Not sure if I understand, but the way I see it any revolt in the Madhesh would have to be a revolt against the Madheshi parties that joined the KTM establishment in refusing to hold elections and any revolt in the hills would inevitably be coordinated by the Maoists there.

If autonomous republics were established in opposition to the suppression of federalism and democracy by "Presidential rule" is there any region (apart from KTM/Newa) in which the forces actually able to govern locally would not be led by Maoists? If so, which?

2. An election, in which the Maoists win.

Of course there is theoretically the third possibility of an election in which an anti-Maoist coalition wins. Then things would drag on inconclusively for another few years. But the desperation with which the anti-Maoist parties are looking to India and the NA for support suggests to me that they don't see winning as a realistic possibility themselves. How could the UMLs and NC again make the same promises to carry out the agenda of new Nepal and hope for anyone to believe them?

PS I'm not sure whether the "hardliners" Prashant mentions are the anti-Maoist hardliners like Oli or Maoist hardliners in this paragraph:

"The party fell into the trap laid out for them by anti-Maoist strategists in Delhi and Kathmandu, whose aim was to strengthen the hardliners by keeping the party out of power and generating an existential crisis. There are now deep divisions in the leadership, and an increasing perception that the Maoists are solely to blame for the present stalemate."

I am guessing he means Maoist hardliners and is suggesting that the anti-Maoist strategy was to provoke a split in the Maoists by strengthening the Maoist hardliners. Certainly a split would be the only thing that could defeat the Maoists so it is easy to imagine that this would be the anti-Maoist strategy (even if it generally looks as if they have no strategy and just engage in anti-Maoist tactics as "noise before defeat").

But has any such strategy succeeded? I see lots of anti-Maoists hoping for a split, but I see no split.

8. Porridge

2011 is not about the possibility CA extension; it's about the certainty of a Presidential rule. And the script for the presidential rule is being written. It will be there for everybody to see after May 28, 2011.

Why? First, because if the CA is extended again, 2011 will be a replication of 2010, at least politically, and even worse economically. Which means, the same political bickerings and going-nowhere negotiations, confusion and chaos. There is simply no ground to believe that what could not materialise in 3 years will in the next 6 months or a year, if the CA is extended. I think everybody knows this my now.

Second, whether anybody likes it or not, the Maoists have lost face, and support - both national and international- during the past two odd years. They need to be further pressured (read weakened) if we want them to behave like any democratic political party. Only a presidential rule can do that. As far as the talk of revolt is considered, who will do that? The Maoists? I don't think so. They might try, but will not be successful.  


9. Arthur
Porridge #8, when a legislature is dissolved a new legislature is elected. "Presidential rule" will immediately be understood by everyone as meaning "military rule" to prevent elections being held.

Of course such a regime would announce that it intends to hold elections, "when the Maoists are suppressed" just as Gyanendra did (and Deuba before that).

But the reason you don't mention the alternative of elections is that you know perfectly well that the only reason for such rule is to prevent elections because the Maoists have been strengthened by elections and would be strengthened more in the next elections as the other parties have all confirmed that they are completely corrupt and incapable of keeping promises to build a new nepal.

Whatever support the Maoists have lost is nothing compared with what their opponents have lost. So how will "putting pressure on them to become democratic" by refusing to hold elections fool anybody?

I agree with you (and Prashant, and Kiran and Prachanda) that a script for presidential rule is being written. But it is such a hopeless script I have difficulty imagining that any studio would be stupid enough to take it on. Are Nepal's general's really that stupid? Did they learn nothing from complete failure of the last attempt?

At least last time they had the advantage of the deeply despised NC and UML netas in prison and their supporters hopelessly trying to mobilize public opinion to rally around putting them back (into their present positions as useless looters). There was no movement from the public until those parties agreed with the Maoists on actually electing a Constituent Assembly. Then there was a people's uprising. Pretending that they were the main leaders of the uprising doesn't change the hard reality that it became possible only with Maoist support.

Could the generals imagine that NC and UML support for military/"Presidential" rule would actually make it more popular rather than less? Don't they despise them as much as the Maoists (and everyone else) do?

Could they imagine that the Madheshis would be more likely to accept it after their parties so openly joinied the KTM establishment in rejecting federalism and looting?

Could they imagine that the international community which they keep claiming is too friendly to the Maoists would suddenly become more friendly to them once they openly return to dictatorial rule?

The audience would not pay for tickets to watch such a script, but would rise up and establish a regime that finally will accept the results of 21st century elections. People of no significance shouting about how much they want such a script here is one thing. Generals with the power to do it actually risking their necks for it (very literally) would require them to believe it had some prospects of success.

Naturally preparations have to be made for the possibility of generals being as stupid as you hope (and such preparations are being made). But merely threatending to do someting extremely stupid and self-destructive is not likely to intimidate the Maoists into abandoning their demands to actually start building a new Nepal. It simply forces them to also make preparations for an uprising "just in case" generals are that stupid.

Seems to me you are just day-dreaming about what it would take to defeat the Maoists not about what could actually happen. But what a strange dream, do you actually picture "President Ram Barah Yadav" as a "strong man"? Or Vice-President Jha?

Why not just picture them as the ideal pin-ups figures for a bowl of porridge? Seems more plausible!

10. Porridge

Arthur, I am amazed by your naivity. Or is it pretention of which you have been accusing others? Which Maoists are you talking about? The Maoists who were fighting the so-called people's war and would easily bring the entire Nepal to a compete standstill just with a piece of paper- a press statement calling for a bandh? That kind of Maoist influence is history now.

Only some six months ago, we saw what the Maoists could do even if they employed all their might - during their mass demo demanding the resignation of Madhav Nepal. Their infinite general strike couldn't last even a week. They know they cannot afford to be forceful now as they also know that in that case they will have to deal with a mightier counter force. And everybody knows where this counter force will come from. 

Let's see what BRB brings from Delhi this time. If nothing new, then a presidential rule is as inevitable as Monday is after Sunday. You can take my word for that.

A word on the uprising now that uprooted the monarchy. Do you think the Maoists who could not remove even a priest at Pahupati could have removed the monarchy? Had they not joined the mainstream parties, their fate would be no different than that of the LTTE, sooner or later. Period.   

11. Arthur
Porridge #10, as this article is no longer linked from front page there is no point continuing the discussion here. No doubt there will be many more articles in which people like you can proclaim how easy it would be to simply crush the Maoists and others like me can point out that rulers unable to win elections did not succeed in the last century and will not work in the 21st century.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)