Nepali Times Asian Paints
Contrived confusion


The cloud of confusion settling on the top tier of our political class has thickened considerably in recent weeks. A day after pointedly accusing Narayanhity and New Delhi darbars of fomenting the Maoist rebellion, Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala clarifies that what he actually meant was that he is mystified about who really is behind the six-year-old insurgency. UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who has generally stood by his sighting of a Narayanhity-Nepali Congress-New Delhi tripod on which the Maoists stand, is flummoxed by the communication gap between Koirala and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on the parameters of the government-Maoist peace talks. (In retrospect, it turns out that Koirala was unfairly criticised for his adamant one-man-two-posts stance.)

The Maoists, already confounded by spontaneous outbreaks of popular resistance in some districts and rumbles of recalcitrance within their ranks, are in a quandary over whether to join mainstream politics before things get any worse or to continue their campaign of violence and intimidation at a time when South Asia is becoming the main battlefield of the US-led global war on terrorism.

The Deuba government, which seemed to be fully focused on its priorities even before being sworn in, is now caught in the web of its own concessions. It imposes a ban on, among other things, extortion, coercion and vandalism-which everybody thought were eternal criminal offences-for a month, only to lift it three days later, ostensibly to save the faltering peace talks. The dozens of Maoist activists freed from prison as a gesture of government goodwill get a freer hand to raise funds to facilitate their part of peace making. The UML and the breakaway ML, evidently sensing that the tide might be beginning to turn against the Maoists, remind us they have not ruled out reunification. They agree to reject key political demands of the Maoists as out of step with Nepal's history and geography but still can't find mutually acceptable adjectives to qualify the converging international policies of the United States and India. Itching for some action after the peace talks shoved them to the sidelines, the Maoists' student surrogates decide to protest against army-police raids on some college campuses by forcing schoolchildren to take a five-day vacation. Young radicals inspired by the ruthless vision of the Great Helmsman torch a few school vehicles to prove their capability of acting on their fiery rhetoric, before withdrawing the closure call hours later. With the kids' plans for the extended weekend spoiled at such short notice, the Maoists end up alienating a vast pool of potential voters.

Although they hate admitting it, every political group seems to be basking in this biosphere of bafflement. After his push to please and appease everybody in the land-reform programme backfired, Deuba has reverted to his one-point agenda of concluding a peace deal with the Maoists, threatening to resign if he failed. But the prime minister's single-minded devotion to the cause of peace may no longer be enough to help him postpone the painful task of phase-wise cabinet expansions he had privately pledged to keep his flock together.

After the Silguri conclave formalised the foreign connections of the Maoist leadership, the UML has stepped up its offensive on the rebels in public. Privately, however, UML leaders know they need to keep alive an emasculated Maoist movement outside the electoral process as a fallback position for the day they became tired of sitting on the fence. Meanwhile, remnants of the ancien regime in parliament and outside are happy to wear that we-told-you-so frown every time they see a surge of street fury against the sordid state of the nation. The people, fed on allegations that the monarchy is abetting a rebel movement which has publicly vowed to replace it with a communist republic, are braving this befuddlement with their familiar mix of fatalism, forbearance and frustration.

However, there is actually little reason to lose heart. Amid the mist, there are clear signs of an evolving national consensus on the need to destroy democracy in order to save it. The mainstream political parties have been plotting a plan from the early months of Koirala's first tenure as premier. After the hung parliament of 1994 kept everyone in suspended animation, the Maoists thought the demolition project could be completed faster through armed action. As late and ambivalent adherents of non-military methods of destruction, the rebels may seem to be a little raw and rough. However, they have demonstrated sufficient maturity in feeling the pulse of an infant democracy that has been in mortal danger since its rebirth in 1990. The surfeit of semantic stupefaction in the Maoists' speech is carefully scripted to facilitate a candid exchange of ideas.

When Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai castigates the current polity for abandoning the majority of the people to repeatedly "electing their own tormentors and exploiters to rule over them for a fixed period," he draws attention. When he asserts that his party would allow a multiparty political system that would include parties of the "most advanced proletarian class," he provides enough conceptual elasticity for cerebral experiments of all kinds. It's easy to mistake the insurgents' insistence on the need to institutionalise Nepal's embryonic republic for ideological incoherence. What the demand actually does is provide enough legroom for everybody to reach his or her own conclusions on the trek towards a new beginning. It's not difficult to understand why everyone, from fiercely nationalist royalists to disloyal rabble-rousers who want to dissolve the kingdom into the republic down south, is frolicking in the fog of Maoist phraseology.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)