Sunday, November 23, 2008

It’s Indonesia And Chile Now

For decades, it was Sikkim and Bhutan. Then it became Fiji, Russia, Bangladesh and Thailand. Now we’re up to Indonesia and Chile. Maoist hardliner Mohan Baidya aka Kiran has turned to some of the painful chapters of the Cold War to inject some additional sparks in the party’s internal struggle for the future.
Casting aside the “pragmatist-purist” skirmish for a moment, what’s most interesting is how life in full public glare has wearied the Maoists. During the early phase of the peace process, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was threatening a Lenin-style October Revolution. Today our would-be Kerensky, Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala, is traversing the nation seeking to scuttle the Maoist idea of liberating our national army.
The Indonesian and Chilean military takeovers were rooted in different realities. Gen. Suharto “countered” a coup attempt blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965, eventually taking over the presidency from founding president Sukarno almost three years later. Gen. Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, on the other hand, led a coup d’etat against socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973 and took the presidency the following year. In both instances, the military rulers led a violent anti-left purge that eventually consumed a far wider and ideologically disparate demographic.
With Maoists already in power and, according to persistent rumors, plotting a coup, the Indonesian and Chilean scenarios have fused into a single nightmare. This is not to suggest that a military takeover was ever a distinct impossibility since the onset of the peace process. Having driven the February 1, 2005 takeover and subsequently facilitated the demise of the royal regime, our generals have been shrewd political operatives.
For a while, the imminence of a Thai- or Bangladesh-style coup pervaded the national discourse. The early possibilities ranged from then-king Gyanendra leading a parallel government from Hanuman Dhoka Palace to the chief martial law administrator – presumably the chief of army staff – holding a referendum on vital matters the peace process glossed over.
A subsequent scenario held that the army would back a Nepali Congress-led government, presumably dominated by the royalist faction. But when the generals greeted the abolition of the monarchy with deafening silence, speculation ran wild. Superficially, at a minimum, the option of a military-backed Nepali Congress government should have been alive.
But the Indians – the architects of that plan – could have stepped in through the front door when the winds had swung them wide open. For every armed group in the Terai today, there is potential counterpart in the hills. The SeTaMaGuRaLi combine that emerged after the 1990 democracy movement has since acquired too many factional avatars that carry a payload far in excess of the sum of the total. If New Delhi can now officially see China’s hand in the terrorism gripping its north-eastern states, it surely must comprehend the autonomy Beijing would expect to exercise in Nepal with or without the Maoists in power.
Suggestions of an imminent installation of a Maoist commander as the head of an integrated Nepali Army, purportedly through Chinese good offices, have since been juxtaposed with rumors that Prime Minister Dahal assured his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, that former rebels would not be inducted into the national army. Clearly, the Maoists’ persistent public insistence to the contrary is aimed at mollifying the restive ex-Maoist combatants. But why would the top comrades raise false expectations when they know the eventual price would be full retribution?
Or do the softies in power believe they can drive the hard-liners underground without incurring significant damage. (Remember, prominent Maoist ministers and their “pragmatist” allies today are some of the same people who managed to save their heads in the midst of the most aggressive military campaigns.) Is there an expectation that the “purists” could be “dealt with” before they succeed in drawing external patrons? When it comes to collateral damage, the Indonesian and Chilean parallels start getting scary.