Nepali Times Asian Paints
Animal Farm

We are outdoing Orwell. This is getting to resemble Animal Farm. And the doublespeak is getting out of hand.

Rightist parties like the RPP are calling for an asset limit, the centre right has announced revolutionary land reform. What are the poor Unified Marxist-Leninists to do? Its supremo whose name is synonymous with the country had the brilliant idea to call for a Rs1 million cash cap on citizens.

With Nepali capital flowing out of the country like our monsoon-gorged rivers, these shenanigans spooked an already panicked business community. Nepalis have once more shown that they are their own worst enemy. If the politicians all meant what they uttered, you could at least say: right, these guys really want a socialist paradise. But they don't mean what they say. Like the rhesus alpha males at Pashupati, they are competing with each other to show who has a redder butt.

The Maoists, who triggered this paroxysm of political fundamentalism in the mainstream, are in a retreat to think things over in their Rolpa redoubt. They have a lot to think over. The revolution has gone much better than they had imagined in their wildest dreams. Too well, in fact. The main problem for the top leadership now is to sustain the momentum, keep things under control and have viable fall-back options in case the chain-reaction leads to meltdown.

If such things are allowed in a Maoist milieu, some soul-searching must be going on in Rolpa. Was the Prachanda Path a mistake? Was the post-massacre effort to incite an urban uprising too hasty? Did the Siliguri reunions undermine the party's carefully nurtured anti-Indian image? It is now clear that the Maoist movement is not as monolithic as it has been made out to be. There are at least three broad categories of cadre:

well-read doctrinaire ideologues at the top who are mostly hill bahuns

mid-level comrades mainly from the janjatis for whom the .303 gives a heady sense of power they never had before

grassroots goons who have joined the revolution because they were on the run from the system anyway

The top leadership feels it is not entirely in control of what happens at the local level. When the revolution was young, most actions were populist. Punishment was often brutal, but villagers nodded silently when heartless loansharks or ruthless zamindars were targeted. As the network grew, the leadership lost more and more control of what its cadre did. Part of this was a result of the underground party's loose and decentralised structure, put deliberately in place to lend flexibility and prevent infiltration. Lately, it is getting difficult to distinguish between a maobadi and a khaobadi. In the hinterland, villagers have stopped trying to figure out who is who.

Extortion is indiscriminate, Maoist platoons have to be fed by subsistence farmers, anyone walking on a village trail can be the victim of intimidation. The build-up to the Kathmandu rally on 21 September has come to resemble an open door-to-door donation racket.

Many of the official pronouncements by the Maoist leadership now seems to be targeted at mid and lower level cadre. The message is: we are not giving up the revolution, and you will enjoy the fruits when we come to power. The exaggerated sloganeering about a peoples' republic in speeches at Maoist mass meetings also point to internal posturing.

One thing the Maoists have done is pulled the entire political spectrum to the left: exposing middle- and upper middle-class bigotry and insecurity. The Nepali Congress was forced to come back to its prototype socialist agenda. Its land reform proposal pinched where it hurt, and it brought out the truth in more ways than one.

The UML and ML have now given up trying to re-unite. But the UML leadership post-Siliguri has been surprisingly vocal in exposing what it says is the backing that the Maoists and their republican agenda are getting from India. With this, the UML hopes to win back its cadre from the Maoist fold by showing that the comrades were Indian puppets all along.

We will get some indication of where all this is headed on 10 September when the Maoists are expected to announce the conclusions of their party plenum at a big gathering in Libang. But there can only be two outcomes: continue the talks, or resume the bloodbath. For the Maoist leadership, negotiations offer a face-saving exit strategy and a realistic stab at power in some kind of an interim government. Prachanda and Baburam know better than anyone else that the alternative is a final and bloody showdown with the king and his army.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)