Thursday, June 01, 2006

Maoist Admonition Or Olive Branch?

At a time when much of the world has been led to believe Nepal has become a republic in all but name, Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara warns us of the possibility of another takeover by King Gyanendra.
In the five weeks since the monarch reinstated the House of Representatives and withdrew from active politics to see his powers systematically clipped by a government and legislature of questionable constitutional standing, Mahara has become the public face of the rebels.
In the run-up to the first round of talks with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government, Mahara had been working overtime to establish the rebels’ commitment to a lasting peace. While his bosses Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai have been blowing hot and cold over Nepal’s real prospects, Mahara has chosen the moderate course. That seems to have changed with his interview with the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).
Clearly, Mahara offers the warning to press the rebels’ demand for immediate constituent assembly elections. Since the “royal takeover” angle was about the last one foreign correspondents remained to pursue, IANS merely reinforced the editorial edge it has consistently maintained over rival Indian news organizations.
On the other hand, this is a news service (or correspondent perhaps?) that appears to consider palace-bashing its principal mission in Nepal. Fanning up fears of a royal takeover could ease the pressure off the SPA government and MPs, whose emphasis on style has alienated those expecting substance.
More importantly, it would help New Delhi focus on the core of its renewed engagement with Nepal, especially in the fields of security and water resources. (Could Prime Minister Koirala’s decision to travel to Bangkok instead of his customary New Delhi for medical treatment be rooted in a desire to avoid one-way diplomatic badgering?)
Coming back to Mahara, the IANS interview was transmitted the day the Maoists restored India to its plinth alongside the United States as the principal impediments to the empowerment of the Nepalese people. It also came on the eve of the fifth anniversary of that seminal conspiracy Washington and New Delhi had hatched – the former to contain China and the latter to transform Nepal into another Sikkim, according to Dr. Bhattarai’s famed exegesis.
More ominous, however, was Mahara’s view that King Gyanendra, the Nepal Army and the Maoists represented the current balance of power in Nepal. Why did the Maoist spokesman choose to snub the SPA? Because of the MPs’ collective desire to hold on to power as long as possible? To checkmate the Unified Marxist-Leninists’ enthusiasm to revive the local bodies, the majority of which the UML controlled? To provide a subtle reminder to the palace that the rebels are still keeping all options open?
Toward the end of 2004, the Maoists had said they would only hold talks with the king, a stand many believe goaded King Gyanendra to seize direct control months later. Could the rebels be working that strategy in reverse this time?
The Maoists are in their third experiment of peacemaking against the backdrop of a monarch whose enthronement they refused to recognize. The first time the king and the parties were together, the former weakened by the circumstances of his crowning and the latter undermined by their general loss of credibility. The Maoists were confident of securing a settlement on their terms until 9/11 happened.
During the second peace process, the parties had just been marginalized by the monarch. Sensing that King Gyanendra needed them to outflank the parties, the rebels sought to prove their commitment to peace by, among other things, forming a negotiating team under Dr. Bhattarai. The two principal intermediaries between the rebels and the palace asserted the peace process was bound to succeed because the parties weren’t around to subvert it. Dr. Bhattarai’s hopes of being asked to lead an interim government were dashed when the United States retroactively designated the Maoists a terrorist organization.
The third peace process has begun amid the palace’s loss of relevance. The SPA’s eagerness to breathe new life into a dead legislature with foreign prodding, botched the Maoists’ Plan A – storming Narayanhity and unfurling their flag atop the tower. Then the top State Department bureaucrat for South Asia, Richard Boucher, lands in Kathmandu and begins his consultations with an extended session with army chief Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa. Boucher departs with an offer to resume military assistance if the new Nepalese government so desired.
Still confident that SPA leaders couldn’t breathe without their support, the Maoists expected a short ride to a constituent assembly. Instead, the House of Representatives has all but acquired an open-ended tenure. Point to ponder: If MPs of the lower chamber aren’t willing to share power with their colleagues in the upper house, how can they be expected to accommodate the Maoists?
This brings us to Mahara’s next revelation. The rebel spokesman insists that the king and the army have not changed despite the hullabaloo over the “historic” parliamentary proclamation. The logical extension of this argument is that a ceremonial monarchy would lose none of its powers and prerogatives.
This assertion has both negative and positive connotations. The question is: are the Maoists trying to undermine the SPA or extending an overture to the palace? Might Friday’s half-a-million (wo)man march offer a clue?