Do we have a choice? Working with the Maoists only option

After the Nepali Congress and the UML, it is the turn of the Maoists to play the game of political brinksmanship. You raise the stakes so high that the enemy has to either give in or perish. We saw that in the Katawal case. We might see it again in the near future, only this time, if we are not careful, giving in to either side could entail more than what we’ve bargained for.

The UCPN (M) standing committee meeting on Monday decided to launch a peaceful rebellion and formed a national people’s movement coordination committee chaired by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. The Maoists say they are initiating a new people’s rebellion because the 4-point agreement between the UML and the Maoists inked a month ago has not been implemented.

However, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal told us Wednesday that the Maoists appear to be planning something substantial. He asked: “Otherwise why would they think about autonomous regions and formation of local governments?” PM Nepal warned that if that is the case then “we” cannot remain quiet.

PM Nepal said the 4-point agreement signed a month ago is being followed. “There is nothing in that agreement that we have not implemented,” he said. “But the Maoists are saying one thing during our political negotiations, and another thing in the public.”

That is clear. Although the Maoists explicit demands appear harmless, to the point that even PM Madhav Kumar Nepal can fulfill them, the implicit demands, however, are much more complicated, and easier for the PM to ignore.

As the deadline passed Thursday, the Maoists would again refer to the twin problems of the Chief of Army Staff Rookmangud Katawal, and the President’s instruction to the army chief to ignore the Cabinet’s decision. The strangest thing is that Maoist supporters think the Maoists demands are reasonable. So do the Maoist workers, who have been schooled to interpret this whole new phenomenon as a new kind of “bidroha” or rebellion.

The recent politburo and central committee meetings of the UCPN (Maoists) has significantly re-interpreted the idea of “bidroha” (rebellion). According to their redefinition, the Maoists are the only force representing change and progress, and they must initiate struggles at all levels to overcome regression. The key fronts of their struggle are the political parties, the political system, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the security forces. The Maoists insist that the government had expressed commitment regarding the President’s unconstitutional move and civilian supremacy. However, the four-point agreement signed last month does not mention anything specific about these two issues.

Prachanda, whose authority has been severely challenged in the party, to the extent that the party has reverted to its earlier system of collective leadership, restoring faith would be tantamount to restoring the lost government.

The Maoist party is going through severe internal strains because some of their primary values are under threat. These values are a proletarian culture (as against bourgeois enjoyment), rebellion, nationalism and historical progress. The code of conduct brought out is an expression of crisis within the party.

The differing political report submitted by Mohan Vaidya, Kiran reflects some of the key concerns. He insists that the notion of changing state power through armed struggle or people’s rebellion should be propagated in its pure form as a necessity, and not as extremism.

“Evaluating the latest Rookmangud Katawal incident and the situation of resigning from a transition government, we should honestly accept that we are now not in a condition of strategic counterattack, but in a condition of equilibrium, and should systematically prepare for a counter-attack,” he says.

Given the power equation within the Maoists, the party will have to go through a long struggle to emerge out of its fixation with “rebellion”. The party, as a result, will continue to display a hybrid form, appreciated for its egalitarian spirit, but detested for its inability to allow the country to efficiently move forward.

So, in the present political situation, there are three possibilities, but only two options. The three possibilities are: a) suppress the Maoists completely, b) work with the Maoists for a peaceful transition, and c) surrender to the Maoists. Certain international actors and rightist forces in the country might prefer the first option, but for most of the people, it is not an option at all. It would basically mean rejecting the 12-point peace agreement, closing the door for integration of the army and forcing the Maoists to either become democrats or go to jail/jungle. What we have is basically a single option: working with the Maoists.

Therefore, political parties should stop political brinksmanship and respect people’s desire for peace and prosperity. Working with the Maoists is possible, and this is what necessitates a sophisticated understanding of the peace process, and a thrust on neutral mechanisms that would help the Maoists make the transition to democracy.