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Prachanda's multiparty pickle

October 23, 2008

By Dhruba Adhikary
Asia Times
October 23, 2008

KATHMANDU - United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon's visit to
Nepal, scheduled for the end of the month, might give Prime Minister
Prachanda an enhanced sense of the international acceptability of the
interim coalition government he has been heading since mid-August.

Ban's arrival, however, comes amid widespread skepticism within the
country about Maoists' sincerity to remain committed to multiparty
democracy. Such doubts have presented a formidable challenge to
Prachanda's leadership.

While this challenge does not pose any immediate threat to the
Prachanda-led government, conflicting ideas and arguments

emanating from some of his senior comrades have made even the
credulous public suspicious of the true intentions of the Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist).

A strong case is being made through media debate that a revolutionary
party cannot be expected to be satisfied until the country becomes a
"people's republic". Abolishing the monarchy and replacing it with a
republican democracy is definitely a step forward, says senior Maoist
leader Mohan Baidya, also known as "Kiran" and widely considered to
be Prachanda's mentor.

"Our objective is to establish a people's republic which is yet to be
accomplished," a newspaper quoted him as saying. Kiran is said to
belong to a group that is opposed to softening the position held
throughout the insurgency years. Meanwhile, Baburam Bhattarai, number
two in the party hierarchy, is said to be emerging as the leader of a
faction in favor of political flexibility.

Prachanda appears to be in the middle, and there is speculation that
he intends to give communism a Nepali look suitable to the 21st
century. "It can't be the photocopy of Mao's Maoism," he told
Janadisha newspaper on Friday, in reference to China's Mao Zedong.

"We have walked into the era of competitive politics and have
embarked on the project of federal structure," Prachanda added.
"Mao's scheme was based on a unitary structure".

The main reason behind recent public outcry is that the Maoists could
impose one-party rule, drawing inspiration from countries like China,
Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea or Zimbabwe. Prachanda believes his visits
to India and the United States (at the UN in New York) have helped to
dispel doubts in the West that because of their background of
violence, the Maoists would try to place Nepal under a dictatorship
of the proletariat.

Prachanda has emphasized that all the Maoists are opposed to is the
parliamentary form of democracy. His contention is that since the
parliamentary format has failed to address people's woes in countries
like India and Britain, it is not worthwhile to retain in Nepal. He
once praised the French model in which the executive branch - or
presidency - conducts the show. He has not mentioned the American
model, perhaps because it would amount to appeasing the world's
imperialist power.

It is unclear whether Prachanda's initiatives have actually helped
remove persisting fears about Maoist intentions. On the domestic
front, the party leadership seems to have mobilized intellectual
support to convince the public that the system the Maoists want to
establish will not be one-party rule.

One such intellectual, Professor Manik Lal Shrestha, argued in an
article printed in the official Gorakhapatra newspaper on Sunday that
"people's democracies" prevalent in countries like China, Korea, Laos
and Vietnam are not actually single-party dispensations. In other
words, Shrestha does not see any harm in the Maoists taking Nepal in
that direction.

Quoting from Maoist literature, Shrestha has advanced a contention
that, like China, Nepal's new people's democracy would have to be
based on cooperation rather than having opposition parties.

Similarly, the federal structure Prachanda has been advocating has
been a controversial issue from the beginning. And the point of
contention is centered around a scheme to create federal units on the
basis of ethnicity. Since the country is known for its mixed
population and diversity, it would be extremely difficult, if not
impossible, to relocate particular ethnic groups from one region to another.

As rebels in the past decade, Maoists followed the slogan of making
the residents of the southern Terai plains free from the alleged
exploitation of hill-dwellers. The Maoist leadership realizes that it
can't backtrack from its public pledge - but others see this whole
idea as a suicide mission.

Narayanman Bijukchhe, president of a party of workers and peasants,
has described a Maoist plan to create a province for the Newar ethnic
and linguist group within the Kathmandu valley as "fatal". (The
valley has three of the 75 administrative districts in Nepal.)

Jhalanath Khanal, general secretary of the Unified Marxist Leninist
(UML) party, a rival of the Maoists, accuses the Maoist leadership of
promoting a "devastating concept", namely that of transforming the
entire southern Terai flatlands into one federal unit. Terai shares
borders with some Indian states including West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

And the demand from Terai has already encouraged Nepal's northern
Himalayan belt, bordering China's Tibet, to seek autonomy. Analysts
say excessive zeal for self-determination might lead to the breakup
of the country.

Which among the nine communist parties currently in existence is the
real party of communists? Answers differ, depending on a variety of
claims. Except the party of workers and peasants, others have their
names qualified with additional tags in parenthesis, such as
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Communist Party of Nepal (Unified
Marxist Leninist), Communist Party of Nepal ( Unity Center ) and
Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist).

Some of the Maoist leaders claim that since they are the largest
party among the communists they can afford to give up the "Maoist" tag.

Senior leader "Kiran", however, is against this proposition. "It is
our identity, not a tail or a tag," he told Nayaa Patrikaa newspaper
on Tuesday. He is more concerned about the possible negative
influence of greater flexibility, replacing revolutionary
determination. Rightist opportunism, he fears, can dilute the entire
process Maoists faithfully launched in 1996.

The other major challenge confronting the Maoist leadership is the
issue of integrating Maoist soldiers, numbering nearly 20,000, into
the national Nepal Army.

The army leadership initially resisted the idea of inducting
politically indoctrinated cadre into the national military, but with
the formation of the Maoist government the army's voice has lost its
sting. The new defense minister, Rambahadur Thapa or "Badal", seems
conspicuously determined to create a "national army" through the
combination of the two existing armies.

But he faced a direct confrontation on Monday, when two of the
ministers from the coalition publicly opposed the idea of
integration, saying that if the Maoist forces joined the national
army, Nepal would lose its entire territory in the southern flatlands
of Terai. Interestingly, this voice of dissent from Terai became much
louder after Rambahadur Thapa returned from an official visit of China.

Ian Martin, who heads the UN's special mission in Nepal, also
believes that the ongoing peace process cannot be complete as long as
two separate armies exist. The government's plan to set up a special
committee to sort out the thorny question has yet to be implemented.

Prachanda appears to be in a dilemma: he knows he cannot ignore the
plight of soldiers who have been sheltered in UN-monitored camps for
months. Media reports from various cantonment sites indicate growing
resentment against the political leadership. One report referred to
preparations for an open revolt against Prachanda.

He is under pressure to act fast and decisively. He can persuade the
Nepal army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal, and some senior
officers to agree for integration without any pre-conditions. But
will the junior officers, who have fought Maoists in the field, obey
their commanders without question?

In an emerging scenario, disgruntled army officers may create a
totally different situation, the Drishti newspaper reported on
Tuesday quoting an unnamed senior army officer.

If an interim constitution can be defied by political parties, it can
also be ignored by non-political actors.

Dhruba Adhikary, a former head of the Nepal Press Institute, is a
Kathmandu-based journalist.

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