Nepali Times

Just as cherry blossoms erupt on the scattered, scraggly trees on the dusty Ring Road, comes Comrade Prachanda's declaration of a 'Path' named after himself. Chairman Mao has been replaced by Chairman Prachanda, till now only general secretary. If that be the case, then surely Maoism has been replaced by Prachandanism, and the Maoists are henceforth to be called Prachandanistas. The analysts are still not geared up to tell us what the four-page press release tells us about the future of Nepal - was it a peace offering or an indication of a further tightening of the noose on the body politic?

While the Maoists were having their big conference, Kathmandu also saw a spurt in "interaction" programmes discussing the insurgency. The fact that it has taken five years and 1,600 lives for the Nepali intelligentsia to register this conflict is telling in itself. But better late than never. Just one word of warning: let's not have a foreign-funded peace industry here, as have sprouted in some other conflict areas in the name of civil society. Let us do what needs to be done ourselves on confidence-building measures, concrete dialogue and human rights monitoring, which will become increasingly important in the days to come. This is our problem, we need to solve it ourselves.

As a correspondent wrote in this paper last week, the Maoists have in five short years forced the nation to take notice of them and the societal contradictions, justice and equity issues that they purport to fight for. All right, they have made their point. Many who sympathise with the Maoists' demands do not agree with their rationale for violence. The end is agreeable, but not the means.

A neglected topic of discussion in all the gosthis and antarkriyas of the capital is how the insurgency has forced development to the back-burner, which is ironic since it is neglect and lack of development that feeds the fires of discontent in the first place. The result: development work everywhere is grinding to a halt. Some projects were dependency-deepening, donor-driven and wasteful, and needed rethinking anyway. But many genuine grassroots initiatives were starting to give the local people hope, through the actions of accountable and visionary elected local officials. There has been a genuine move towards local self-government, and this was going to be one of the finest payoffs of our nearly dozen years of democracy.

It is a tragic waste, then, that the Maoist insurgency has now begun to impact on development in just the areas we were beginning to have some success. However much the Maoists have said they do not want to target honest and effective anti-poverty strategies at the grassroots, the word doesn't seem to have got down to their local cells. And this is why we are seeing a gathering sense of doom at the grassroots. Maoists have already effectively uprooted local governments in over a hundred VDCs, which is like removing the brick on which the foundation of decentralised governance rests.

If there is one area in this conflict on which everyone agrees it is that there can be no military solution. Even the Maoists, for whatever reason, have left the door open for negotiations, and their pre-conditions for talks seem reasonable. The demand in the Prachanda Path for an interim government as a first step towards a 'people's constitution' can be construed as a moderation of their previous stance. It could be posturing, but that they even mention talks is an indication that they are responding to public opinion against violence. The government's unstated position is that it needs to step up the military pressure to bring the Maoists to the table, hence the Armed Police Force. But so far, the talk about talks is just that: talk.

The conflict has not yet erupted into full-scale war. Negotiations have the best chance of success before the big guns start blazing, and the 'three-nought-threes' are replaced by Kalashnikovs. After that, the momentum of war takes over and it may take decades to pick up the pieces. The roots of the problem lie in the crisis of confidence in government, its problems with legitimacy, and the lack of a multi-partisan consensus on resolving the issue. Unfortunately, the parties and the factions within them seem intent on playing political football with this one. Those who call themselves patriots seem not to realise that a protracted conflict is a lose-lose situation for all sides, and ultimately will be a threat to our sovereignty.

Well, if the above-ground politicians will not help us find an answer, perhaps the underground Prachandanistas will. Let us hope, perhaps against hope, that the Prachanda Path-and its emphasis that Nepal's revolution will have to have its own characteristics since none of the past 'proletarian revolutions' can serve as a model and its addition of 'mass armed revolt' to the 'people's war'-indicates a move by the insurgents to move towards mainstream, and aboveground politics. For the sake of genuine decentralisation alone, and the sake of the people at large, this should happen.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)