From democracy to demagoguery

From democracy to demagoguery

The shaky amateur video  shows the leader of Nepal’s Maoist party boasting how he tricked the United Nations into thinking his army was 35,000 strong when it had only 7,000 guerrillas. He goes on to admit how he has lied to everyone about his commitment to democracy and the peace process, and that his real goal is total control of the army and the state.
All that would have been perfectly natural things to say for the leader of a Maoist revolution. But this was Pushpa Kamal Dahal, whose war name is ‘Prachanda’, speaking to his troops last year after signing the peace accord and before he was elected prime minister.
The tape was broadcast over Nepal’s TV stations after Prachanda resigned as prime minister on May 4 following his unsuccessful effort to sack the army chief. Seeing the leader of the Maoists boasting about how he hoodwinked the other political parties and the international community has now made it difficult for the other parties to trust his intentions and to include him in a new coalition government.
The Maoist victory in elections last year represented a triumph for democracy and Nepal was hailed as a model for successful conflict transformation in which a group that had waged a violent revolution had come to government through the ballot and not the bullet. Now, it appears to have been too good to be true.
In the tape, Prachanda says that it was all an elaborate ruse, to complete the revolution and grab total power: “After we control the army, we can do anything we want.” And that is exactly what Prachanda tried to do by sacking the army chief, General Rookmangud Katawal, and replacing him with the second-in-command whom they had been grooming. Katawal had been a staunch opponent of the induction of Maoist guerrillas into the Nepal Army. Prachanda gave Katawal his marching orders two months before he was supposed to retire anyway. It was obvious that the Maoist intention was to take over by stealth an army that they could not defeat militarily during Nepal’s 10-year insurgency. When things started going out of hand with the army split down the middle, President Rambaran Yadav intervened and asked that Katawal be reinstated. Prachanda resigned to save face. Revelations about Prachanda’s ulterior motives have widened the gap between the Maoists and the other political parties, making it difficult to form a new government. They failed to meet May 9 deadline to forge a coalition, and it looks like it will be a while before Nepal has a new government. The country can’t afford this delay. Elected representatives of the constituent assembly have to draft a new federal republican constitution by next April, and the process is already delayed. Thousands of Maoist guerrillas in UN-supervised camps have to be integrated, rehabilitated, or demobilised by July when the UN’s mandate ends. Whichever combination of political parties comes to power in the coming days, it has its work cut out.
Aside from the peace process, the new government needs to get development activities cranked up. The obsession with politics on the part of the Maoist-led government in the past nine months has led to a deterioration in the law-and-order situation and development activities have come to a standstill. The only reason the people haven’t risen up again is because they have never expected much from any government in Kathmandu. Meanwhile, the Maoists have mobilised militant cadre from their Young Communist League to launch street protests against the president and terrorise supporters of other parties. They have threatened ‘physical attacks’ on anyone supporting the president’s move and have tried to stoke nationalistic fervour by accusing India of interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs.
New Delhi, which steered Nepal’s peace process since 2006, had exerted pressure on Prachanda not to sack the army chief. The Indian Army and the Nepal Army have close links and there are 60,000 Gurkhas soldiers in the Indian military. Indian security forces don’t want a totalitarian Maoist Nepal next door. Nepal’s media and pro-democracy activists have a lot of experience in struggling against the absolute monarchy and dictatorships in the past. The problem arises when a democratically-elected leader proceeds to dismantle the very institutions that helped him get to power. Nepal’s new challenge is to fight its elected demagogues. ( IPS)

(The writer is the editor and publisher of the Nepali Times).

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