The Gaur killings are turning out to be a watershed in national politics. They raise two important questions: Do the Maoists now want constituent assembly elections in June? What will happen of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum?
Gaur seems to have given the Maoists the perfect excuse to not only stay away from an interim government but also to delay elections to the constituent assembly. Pushpa Kamal Dahal's ultimatum and the Maoists' recent central office meeting must be seen in this light. This may be no more than posturing to influence delicate negotiations on division of spoils. But it could also be a serious rethink in strategy, because joining an interim government now and pressing for June elections could ultimately obliterate them.
The Maoists may be stupid, but not that stupid that they don't see which way the wind is blowing. An election in June would most likely cut them down to size because of the erosion of support in the madhesi and janajati constituencies.
Thanks to their blunder in Lahan and the apparent foot-in-mouth disease afflicting their senior leadership, the Maoist sense of their own invincibility has been destroyed. Moreover, if they were to join an interim government now, they would be seen as just another establishment party, further alienating key constituencies.
It doesn't make sense that they would want elections now, when their support is at its lowest? Is it not plausible, then, that their latest threats are nothing more than preparing the grounds to both stay out of government and delay the assembly elections? The killing of 28 of their cadres in Gaur and Prime Minister Koirala's reluctance to part with high-power ministries have given the Maoists the perfect excuses to wriggle out of their commitments.
The irony is that the Maoists are blaming the dismal security situation, as exemplified by Gaur, for their troubles. But it is they, more than anyone else, who must take the blame. They hindered police deployment, formed parallel policing mechanisms, and continued with threats and intimidation, all of which wrecked security. Now those actions have boomeranged on them. Instead of them hounding other groups, the Maoists are themselves being gone after by outfits like the MJF.
Where does all this-the last week in-particular-leave the MJF? In tatters, to say the least. This was a group that leapt out of nowhere to lead the recent legitimate madhesi movement. But Upendra Yadav's obstinacy and his gambler's instinct have wrecked the standing of the MJF. Already, political influence in the tarai is shifting from the MJF, as key madhesi student groups and civil society bolt from its fold. Yadav has compounded the problem by going into hiding. From a legitimate group that was repeatedly invited for talks by the government, the MJF is now being treated as a common criminal gang. Talk about a reversal of fortunes.
The recent troubles of both the Maoists and MJF show that nothing is certain-or permanent-in politics. Both these groups can still reclaim lost ground. But that prospect looks dim now, at least for the foreseeable future. The Maoists will need years of hard work to address the deficiencies caused by their arrogant behaviour and serious internal policy flaws. The MJF will need to work twice as hard to prove that it is indeed a genuine group and not one led by fundamentalist and regressive elements. But even as these two groups today stand discredited, it would be wise to remember that the original ideas that propelled them-social and political inclusion, and genuine sense of madhesi alienation-have not been rejected. Forgetting that will mean trouble.