Nepali Times
Guest Column
Same old new regime


To figure out why the Maoists wanted a ceasefire and peace talks at this precise moment, we have to sift through the tangle of contradictions that are contained in recent Maoist pronouncements. Pundits as to have their own explanation for why the Maoists decided to go for talks: pressure from India, internal indiscipline among the cadre, waning public support, fear of getting a US terrorist tag.

But the Maoist leaders themselves have painted the town red with often contradictory pronouncements. They say they came out because their armed wing had reached a state of "strategic balance" with the royal army, that there was a "military stalemate", and that they needed to have an outlet for a "new model democracy".

And yet even before the government had set up its negotiating team, even before the right conditions had been arranged for talks to begin, even before the political parties were fully on board, Messrs Baburam, Badal and company surfaced in the capital with a media blitz. Why the hurry? Why now?

When the Maoists launched their insurrection seven years ago, they said they wanted to create a people's republic in Nepal through a protracted peoples' war. Now, their leaders have come above-ground with the demand for a roundtable conference, interim government and constituent assembly. And they have said they are willing to dilute even these demands.

But who is going to call this roundtable conference? Two-and-half months after the ceasefire, the Maoists seem clueless. What is this "new model" democracy? How are the two armies going to be merged? There are no clear ideas. Even so, the comrades seem intent on sitting down with the royal-appointed government at the earliest possible opportunity.

It is now clear that the Maoists are in a desperate hurry to start peace talks. Given the government's delay-tactics, the Maoists seem to need talks more than the government does. Hence, the fiery speeches against the king, the army and the government, the hardline interviews and radical rhetoric to ensure that their armed cadre do not become impatient.

On the other hand, one can discern that the Maoists haven't really given up on their ultimate goals. In fact, beneath the camouflage of negotiations one sees a continuing commitment to a military solution. In the past two months, the Maoists have set up a division-strength military unit in the west, two new brigades in the east, and large quantities of arms have been transported across the country. In addition, they have also given a special importance to cadre development in the Kathmandu Valley.

There are indications that the Maoists will use the period of the peace talks to combine long-term peoples' war with a mass urban uprising. This is a qualitative departure from how they used the last truce to rearm, recruit and regroup to take on the army. This time, it is a strategic leap to multiply their military gain by inciting a volatile urban mass in the capital, which they hope will propel them to power.

What proof is there, therefore, that the Maoists are not using this ceasefire and negotiations about negotiations to prepare for the next phase of the revolution? In fact, Maoists leaders have been saying as much in their speeches all over the country in the past week.

"Henceforth, it is clear that a rural war is not enough, in fact we don't need a war in the villages anymore, we need to bring the conflict to the cities," Badal warned at a meeting in Chitwan on Monday. In Nepalganj Baburam Bhattarai said the next step was to "take over central power".

Among the reasons that the Maoists say they came to the table is the geopolitical situation. Actually, this is just an excuse. Nepal's geopolitical situation is no different than what it was 200 years ago. A favourite Maoist saying is that Nepal is not a yam but a stick of dynamite between two stones. A lot of things don't quite fit. On the one hand the Maoists say they have come out to talk to the Chand government, on the other they want to uphold the gains of the 1990 people's movement. How can the gains be protected by talking to a government that has dismantled the same gains? Besides, the Maoists themselves have done nothing but try to demolish the 1991 constitution that came out of that movement.

According to the Maoists' own doctrine of war, "strategic balance" isn't supposed to lead to peace talks and dialogue. Strategic balance in fact evolves into "strategic offensive" and ultimate regime change. The Maoists obviously need to launder their image and gain political legitimacy by erasing their terroristic and criminal methods. They may be regrouping and strengthening their armed wing, but they also need to cleanse their public image.

It is clear that seven years and 8,000 lives later, the Nepali people have not come out openly to support the Maoists. Furthermore, it will take a long time for the Maoists to gain the complete trust of political parties who bore the brunt of the executions of political leadership at the grassroots.

The Maoists' biggest contradiction is seen in their line on the monarchy. Whenever they have been asked in the past week about the role it sees for the king, it has given fuzzy answers. Comrade Prachanda last year revealed salacious details of how the present king had assured him of a two-thirds majority in parliament if the group entered parliamentary politics. To this day, some hardline royalists describe Maoists as "nationalists".

What is this "new model" of democracy that the Maoists keep talking about? Some clues have emerged in the past weeks: it will be pro-free market, pro-multiparty democracy, and accept the presence of the monarchy. How is this different from the capitalist multi-party constitutional monarchy we have already? And if that is the direction we are headed in, then why did so many Nepalis have to die, and the country brought to the brink of ruin?

(Puskar Gautam is a former Maoist commander from Okhaldhunga. This comment has been translated from the Nepali original.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)