Nepal’s ‘democratic’ counter-revolution

Anand Swaroop Verma

After the resignation of Pushp Kamal Dahal “ Prachanda” as the prime minister of Nepal, the political parties have once again created a situation that reminds one of the days of the 12-point agreement of November 2005. The 12-point understanding was reached between the CPN-Maoists, which was underground and carrying out the people’s war, and seven parliamentary parties. This turned out to be a historic accord because the programme it articulated not only culminated in the November 2006 peace agreement but also made way for the election to the Constituent Assembly and establishment of a republic in Nepal. Had the 12- point accord not been signed then the monarchy would not have seen the quick exit it did. It might be worth recalling here that the US had launched a brazen campaign against the accord. The then US Ambassador to Nepal, James Moriarty, had advised the parliamentary parties to face the Maoists in tandem with King Gyanendra instead of joining hands with them. He had also attempted to impress on the parties the need to come out of it, once they had signed it, to do some introspection.

The agreement in question was signed in New Delhi at a time when the government of India was busy arresting the Nepali Maoists. Clearly, this accord could not have been signed without the consent and knowledge of India. This was possible only because of Nepali Congress patriarch Girija Prasad Koirala, whom the Indian establishment has always considered a close ally. However, after some time, once the situation had become completely normal, it was revealed Prachanda had suggested that the accord-signing meeting be held in Rolpa, and had even offered to ensure the security of the political leaders involved. Koirala, though, had not agreed to this. He insisted on Delhi as the venue and, instead, made a counter-proposal of providing security to Prachanda and his colleagues.

That the accord between the parliamentary parties and the CPN-M came about is only seemingly surprising. The drive to arrest political leaders launched by Gyanendra once he had usurped all powers on February 1, 2005, had compelled the former to realise the need to join hands with the Maoists to bolster their ongoing battle against the monarchy. Maoists, who too were looking for the right opportunity to forge an alliance with parliamentary parties, were more than willing to meet those politicos half way.

In such circumstances, the vicious American opposition to the accord revealed that while there may be many areas of mutual cooperation between New Delhi and Washington, there are few issues such as Nepal on which they have serious disagreements. India believes a strong American presence in Nepal runs counter to its national interest.

The political  polarisation in Nepal on the issue of dismissal of the old Shahi army chief, Rukmangud Katwal, is largely the manifestation of the American desire that all traditional parliamentary parties should form a front against the Maoists. The monarchy has been abolished but its remnants are present in the form of Katwal and once again the US, which had earlier lost the game, has tried to turn the situation in its favour.  It is significant that parties such as the Nepali Congress, the CPN(UML) and others have united on the issue of Katwal, and are trying to alienate the Maoists. The Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML), which won only 37 and 33 seats respectively out of the 240 seats of the constituent assembly, have formed the government by alienating the CPN-M, which won 120 seats in first-past-the-post voting. What is even more ironic is that former general secretary of CPN(UML) Madhav Nepal, who lost the elections badly from Kathmandu and Rautahat to little-known Maoist candidates and whose party was completely wiped out, has taken over as the prime minister.

Clearly, those who have brought the people of Nepal, its democracy and its politics to such a shameful pass were the ones who had earlier tried to forge some kind of an understanding between the monarch and the political parties so that a joint offensive could be launched against the Maoists.

How long this new government will last is far from certain. But what is beyond doubt is it is a tough proposition for a government to function by isolating the CPN(M), which has 240 seats in the constituent assembly.

It is gradually becoming clear that the Prachanda government was thrown out of power through a well-orchestrated conspiracy. It is also now known who the persons were who encouraged Katwal not to abide by government orders. The CPN(UML), the main ally of the CPN(M) in the government, had impressed upon Prachanda to immediately sack Katwal. This had been conveyed to Prachanda by UML chief Jhalnath Khanal after the issue had been deliberated upon inside the party. In spite of this, the party protested Katwal’s removal by Prachanda and withdrew support to the government on the very day Prachanda had acted. Incidentally, Bamdeo Gautam, senior vice-president of the party and home minister in the Prachanda government, had publicly criticised this move of his party and had described it as a suicidal step.

