It is natural for an underground guerrilla force in the process of reinventing itself as a political entity to send out mixed messages. Some things need to be said for internal party consumption, others to newly-nominated members of the interim parliament and then there are antiquated chants that are obligatory at seminars of international communists.
Within the span of a few days this week we heard Ram Bahadur Thapa tell a television interviewer "we are prepared to take up arms again if necessary", Matrika Yadav say "the past has proven to us that problems can't be solved through the barrel of the gun" and then CP Gajurel of the Maoist International Command tell a conference of regional revolutionaries that the Nepali people are "marching forward to a decisive victory over their enemies while US imperialism, the main enemy of the people of the world, is getting bogged down in its wars of aggression."
We may as well get used to this sort of language. But more worrying are their deeds that show the comrades haven't abandoned the threat of violence and coercion. This week, the Maoists shut down the Chilime hydropower plant, a showcase for an indigenously-financed, designed and built energy project. As soon as Chilime was reopened after public pressure, in Khandbari local Maoists forced the closure of a model community-run hydropower plant that was ploughing its earnings to run three colleges in Sankhuwasabha. The reason: they wanted 25 percent of the profits from the sale of power to the NEA. The people of Khandbari, civil society and political parties reacted with outrage and locked up the local Maoist office in revenge. The comrades better get used to not getting their way through force and intimidation.
No doubt, the installation of the interim parliament was a momentous event, one of those rare occasions in world history in which an armed revolutionary group has begun the process of entering mainstream politics. It may take some time for the honourable members in grey coats to give up their old ways, but let the leaders realise that actions like Chilime and Khandbari are unacceptable. After all, there are more pressing matters for the new House to resolve, like addressing tarai grievances before they boil over into another full-scale conflict.
When speaker Subhas Nembang welcomed the Maoists into a transitional parliament on Monday night, the moment underlined the moral primacy of peaceful competitive politics over the politics of violence. The next step is to take arms management to its logical conclusion and get the Maoists to formally forsake violence. Only after that can they join a transition government with other parties to jointly steer the country towards a constituent assembly election.