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‘Either we finish what we started, or get finished’

May 20, 2009

The most dangerous and worrying feature in the last two weeks is the resurgence of visceral anti-Maoist politics.

The line between the liberals and right wing has suddenly blurred and they are united in their hatred of the former rebels. The Kathmandu middle class, a part of which gave the benefit of doubt to the Maoists in the polls, had to cough up concessions under Baburam Bhattarai’s fiscal regime. With the recent video revelations, they have veered away even further. The urban lower middle class suffered during eight months of misgovernance with price rise, and collapse of services and is hoping the next government may provide some relief.

The army establishment has reasserted itself and is actively hatching plans to undermine Maoists. Most of the press, with ownership and editorial staff affiliated to ‘mainstream’ parties’, is toeing the NC-UML line. And erstwhile sympathisers in the Indian establishment are now sick of what they see as Maoist duplicity – the recent rediscovery of the ‘nationalist’ rhetoric has put them off further.

Allowing so many forces to gang-up and getting isolated is bad politics from the Maoist side. Their arrogance in power and refusal to pay heed to the concerns of others has now boxed them into a corner.

One tendency in the Maoist party is to quietly make way for the others, see Madhav Nepal and NC getting discredited and attempt to come back stronger. The other more powerful temptation though is to stay on in power as long as possible by obstructing the house; hope that relations with India would improve with the arrival of a new government and strike a renegotiated deal. The latter appears unlikely right now.

Either ways, the Maoists have shown in the past they are capable of making the best of a bad situation. Their organisational machinery and connection at the grassroots gives them the confidence and power to deal with all kinds of adverse situations. Instead of relishing in their discomfort, the broad anti-Maoist front would do well to introspect about its own politics.

For one, the army-UML-NC could be a bit more humble and admit that they have got a lot wrong in the past three years. They thought the Maoists came into the process because it had no choice; that they could bully them into submission; that Maoists would get decimated in the elections; that they would never have the gumption to sack Katawal; that PKD ‘Prachanda’ would not resign.

From the big picture to multiple political episodes, the non-Maoists have repeatedly shown they neither understand the Maoist mind nor do they know how to deal with it.

The conventional wisdom in these circles at present is that PKD is increasingly become weaker in the party and the unraveling of the Maoist structure has begun. The NC-UML gang hope that Maoist potential to disrupt government functioning can be countered by luring in the government as a junior partner. Some others feel that the Maoists can be brought back later at a ripe moment – maybe after Gen Khadka retires and Katawal can be sent on leave. This means Madhav Nepal’s dream of being PM will not last more than a few months.

But most in this anti-Maoist combination privately want to keep the Maoists out, calculating that they can be ‘taught a lesson’, and weakened.

This strategy goes something like this – get a new government; try to make it relatively successful by easing power and fuel situation with help from India; simultaneously work to increase disillusionment among Maoist cadre with its own leadership; and leave the Maoists with no choice but to get back to the process on terms set by the others.

All these plans miss the fact that attempts to divide and weaken the Maoists have fallen flat in the last few years. It underestimates the rage that still runs deep among the Maoist rank and file, and gives the party the energy to mount political offensives. It ignores the commitment that a Pasang, an Anant, a Kiran bring to the table – just compare them to the Ram Chandra Poudels and Bishnu Poudels to know the difference. It is based on the premise that we can happily go back to the 90s political games without bringing any corresponding progressive change. And it recklessly ignores the implications of a Maoist split and emergence of lower level splinters.

Kathmandu is repeating the mistake of talking to itself to make political assessments. The last time they did that in the run up to polls, we know what happened. The stakes are even higher this time. As a young Maoist activist told us, “Sometimes it is do or die. Either we finish what we started or get finished ourselves.”

(First published in Nepali Times.)

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