Massive rallies were held in four major towns besides Kathmandu to protest President Rambaran Yadav’s decision to re-induct Katwal. Addressing the Kathmandu rally, Prachanda made it clear that under no circumstances would the CPN(M) go back to the villages and forests and resort to guerrilla warfare. It would, he stressed, launch peaceful struggles against the feudal and status quoist forces that do not desire a complete structural transformation of Nepal and have been obstructing the drafting of a peoples’ constitution. Prachanda resigned on the issue of supremacy of civilian rule in contrast to the supremacy of the army. That, needless to say, increased the popularity of his party manifold. The action of the President, who is clearly in league with Katwal, is being described by most Nepalis as a coup ’d etat. Prachanda holds the view that till the President does not retreat, the struggle will continue. On the whole, Nepal once again appears to be on the threshold of a civil war.

The approach of the Indian media on the developments taking place in Nepal has been quite shameful and ridiculous. Editorials of newspapers, particularly those in Hindi, are quite galling. It is, indeed, amazing how these newspapers have managed to muster so much of courage to purvey disinformation to its readers. These comments generally observe that Katwal was sacked because he refused to succumb to Prachanda’s pressure to recruit guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the national army. Obviously, if a reader is fed with this kind of (mis)information he would stand by Katwal and condemn Prachanda. For him, the step taken by President Yadav would appear to be rational. Our newspaper editors do not even bother to inform the readers that the question of induction of PLA guerrillas into the national army is not an issue that is being pursued unilaterally by Prachanda and his party but is a legitimate part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached in November 2006. It is an integral element of the peace process. These editors have chosen not to highlight the fact that the peace accord reached between the government and the Maoists clearly says that neither the Maoists nor the government would go in for fresh recruitment until the two forces are unified. Katwal, in violation of this agreement, has recruited 3,000 personnel into the Nepali army. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which has been monitoring both the armies, had, in fact, written to the prime minister to stop recruitments into the Nepali army. Prachanda had, through his defence minister, informed Katwal of this UNMIN directive but the latter chose to ignore it. And this was hardly an exception. During Prachanda’s prime ministerial tenure Katwal refused to obey government orders at least on five or six occasions.

The Hindi daily Janasatta carried the most outrageous editorial on the subject. It said, “Since Mr Prachanda could not succeed in inducting his people from the (Maoist) armed squad (into the Nepali army) he sacked Mr Katwal.” It also argued that his insistence to transform the army according to his personal wishes could not be accepted. Else, “tomorrow it would be said that the judges of the jan adalats (People’s Court), which he ran be given powers similar to the members of the country’s judiciary. Democracy has its own norms, rules and compulsions. When a party or a government prefers to overlook these it gives rise to the threat of authoritarianism.”

Dainik Hindustan ran an editorial on May 5, 2009, under the heading ‘Prachanda araajakataa’ (Prachanda’s anarchy). It read: “This incident underlines that his decision to drop the title Prachanda, which he had adopted during the guerrilla war, to project himself as a suave jananayak (peoples’s leader) was a pretence and he failed to provide correct leadership to Nepal under pressure from China and his Maoist comrades. Violence and immature political education, and the illusion of  having accomplished the Maoist revolution within 20 years, prevented him from understanding the ground realities of his country as well as its neighbours. He was hell-bent on inducting the fighters of the People’s Liberation Army into the country’s army.” The editorial, however, did deign to mention that the issue of unification of the two armies was included in the ceasefire agreement. It, however, also did its bit of damage by claiming in the same edit that the army chief had been reluctant to accept it. Not surprisingly, the editorial ended up declaring the sacking of the army chief as disorder.

Dainik Jagran wrote no army chief would ever accept people, who till the other were resorting to violence and arson, into his army’s fold. Dainik Bhaskar also justified the opposition from the army chief as this was “a heinous attempt to politicise the army”. Obviously the editorial indicated the editor was not aware of the fact that the general was refusing to obey a political decision, which was incidentally an important part of the peace agreement. Rashtriya Sahara also held that Prachanda was trying to achieve his political target by inducting the PLA personnel into the army. Besides, the editorial cautioned Prachanda and sought to tell “all Maoists” that “they should realise that in a democracy and that too in a coalition government it was not possible to impose one’s own desires on others and this was also against the principles of democracy”.

On May 5, Aaj Samaj editor Madhukar Upadhyaya observed in his article ‘Nepal Phir Badhaal‘ (Nepal Again in Bad Shape) that “In spite of protests from the partners of the ruling coalition, Mr Dahal at the advice of his party issued an order in the name of the army chief that former Maoist guerillas should be inducted into the army. Naturally, the army chief refused to implement it and as a result Mr Dahal sacked him.” Upadhyaya also wrote how in the entire world no erstwhile fighters of a war are inducted into the army once the war has come to an end. He gave the example of Subhash Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) and argued that INA personnel were not taken into the army of Independent India. Somebody should ask Upadhyaya what led him to do so much research when he should have known that the decision to absorb Maoist fighters into the army was arrived at after much deliberation. Obviously, Upadhyaya is neither aware of the basis of the agreement nor the sensitiveness of the situation.

