Accustomed as they are to fooling all the people all the time, the Maoists have shown they can beat the mainstream parties hands down when they wish. Last week, Pushpa Kamal Dahal triggered a series of political explosions with his very own IED - Ingenious Elocution Device. The detonator was his statement about the possibility of a republican front in cooperation with \'nationalist' monarchists. With it he delivered multiple warheads to almost all the important political players.
The main target was apparently India. Unhappy with New Delhi's changed priorities, Prachanda was issuing a warning: back us in electoral politics or we will reactivate old links with our mentors in the traditional Nepali establishment. The role played by the Chinese in this abrupt Maoist about-turn remains unknown.
A secondary target was the UML, which has been presenting itself as the sole custodian of conservative values in Nepali politics. The lesson here was clear: when push comes to shove for leftist forces in the country, the Maoists will have even less hesitation in embracing a right-wing leadership than the UML had in pushing Lokendra Bahadur Chand in the mid-90s.
For NC, Prachanda had three warnings. By hinting at a rapprochement with the monarchists, he seemed to say that the Maoists too could draw upon the services of those suave and presentable grandees for propaganda purposes. Once hardcore royalists received a certificate of nationalism from the YCL, they could begin to entertain interlocutors from the West on behalf of the revolutionary party. Second, Prachanda was reminding GP Koirala that the Maoists have always been closer to the military than is NC. Third, and clearest of all: in hardball politics, there are no permanent friends or foes, only varying interests.
There was a message for the king too: he should not lose hope but must stay clear of any clandestine deals with the mainstream parties, since there is only one political force in this country able to rescue the monarchy from complete eclipse - the Maoists.
Reaction to this verbal assault has been swift. India rapidly patched up its differences with the Nepali Army. Conservative NC lawmakers started to canvass openly for a constitutional monarchy. The UML began to soft-pedal on proportional representation and the idea of parliament itself declaring Nepal a republic. And, to keep Kathmandu's leaders on their toes, a realignment of political forces in Madhes has been quietly engineered.
Prime Minister Koirala, shocked by the avalanche of political fallout triggered by Prachanda's statement, has responded by reactivating the team that paved the way for the peace agreement. Certainly the Maoists have woken everyone with a jolt. But what exactly do they want now?
They no doubt fear their electoral appeal has weakened despite the success of their motion in the special session of parliament. Now that even the Rastriya Prajatantra Party has dumped the monarchy, the republican agenda has lost its sheen. And any adoption of a fully proportional electoral system will be credited to the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and janajati activists rather than the Maoists.
The simple answer is that Prachanda needed a slogan to go into the electoral fray. The class struggle isn't an issue emotive enough to attract voters to the polling booths, so he had to resurrect the populists' most convenient tool, the battle cry of nationalism in danger. To appropriate that slogan fully for himself, he needed to expose the clay feet of everyone else. Hence this subterfuge of making common cause with monarchical nationalists. Clearly, the Maoists have gone into campaign mode.