Nepali Times
State Of The State
Six years later


After the savage slaughter in Mangalsen Saturday night, it has become clear that the Maoists are more interested in carnage than in political change. Violence has now become an end in itself. The attack on the administration came without warning, and by their dastardly act the Maoists have extended an open invitation to outside forces to intervene in our internal affairs. Comrade Prachanda's wish in an interview in 1998 that he looked forward to fighting Indian forces on Nepali territory does not look insane anymore. Is there a method in the Maoists' madness?

Prachanda last week issued a bombastic press release listing the supposed achievements of his so-called People's War as it entered its seventh year. But in nearly 2,500 words, there is not a single argument that would in any way justify the loss of over 3,000 Nepali lives. What did they die for?

What the insurgency has succeeded in is undermining the limited gains of the People's Movement of 1990. Power seems to be once again shifting away from the people, and it's not just because of the say that the Royal Nepal Army has acquired in matters of the state after the declaration of an emergency in the country.

There have always been three principal players in Nepali politics. The primacy of the military-administrative elite dates back to the days of unification. The palace represents this traditional elite, and it has kept its hold for over two centuries. Between the Shahs and their Rana cousins, the extended Gorkha family has maintained its power.

The 1815 Sugauli Treaty reduced the rulers of Kathmandu to being proxies of the British Empire in Delhi, introducing a second player in Nepal's power centres. When Jang Bahadur usurped power after the Kot and Bhandarkhal Massacres of 1846, he accentuated the authority of the empire next door in order to establish his own legitimacy. The third player for power in Nepal is the Nepali people themselves, and they didn't really count until 1990.

The restoration of the Shah dynasty to the throne at Hanuman Dhoka Palace on 18 February, 1951 was an unprecedented event: the people and the palace had come together for the first time to chart a common destiny. However, it also legitimised the role of India. The New Delhi Compromise was rammed down the throat of Nepali Congress leaders, and proved that the strategists of independent India were no different from the managers of the Honourable East India Company when it came to ways of dealing with the buffer state in the Himalaya.

The royal coup of 15 December, 1960 attempted to shift power from people to the palace, but Delhi adroitly exploited the rift between these two players. India played the palace and the Nepali Congress against each other for its own advantage and maintained its stranglehold over strategic affairs in Kathmandu. When BP Koirala chose to return from exile to try and restore democracy, India lost the card that it had used successfully for behind-the-scenes bargaining with the king. New Delhi's game of arm-twisting Nepal came out into the open and culminated in the eighteen month long economic blockade (officially called the "trade and transit impasse" in India) imposed by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. There is little doubt that relentless pressure from New Delhi was instrumental in making Narayanhiti bow before the public clamour for multi-party democracy.

India's foreign policy pundits in South Block discovered that the shift of power from palace to the people in Kathmandu did not turn out to be of any advantage to them. In fact, it was even more cumbersome to deal with a plethora of leaders working under the pressure of facing an electorate. Hush-hush negotiations with the likes of latter-day Gooroo Gujraj Misser and Chunder Seeker Opedeea had been a lot easier.

The permutations of the chronic power play at Singha Darbar were unsatisfactory no matter how the chips fell. The uncertainty of hung parliaments and revolving-door governments in the mid-1990s must have made the strategic manipulators long for the obstinate but reliable players of the Panchayat years.

Enter the Maoists with their three sets of 40 demands, the first set of nine completely devoted to matters concerning "nationalism". Is it merely accidental that it is precisely this "nationalism" that has suffered the most over last six years? Was undermining it the hidden purpose of all the vocal name-calling of our southern neighbours? Had the fire of patriotism stoked during the Hrithik Roshan riots reached its logical conclusion, Comrade Prachanda may have been declared the dictator of the Confederation of Communist and Maoist Political Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA).

The very concept of popular rule is anathema to communists, so it isn't surprising that the Maoists failed even to mention the word "democracy" in their list of demands in 1996. In that sense, it is refreshing to read in Comrade Prachanda's recent statement that he is concerned about the weakening of democratic forces in the country. There is some merit in his judgement that unless civilian control over defence forces of the country is unequivocally established, democratic rule by a popularly elected government can never be guaranteed. But the irony is that the longer the Maoist war lasts, the more influence the armed forces would have over the civilian government.

If a child born on 13 February, 1996 were to ask Comrade Prachanda what he did to nationalism and democracy in this country, he would probably read from his jargon-filled statement and deliver yet another lengthy apologia deriding a perceived palace-India nexus. But the bottom line is that the Maoist insurgency has weakened people power, and enhanced the influence of the palace and Big Brother down south.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)