Friday, July 13, 2012

Grab What You Can

By Gopal Guragain
On the day that the Maoists launched their "people's war" on 15 February 1996, they attacked the Small Farmer's Development Project in Gorkha. This was no coincidence, it was part of a systematic strategy to eliminate all personalities and organisations that had public respect and credibility and take Nepal to Year Zero.

The Small Farmer's Development Project was the institution that Nepal's subsistence farmers trusted and relied on the most. Farmers had access to micro-credit and an alternative to the clutches of rural loan sharks.

The next target of the Maoists was to remove the cooperatives, mothers' groups, and local community organisations by either killing their inspirational leaders, or hounding them out of the villages with threats and intimidation.

After that, they zeroed in on the Village Development Councils, the elected bodies that made it possible for grassroots democracy to be responsive to the people's needs. VDCs were where the people went to register births, death, get citizenship certificates, but by the end of the war, nearly all the VDCs buildings in the country had either been bombed out, or abandoned.

Next, the Maoists attacked village police posts, driving out the state's security presence from the countryside. By the end of the war, the demoralised police had been withdrawn to fortified joint command bases in the district capitals.

As they encircled Kathmandu, the Maoists said they would 'step on the shoulder to hit the head'. In this they turned the NC and UML not just into the 'shoulder' but also the 'shield' with which to sideline king Gyanendra. The Maoists regarded the democratic parties as 'useful idiots', and the NC and UML did their best to behave as such during the post-2006 phase.

The party's tactics changed after the war from armed struggle to peaceful politics, but its end goal of dominating the state did not. In this, they ran circles around the UML and NC, played them against each other, dangled carrots in front of them, exploited the greed and ambition of their leaders and used them like pawns.

In the past four years the Maoists held on to their guerrilla force till the last possible moment as a bargaining chip. They used the Constituent Assembly as a proxy forum for identity politics. The truth is that they never wanted a constitution, they have always only wanted to grab as much power as possible by whatever means possible.

The only institutions standing in the way of power now are the media, the Supreme Court, Nepal Army, some sections of civil society and the office of the president. These the Maoists are trying to pick off one by one. They have bought into tv, print and radio, they are trying to undermine the courts and they are interfering openly with the army's command structure.

During the week before May 27, reporters were singled out deliberately for attack by a Maoist-supported banda in Kathmandu enforced by the Janajati Mahasangh. It was an experiment to cow down the media and it worked. The latest target of the Maoists is to undermine and weaken the president's office.

Despite their use of trickery, deceit, threats, intimidation it is not going to be easy for the Maoists to use identity politics as a weapon to get to power. The upshot of the recent visit by senior Chinese officials was that the Maoist leadership got an earful about stirring the ethnic pot in Nepal. On the other hand, there is a section of the Maoists which is pushing for ethnic federalism because it is taking orders from a New Delhi establishment still paranoid about the threat of a Greater Nepal.

Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal looks like a tired and defeated man these days. He has lost the glow most powerful leaders have as he has fallen prey to his own manipulations. He is caught between geopolitical pressures from the north and south, his party is split and in tatters, and his lies have finally caught up with him.

On the afternoon of 27 May, a draft of the new constitution was ready, there had been a compromise wording on ethnicity-based federalism acceptable to all, the NC and UML had agreed on 14 provinces, the invitations for the signing ceremony at Shital Niwas were ready.

It was clear that had Dahal wanted it, a new constitution was possible. But at 4 pm on 27 May Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai suddenly decided to dissolve the CA without a constitution and announced elections. Dahal and Bhattarai were present when the constitution that they fought for 10 years at the cost of 16,000 lives was about to be born. But they decided to abort. Who was trying to outsmart whom?

Gopal Guragain is a broadcaster and the founder of Communication Corner & Ujjyalo Multimedia
This article originally published on Nepali Times on July 13, 2012.

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