The Navbharat Times editorial showed that the writer was aware that under the peace agreement various parties had accepted this condition. It also mentioned that Katwal wanted some special power and for this he did not bother to confront the government. This was the only editorial which confessed that behind Katwal the President and all the political parties had opened a front against the Maoists.

In contrast to most of the outrageously partisan Hindi editors, the editors of some English-language dailies tried to take the situation seriously and studied the matter in right perspective. The May 5 editorial of theHindustan Times is an example: “Though the Maoists would be blamed for acting in haste and also unilaterally, the undemocratic approach of the General towards the civic control and peace process  is primarily responsible for the current crisis. At the time when the people’s struggle against King Gyanendra was at its peak all the parties had agreed that the PLA should be inducted into the democratised national army. Now once democracy has been established and the task to create the Constitution of Nepal is in progress, the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML) have gone back on this issue. The maximum damage has been done by the attitude of General Katwal.”  The editorial refers to violations of government orders by Katwal. The editorial mentions that no democratic institution could tolerate such indiscipline as had been displayed by the general. It also referred to the danger that it may jeopardise the peace process. The editorial also said that the CPN(UML) and Nepali Congress, in the name of  opposing the Maoists, had endorsed the actions of President Yadav and also euglogised it and thereby set a dangerous precedent for the new-born democracy and also people-army relations. The Asian Age, however, demonstrated its ignorance by echoing the view that had been articulated by much of the Hindi press. It appreciated the President for protecting the army from being destabilised by the entry of Maoist forces.

Nepal has two armies: the old monarch’s army, which is now the national army, and the Maoist PLA. National and international organisations have accepted the identities of both the forces. Under the 2006 peace agreement, the national army is in the barracks and the Maoist forces are in specially erected cantonments. Since the two armies must not violate the peace agreement, a UN team has been monitoring them. Without knowing the following management mechanisms of the two forces, any comment would be incorrect and ridiculous.

1. In point 4 of the ‘Comprehensive Peace Agreement 2006’ of November 21, 2006, under the heading ‘Management of Armies and Arms’, the issue of management of the army has been explained. In point 4.4 it is stated: “The interim cabinet shall form a special committee to carry out monitoring, integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants.”

2. In the same manner in part 20 of the interim constitution, under the heading ‘Provision Regarding The Army’, the issue of rehabilitation of the soldiers in has been mentioned in point 146: “The Council of Ministers shall form a special committee to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the combatants of the Maoist Army, and the functions, duties and powers of the committee shall be as determined by the Council of Ministers.”

3. On December 23, 2007, a 23-point agreement was reached by seven parties. This was  signed by Sushil Koirala (Nepali Congress), Madhav Nepal (CPN-UML), Prachanda (CPN-Maoist), Amik Sherchan (Janamorcha), Narayan Man Bijukchhe (Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party), Shyam Sunder Gupta (Nepal Sadbhavana Party-Anandi Devi) and C P Mainali (United Left Front). Under article of the agreement it is said, “Regarding the integration of the verified combatants of the Maoist Army, the special committee formed by the Council of Ministers as per the interim constitution shall move ahead the process after deliberations/discussion.”

4. The news released by ANI and Nepal News.Com said: “The chief of the Nepal army General Rukmangud Katwal said that the political parties have already reached agreement on army integration…. The General, talking to newsmen in Kathmandu, said that now “discussions are going on among them, which is part of the democratic process. He said as per the peace pact and other understandings among the parties, the army integration will be carried out through a special cabinet committee, which has not yet been formed.”

5. On October 28, 2008, the government formed a five-member army integration special committee headed by the then deputy prime minister and home minister Bamdeo Gautam, a CPN(UML) leader. Members of the committee included the then defence minister, Ram Bahadur Thapa, leader of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Mohammed Habibullah, and the then peace and reconstruction minister, Janardan Sharma (ex-officio member). One post was kept vacant for the Nepali Congress. The main problem facing the committee was the Maoists wanted to head it, which was opposed by the Nepali Congress. Finally, the leader of CPN(UML) was entrusted with the task to lead the committee.

Translation of a Hindi article published in the June 2009 issue of FILHAAL, a radical Hindi fortnightly published from Patna.

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