Ananda P Srestha:

Much ink and pious breath have been spent on Nepal’s ongoing conflict and ways for bringing the warring sides to the negotiating table. As of now, the government is all set to go to the polls following the expiry of the date set for the insurgents to come for talks, and those agitating on the streets see the restoration of the Lower House as the only means of restoring peace. Some political heavyweights even hold the view that since the issue has now acquired international dimensions, mediation by outside powers is the only way out of the crisis. Others even boast that had they been in power, they would have set the peace process rolling.

Following the expiry of the date set for talks, violence nationwide has noticeably increased — a clear defiance from the Maoist side that they are in no mood for talks. The stand is understandable considering that the two main parties, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, who hogged every inch of the political space after 1990, just ignored or were unable to solve the Maoist problem which was then in its infant stage. Now leaders of these very parties, doling out “pearls of wisdom” at seminars and talk programmes, as if they alone hold the key to talks and ultimate peace, is at best an insult to the intelligence.

Amidst the present confusion and chaos, a question now making the rounds is whether the two sides can/will ever sit down to a meaningful dialogue. As of now, the supporters of democracy have been repeatedly asking the insurgents to stop the senseless killings, come for talks, reach a negotiated settlement and enter mainstream multiparty politics. Others, the likes of civil society and human rights groups, are of the view that since all previous efforts at luring the Maoists have failed, the state should concede to certain demands of the rebels so that they will agree to participate in a democratic dispensation and peace will prevail ever after.

However, these nine years and two failed dialogues later have proved that a result-oriented dialogue between the two sides may not materialise. Going back to 1991-1996, a period when the Maoist leaders were in mainstream politics and members of the United People’s Front, they, along with other communist groups, had categorically declared that parliamentary multiparty dispensation was contrary to their ideological beliefs. They had then stated that their reasons for taking part in the 1991 general election was merely “to expose the contradictions inherent in a democratic polity.”

Given that fundamental ideological differences can never be resolved through dialogue, negotiations, or bending backwards to please the other side, it might be worth mulling over whether this thinking was instrumental in a meaningful dialogue and peace initiatives eluding this country for so long. It also lends credence to the thinking that negotiations, power sharing and compromises are certainly not on the Maoist agenda. It is therefore hard to imagine that after all these years, the rebels will forsake an ideology that they have virtually fought, bled and died for, as the same would be tantamount to accepting defeat. Against this backdrop, the view that dialogues and negotiations for peace by either side can only be tactical — a means of gaining an edge in the ongoing conflict does hold weight.

Moreover, it will be naïve to assume that the Maoist movement is a national one and therefore limited to Nepal alone. Going by the contacts and alliances, they are reported to have with other similar outfits in India, besides being a lead organisation in the International Revolutionary Movement; they have now become not only a regional, but also an international force to reckon with. This implies that the Nepali Maoists have little, if any unilateral power, to make decisions on their own in response to overtures made by the state. Therefore, if the ultimate aim of the Maoists is to achieve their national objectives vis-à-vis global and regional means, the whole idea of dialogues and peace initiatives sound farcical.

Therefore, all that the security forces can do is to continue what it has been doing. The rebels too, within their limitations, will continue their armed struggle by the means they have adopted so far. Moreover, they will continue turning the major parties including its ideological opposite, the NC, whether by infiltration or other means, against the government to toe their line and concede to their demands. The country therefore could well be in for a protracted war punctuated now and then by an uneasy peace of the graveyard brought about by superior firepower, “dialogues” and “negotiations.”

Meanwhile, violence will reign supreme. Consecutive governments will continue to call the Maoists to the negotiating table and the rebels will continue laying down conditions or ignoring them entirely. Strikes, demonstrations, chakka jaams, highway closures will continue to be the order of the day. Violation of human rights by both the warring factions will go on and politicians and human rights activists will continue shouting themselves hoarse in clubs and over the media. The insurgency will continue to top INGO agendas, and academics, intellectuals and NGOs will go on holding seminars on the issue. And in the midst of all this, the sovereign people of Nepal, supposedly the most powerful power centre in a democracy, will continue to be victims of the crudest, barbaric and unrefined form of animal behaviour.

Srestha is professor of English, TU