Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Zero sum shenanigans


A well known Nepali lefty litterateur often remarks that Maoist behaviour is semi-Marxist and semi-Talibanish. The latter may not be a fair analogy given the vast gap in the scales of cruelty. But our comrades do have a ruthless instinct and consider instilling fear among opponents an acceptable strategic instrument.

That side was on display this week in Bhojpur and then Chitwan. Maoists were beating people up, throwing stones, and chasing MPs into houses. The consolation is they are not killing people any more. But if you do not view violence relatively, as one should not, it is clear there is a hangover of the war. This tendency becomes stronger when the Maoists are cornered in 'mainstream' politics by past masters of the game.

The rising political conflict may not be desirable, but it is inevitable.

The government, for its own survival, cannot give in to Maoist demands. It does not feel the need to do so, since it believes anti-Maoist forces are united, there has been enough 'appeasement', Maoist strength has dipped, and India is with them. The coalition's only ideological glue is protecting the existing state structure from Maoist 'adventurism'.

The Maoists, to remain relevant and deliver on their promises, cannot abort the movement. They do not see any reason to be constructive in opposition when the government (in their assessment) is illegitimate and weak. The ideological basis that binds together all elements within the ultra-left party is the commitment to use state power to expand the party's hold, and effect radical changes.

To break this stalemate, and determine the balance of power, a new round of confrontation, hopefully limited and peaceful, will take place.

If the agitation paralyses the state, induces a sense of panic, divides the ruling alliance, and pressures India to bring the Maoists back, there may be a new deal. The Maoists can then claim victory.

If the movement has the opposite effect - of uniting the anti-Maoist coalition further and provoking a security offensive - the political stalemate will be prolonged, and violence will escalate. The Maoists will blame an almost dysfunctional government for wanting conflict, and play the victim card while keeping their organisation intact.

Either way, they do not lose.

The only losing scenario for the Maoists is if their own party faithful do not respond to calls to protest, they lose goodwill among their own constituents (not the media or urban middle class), and are forced to backtrack and accept the status quo. This is unlikely.

But seeing this as a zero sum game will leave the broader challenges of establishing peace, writing the constitution, and institutionalising democracy on the backburner. The only way out is a broad agreement that addresses five issues simultaneously.

The first is a deal on the president's action that may not focus on the past but will have guarantees about the future, with a specific delineation of the role of the head of state and cabinet. The second is an agreement on the nature and timing of integration and rehabilitation of the PLA - which the Maoists want to use tactically to increase their political strength, even as the other parties are trapped in their past rhetoric of viewing integration as a Maoist takeover of the army. Third is a consensus among the three big parties, in consultation with regional and ethnic groups, on the nature and shape of federalism and other constitutional issues. The fourth is a certain commitment by the Maoists to 'reform' their overarching party structure and ideological line to make it more 'democratic'. And the fifth is an alternative power sharing arrangement, which probably means that this government has to go.

Given the resurgence of the anti-peace process lobby, Maoist dogmatism, the stakes many forces have developed in the status quo, and the internal divisions within each party, such a package deal looks very unlikely at present.

The only good thing that can come out of the Maoists' announcement of protests is in compelling all parties to recognise they sink or swim together, that there is no alternative to a multi-class compact, that each side has to give and take, and they need to postpone the competition until after the constitution is written.

Marching in, Update, 28 October, 2009
Presidential conduct, Editorial - FROM ISSUE #474 (30 OCT 2009 - 05 NOV 2009)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)