Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cloud Still Hangs Over Our Comrades

Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” has finally broken his vow of silence – and can’t stop talking. How firmly the man known as the chief military strategist of the Maoists’ “People’s War” is behind the ongoing peace process depends on, well, the media organization interviewing him.
Badal, a member of the Maoist delegation at peace talks with King Gyanendra’s government in 2003, was conspicuously quiet over the past several months. When Rabindra Shrestha and Comrade Anukul openly assailed the Maoist leadership’s policies, they were believed to be fronting for Badal.
Instead, Badal rebuked the duo. A careful reading suggested that Badal was less interested in defending Maoist supremo Prachanda and chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai than in ensuring intra-party disputes stayed within the ranks.
Badal’s absence from the post-summit news conference on June 16 was widely noticed. Was he unhappy with the way his leaders rushed to a settlement with one of the two enemies of the “people’s war”? Had all the “sacrifices” of the last 10 years gone in vain? Was Badal under pressure from the foot soldiers who couldn’t forget that key constituents of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) first unleashed the full force of the state against the insurgents?
Early last week, the weekly tabloids came out with Badal’s response, based on a news conference the comrade organized in the Terai. From the coverage, Badal’s support was anywhere between unqualified and tepid. Yet we could be reasonably assured that he was nowhere near mounting a rebellion against the political leadership.
Badal’s comments in a television interview, after arriving in Kathmandu for talks with Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai, were more political. “Since there are pro-monarchists in the SPA, a republic front is necessary,” Badal told the interviewer.
Asserting that a democratic republic was the people’s mandate of the pro-democracy movement, Badal urged the current political leadership to stand by this. “And it seems that [a republic] is attainable at the moment.”
It can be surmised that Prachanda’s latest proposal to put the two armies under the command of the prime minister of an interim government contains Badal’s fingerprints.
The Maoist supremo’s rejection of the idea of inviting foreigners to settle arms and armies could be a concession to the “nationalist” stream within the Maoists, with which Badal is often associated.
Less clear, though, is the extent of the support Prachanda’s suggestion that the Maoists would not return to violence enjoys within rebel ranks. The ambiguity is deepened by Badal’s assertion that no senior Maoist leader would participate in an interim government. Clearly, the burden of peace continues to weigh heavily on the comrades.