Nepali Times
Guest Column
An emergency for the Maoists


After the dissolution of parliament and an imminent reimposition of the emergency, the Maoists have two choices: continue on their path of retrogression, or join hands with other democratic forces to defend and build on the achievements of the people's movement of 1990. The choice is an urgent one.

At the heart of every insurgency and rebellion is the goal of putting the legitimacy of the powers-that-be on trial. And so it has been with the Maoist "People's War". The Maoists' justification for the insurgency is derived from the failure of the government, and indeed the political system, in addressing the basic economic, social, and cultural development of the vast majority of Nepalis.

The Maoists portrayed their rebellion as an attempt to provide an alternative path to Nepal's progress. In the early phase calls against rural economic and social exploitation, untouchability, injustice and discrimination of dalits, indigenous ethnic groups and women were at the forefront of the Maoist struggle.

They drew attention to the unfinished agenda of Nepal's unification, and the un-addressed issues of Nepal as a nation-state. They appeared to question the content and direction of on-going development efforts on grounds of their reach and effectiveness on the lives of the poor and the disadvantaged.

This strategy played a major role in the relatively strong support and consequent expansion of Maoist influence in rural Nepal. Despite the murder of political opponents, of extortion, and an increasing militaristic tendency the movement spread rapidly. In other words, development or the lack of it provided the raison d'etre for the People's War. Or so it seemed.

However, since the ratification of the emergency by parliament in February the main target of Maoist destruction has turned to infrastructure. Telecommunication towers, airports, community-built hydro power plants were destroyed. Nearly a thousand VDC offices, hundreds of schools, and the Sanskrit University have been razed. Now, all private schools in the mid and far west have been forced to close down. Even health centres, Red Cross offices, drinking water systems and orphanages have not been spared.

These acts of wanton and brutal destruction are not isolated, neither can they be dismissed as instances of indiscipline within the Maoist ranks. Had it been, the Maoist leadership would have repudiated them and disassociated itself from such recklessness. Clearly, the destruction of development has been a deliberate act to score political points. What is incomprehensible in this madness is the purpose they serve and the message these acts convey to the public at large.

Why has a rebellion whose avowed objective was to out-legitimise the government in the public eye, been so bent on de-legitimising itself? Development infrastructure may not have been serving the dispossessed directly, but the problem is not with infrastructure, the problem is with its reach among the poor and the conditions for its use.

A school, a health centre, a university, community buildings and offices, roads and bridges, electricity, drinking water, homes for the destitute and the helpless are institutions and facilities that are needed in all societies, no matter who calls the shots. They may not be development per se, but they are essential and inseparable components of it. And these facilities are not created by a magic wand overnight, there is a cost to it and invariably it is the public that has to foot the bill. In the case of Nepal, quite simply, the destruction of development infrastructure is a deliberate act of pushing the country further into the hands of the donors, and of course, India.

It is also an open invitation and a call for all defenders of the status quo, both domestic and foreign, to close ranks. No wonder, Nepal is fast becoming an "interesting" place, interesting enough to be a playground for foreigners. Nepal has received more powerful dignitaries in the last six months of the emergency than in its last 12 years as a democratic state. Surely, the message on the wall should be there for all to see, including
the Maoists.

The truth is indeed ugly. A blunt Nepali proverb says it all: when the vultures roam, there must be a carcass. Some are already drawing parallels with Afghanistan. That is the distance we have travelled from the vibrant democracy we were some years ago.

Militarisation is not a substitute for the politicisation of the people. Terror cannot be a means to make people "sovereign". Physical liquidation of individuals is not an alternative to the battle of ideas. To refuse reason and dialogue as a basis for the creation of the objective conditions for progressive social and economic change is to nurture totalitarian dictatorship. And the intent of all dictators (ideologies notwithstanding) is the same. The only alternative to democracy is an accountable democracy, nothing less. Those who ignore this history are condemned to repeat it.

Ever since they suddenly walked out from negotiations in November to stage that ill-conceived attack on Gorahi, the political credibility of the Maoists hit a new low. They have made an effort at a dialogue again, but the ball is in their court. By a few chosen unilateral actions, such as a declared total and unconditional stop to all acts of destruction of development infrastructure, and a ceasefire for a fixed duration, the Maoists can still regain the credibility they forfeited. Their response to the elections in November will be carefully watched.
Will they create the trust for a peaceful resolution to the present crisis and pave the way for negotiating a future for Nepal in which they will be partners? An extension or re-imposition of the emergency could strengthen the hands of the forces of retrogression and status-quo. The last six months of the emergency have clearly shown that it is neither conducive nor desirable to a political resolution of the crisis. A democracy under sustained emergency can very well seal its own fate.

The moderate left political parties lost the opportunity in the past by not showing a pro-active policy and programmatic response to the Maoists' actions. They helped strengthen the hands of the forces of the status quo by agreeing to re-impose the emergency three months ago. To support the re-imposition of the emergency, irrespective of how Maoists respond to their call, would be suicidal.

The government insists that the security forces are making major gains. The Maoists insist that they are not losing. The truth surely lies somewhere between. We only know one thing for sure: at the rate of one thousand Nepalis killed every month, the only losers and the ones truly bereaved are the Nepali people. The question simply is: who dares own the Nepali people?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)