The Maoists' invitation to journalists and human rights activists to attend their mass meeting in Jajarkot on 19 January came more than a week before the event. Everybody knew that the rebels intended to declare the Bheri-Karnali region as their autonomous province.
Why had the rebels chosen to disclose the details of the meeting? Were they not fearful of an organised response by the Royal Nepali Army? In retrospect, they almost seemed to have known that the military would not attack.
What the military did conduct was an ineffectual aerial exercise, dropping some bombs from a helicopter on the flank of a hill on the other side from where the Maoist-called rally was being held at Birendra Aishwarya High School in Jungey Thapachaur village.
If the half-hearted bombing was meant to scare the populace from attending the rebel rally, that itself was against good judgement and humanitarian principles. If the decision was to make a militarily significant attack, the outcome was the killing of a 28-year-old farmer and injuring two others. No thought seems to have gone to cordoning the region and taking on the rebels on the ground.
Two days later, senior journalists at an interaction organised by the RNA at its Bhadrakali headquarters heard the top brass claim that they had no knowledge of the Jajarkot meeting. Army spokesman Deepak Gurung said that a helicopter on patrol had retaliated when the rebels opened fire. He did not have casualty figures.
At a time when the army has been claiming successes in intelligence gathering, which human rights activists hope would lead to fewer killing of innocents by the security forces, the claim of "we did not know" was shocking.
The inability to mount an offensive might have had to do with a number of factors: a strategic military failure, lack of transport logistics or a laudable unwillingness to cause casualties amongst villagers coerced to attend.
The Maoist show of bravado in Jajarkot was important for an insurgent group that has been unable, in recent times, to mount successful attacks on army and armed police posts. With the morale of the cadre dipping dangerously as the rebel operations focused on clandestine killings and mine blasts, the Jajarkot meeting boosted the leadership's image.
On the grounds of the Birendra-Aishwarya High School, as villagers trooped in from the surrounding region to hear Krishna Bahadur Mahara, fighters manned machine guns trained at the sky (see pic). Mahara sought to convince that the Bheri-Karnali autonomous province was merely a prelude to capturing state power at the centre. He said, "The fact that we have not launched any major attack of late does not mean that we have become weak. This is all part of our new policy." The rebels had now entered the phase of counter-attack after the earlier phase of political equilibrium.
The Maoists' Bheri-Karnali regional commissar, using the nom de guerre 'Pratik', warned, "The present silence should be understood as the calm before the storm." (For his part, a senior RNA commander at the Bhadrakali interaction cautioned, "You must understand that the Maoists are not lying low. They have been made to lie low.")
The government at the centre, meanwhile, was dismissive of the claims emanating from Jajarkot. "They are merely an outfit of some armed bands," said Minister for Information and Communications Kamal Thapa. "If only the agitating political parties allow the government to tackle the Maobadi, the insurgency will be solved within a few months."
What the Jajarkot meeting showed was an army unable or unwilling to engage the Maobadi, and a Maobadi side desperately in need of a showcase 'autonomous province'.