Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
They do it again


They have proven their critics, skeptical of the Maoist commitment to democracy, right. They have let down sympathisers who gave them the benefit of doubt for helping re-shape the political agenda. They have shown their commitment to peaceful politics is more tactical than principled.

And most importantly, the former rebels have sent a message that they are not willing to play by the rules of the game.

The rules of the game are simple. If you have differences with someone, you fight it out by protesting non-violently. If you do not like what a journalist writes, you send letters to the editor. Or you brief other journalists selectively, plant your version and use your propaganda machine. If you are unable to set up a party-affiliated trade union within a firm, you mobilise the labour after persuading them, not by deploying threats. And unlike the high school bully, you do not beat up people when you want your way.

Let us connect the dots to see why this week's attack fits into the larger Maoist project of consolidating ruthlessly.
Begin with the fact that the Maoists have built, through hard work and a progressive sounding agenda, a strong support base. They are blessed with a totally inept opposition which rarely stands up on the ground.

Add to this the presence of YCL and use of subtle coercive strategies?a hint by the CDO not to pursue a case against the Maoists, party workers enforcing government decisions in the name of voluntarism, the takeover of local bodies. Understand this is a cadre which is aware that promises at the top are meant for consumption at the top and their leadership will wink and help them get away with anything.

Is it any surprise that the Maoists flout all rules? What they have is a ready defense couched in ideological mumbo-jumbo, like calling all constitutional principles 'feudal' and 'status quoist'. Even if you go by the Maoist worldview, the freedom to run a firm or express opinions will only help the Maoist aim of strengthening national capitalism.

But that is not the issue here. The point is that the Maoists have signed on to these rules. And today, after winning the legitimacy that came with those signatures, they are going back on it.

We have not been sensitive and quick enough to respond when the attacks on freedom and rights happen in distant places. This may take the form of the landlord violating the Dalit labourer's right to minimum wages, the Madhesi militant group attacking a journalist's freedom of expression, the police engaging in extra judicial killing in the name of 'encounters' in the Tarai, the army 'disappearing' hundreds of Tharus in Bardia whose families continue to be deprived of their right to justice.

All those crimes must be exposed, for it would be morally indefensible to pick one incident?which directly hits at our self interest?and ignore the others. This is the moment to expand the debate and ask for accountability across the board, especially in cases outside Kathmandu?wherever a right has been denied, an atrocity committed and rules broken.

But today, we confront the real danger of a Maoist party that is unwilling or unable to transform its culture of violence. The attack on Himalmedia is but a glaring example of how all of us are vulnerable. Our fates are dependent on the whims of mid-level YCL goons, prodded on by a leadership that is skilful at lying.

But moral science lessons to Maoists?you must not beat people, please fulfill your pledges - will not change their behaviour. The costs they have to incur if they continue like this have to be raised.

This will require a concerted approach -- political parties must pick it up as an issue and provide an alternative on the ground. Implementation mechanisms to hold Maoists accountable must be carved out. The media must corner the Maoists like it has done this week. Human rights institutions, both national and international, must step up pressure on the Maoist leadership to act. The judiciary needs to deliver justice when these cases come up. The international community must make it clear to the Maoists they do not have a 'blank cheque' to do what they want.

But the Maoists will reform only when messages like this one by a taxi driver hits home: "Is this why we voted for them? There is no light for 10 hours. Instead of solving that, they go and beat up people. Kasto bekar."

Questioning Maoists, yet engaging with them constructively to keep the peace process going is the enormous challenge ahead.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)