When the Maoists got their student wing to force a nationwide education shutdown two weeks ago, they wanted to put political pressure on the government to resume negotiations. It seems to be working.
The government is also hoping that an end to the education strike could mark the beginning of a peace process. "If the talks with the Maoist student wing are successful, it could pave the way for possible peace talks," Education Minister Bimalendra Nidhi told us on Thursday afternoon, as mediators appeared closer to a deal.
Sudeep Pathak, coordinator of the task force mediating between the government and the rebel students said an agreement was within reach and that there was bargaining on the precise wording of the agreement. "An agreement on opening schools could lead to peace talks," he said.
The Maoist students' main demand is the withdrawal of its terrorist tag, but the government first wants them to accept schools as violence free zones. Minister Nidhi told us: "If they agree to keep out of schools, we can consider withdrawing the terrorist label."
The Maoists are under considerable pressure after the arrest of their top leaders in India and analysts say they would benefit from a monsoon breathing spell. But the army is said to be dead against a ceasefire, citing previous truces that the Maoists used to regroup.
"It is the government's security forces that use schools as barracks and bring violence to them," says the Maoist AANFSU-R president, Lekhnath Neupane, who has been giving frequent phone interviews on FM stations all week.
However, it is clear that the education strike is more about politics than about education. "We believe the AANFSU-R strike is politically motivated because the real demands of the students on fees have been sidelined," says Rajendra Rai, president of the rival UML-affiliated student union.
The Maoists, who have seen their anti-monarchy slogans hijacked by the anti-'regression' street agitation of the political parties and their student wings, needed to assert themselves. An indefinite education strike was an easy way to make their presence felt. Besides closing schools, the Maoists have also been taking away thousands of students and teachers from rural schools all over Nepal for revolutionary indoctrination sessions.
If there is a silver lining in the school closure, it is that it may lead to another truce. A prominent human rights activist in the mediation task force told us: "Both the Maoists and the government want to see the negotiations between their student wing and the government leads to peace talks."
So far, the only thing standing in the way is semantics.