Maoists and Nepal’s “Mainstream Politics”
Posted by Mike E on April 27, 2008
Two years ago Neil wrote: Instead of joining the mainstream the Maoists intend to define the mainstream.
Now he writes: The Maoists have not joined the mainstream. Now they are the mainstream.
Nearly two years ago I wrote an opinion piece for UWB where I warned,
“While it is imperative that both sides agree on how to manage arms during the election, attempts to extend the sovereignty of the Parliament… and other political games designed to influence the outcome of the constituent assembly will do nothing but delay the inevitable at best, and restart the bloodshed at worst.”
The main point was that the Maoists had used their armed struggle to gain genuine public support, and that instead of joining the main stream they would define it.
What has happened over the last two years, and what has been accomplished?
First, the traditional parties spent 6 unnecessary months of delaying the promulgation of the interim constitution. This included sending a letter unilaterally to the U.N. requesting the management of the PLA only, negotiating an unreasonable arms management arrangement (for a conflict that had achieved strategic parity) and finally forcing the Maoist demand for full proportional representation out of the CA elections (which was finally accepted on the condition of them being held within 6 months). This last effort resulted in the subsequent 4 months of violence in the Terai and the formation of the MJF. Then there were three months of obstructing the Maoists’ entry into the in
terim government, where they were forced to concede the leadership of any major ministry and the deputy prime minister post they had been promised (again contingent on the CA elections being held by June).
Two weeks later the CA elections were delayed. When the Maoists rescinded their commitments made on the contingency of June elections, it resulted in the inclusion of 60% full proportional representation in the CA elections, and their delay to April. Finally, after conventional wisdom indicated the Maoists had lost all support they had enjoyed, the elections were held. The results, of course, are widely known. The Maoists have not joined the mainstream. Now they are the mainstream.
Forget Prachanda’s conciliatory gestures since victory. A cursory glance at Maoist literature as recent as the latest issue of “The Worker” shows they are very much the same Maoists who initiated the demand for the Constituent assembly in the first place. Their change in public discourse is no conversion to free market principles. Even in China, Mao spent his first five years in power eliminating feudalism by introducing capitalism. These were arguably the most successful years of his reign. Among these capitalist policies was land reform, an initiative that gained the party theretofore unheard of popularity. It is top on the Nepali Maoists’ list.
The reasons for the change in rhetoric are practical; what the Maoists would call the “objective situation.” First, the Maoists cannot afford to ruin the country. The capital flight resulting from radical proclamations of the presumptive president would result in the decimation of the service and industry sectors. This would in turn enrage the Maoists’ base that is dependent on these sectors, be it for market or employment. Given that many state owned enterprises are currently failing, the Maoists could hardly nationalize industries. Nor can they precipitously eliminate the vast dead weight of the bureaucracy without causing undue societal disruption. Even revisiting hastily reached hydroelectric agreements threatens badly needed projects, and would undoubtedly result in the Maoists being tossed out on their ear. Second, the Maoists must deal deftly with foreign powers. They must not only balance Indian and Chinese interests against each other to achieve Nepal’s, they must work with Washington to get the terrorist tag removed and pacify donor agencies if they wish to make any progress. All these factors existed 2 years ago, and would have produced the same conciliatory tone, two years ago.
In order to fulfill the mandate they have been given and survive, the Maoists must focus on what they can achieve. They must abolish the monarchy, redistribute land from the owners to the tillers, federalize the state, secure access of minorities to the levers of power and erode sex/caste/creed/class/regional based discrimination, all while expanding the economy. If they succeed in these tasks, they will no doubt enjoy great popularity. If they fail on their own accord, they will be kicked into their favorite place, “the dustbin of history.”
However, if the Maoists are somehow obstructed in accomplishing these tasks, the results will be disastrous. They have at their command a full army, complete with weapons locker keys, and millions of voters who will now righteously feel cheated. Perhaps, that was the point all along. Basanta states in “The Worker” #11:
“It is not that we waged mass struggle in the peace time only. But, a proper sequence between political and military offensive has been the specificity of Nepalese people’s war ever since its preparation. In our case, every political offensive has been carried out to create such a political situation in which the subsequent military offensive is justified.”
Two years of obstructionist tactics have so far only delayed the inevitable. If the other parties want to restart the bloodshed, there is no better way to do it than keep the Maoists from forming the government.