Nepal’s Peace Process Towards Ambiguity
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 12 May 2010
At 2.20 PM on May 1, 2010 at the western gate of the Khula Manch (Martyr Theater), an aged, thin-and-weak man of about 35 fainted. The volunteers of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) made a human chain of 10 meters in circumference around the huge crowd. A few of them tried to cool him down by fanning their caps and papers and throwing their drinking water over him. Both of his legs were buckled from the intense heat, while camera men were eager to snap photos. The crowd members were seeking first aiders to treat him. Two minutes later, he stood up with the help of a man. His face and lips were dried. A woman aiding him grasped his right hand and disappeared with him through the sea of humans[i].
While the above is but one example of a casualty in a protest environment, it is important to note that there are large numbers of youths and women which participate in anti-government protests in Kathmandu. Besides the local participation, hundreds of demonstrators are coming or are brought in to Kathmandu to participate in the rallies and the indefinite general strike.
Addressing an anti-government rally of mammoth proportions on the 1st of May Laborer Day at the Khula Manch; the Supremo of the Maoist party Prachanda said, “Strange and ridiculous statements have surfaced right after the prime minister’s return from Thimphu. The government has started speaking of mobilizing Nepal’s Army to suppress our demonstration”, (Kathmandu Post: May 2, 2010). The PM Nepal had gone to participate on 16th SAARC Summit in Thimphu where held an exclusive meeting with Indian Prime Minister. However he added that Nepal wants to develop a new relationship with India on the basis of Nepalese desire for sovereignty, integrity and independence. He reaffirmed the commitment to a competitive multi-party democratic system. He further said that the indefinite general strike, starting from May 2 and to be continued until the PM Madhav Kumar Nepal steps down, paves the way for the national consensus or unity government. Baburam Bhattarai said that the objective of the street protests is not just toppling the government, but also to ensure that the new constitution prevails and to conclude the peace process.
The Maoists had conducted the mass meeting at 11 places including the Kathmandu. In almost all places, there had been an encouraging participation of the people. The Maoists claimed that there were 600,000 people in Kathmandu, 150,000 in Biratnagar, 50,000 in Pokhara, 60,000 in Nepaljung, etc. Even Nepal’s security forces claimed that Kathmandu’s rally had been the biggest so far.
The same evening at 6 o’ clock in his address to the nation, PM Madhav Nepal requested that the Maoists cancel the indefinite strike and sit for peace talks. He asked that the Maoist leadership adhere to the provision for consensual politics by adopting a constitutional process. Nepal further warned that if the street protests turned violent, the security forces including the government employees would be mobilized to enforce law and order. He said that state capture through street protests would lead the Maoists in to a suicidal game.
One day before the rally, the cabinet meeting decided to mobilize the Nepal army to replace the Nepal Police in their roles within the public service provider institutions, but it was in vain.
Indefinite General Strike (IGS) Day I (May 2nd): The strike paralyzed normal life in Nepal including Kathmandu. The demonstration remained peaceful. All public and private service providers remained closed. Ministers entered into Singha Durbar, capital of ministries in Kathmandu, at early dawn fearful of street protests and clashes. Only senior level bureaucrats including neighboring employees were present in the office. A faction of the UML also submitted a memorandum letter to the party’s head demanding the PM’s resignation from government.
IGS Day II (May 3rd): The strike continued to paralyze normal life. The demonstration remained peaceful with the exception of a few incidents. The state owned security forces and the Maoist supporters and cadres largely remained in silence. Even on this hot sunny day, the demonstrators largely spent their day with dancing and singing on the streets. Ministers were reached at Singha Durbar in the early morning. Ruling party supporters and Maoists cadres demonstrated before one another in the central Tarai-Madhes Birjung.
IGS Day III (May 4th): The strike continued to paralyze normal life. The demonstrators remained largely peaceful and exercised patience despite a few cases of vandalism of shops, motor cycles and some minor clashes between the Maoists and ruling parties’ cadres. Public-private vehicles, market places, educational institutions, factories, banks remained shut. One YCL, Ganesh KC of the Maoists, was killed as he was hit by a police person riding a motorbike. One asthma patient, Rudra Bahadur K.C, aged 63, died while he was returning home after participating in the strike in Dang. The Maoists announced him as the first martyr of this decisive people’s revolt.
The demonstrators encircled the Ring-road (27.8 km) with a human-chain where the top Maoist leaders including Prachanda were anticipated to wave and congratulate their supporters and cadres. A few Maoists brought in from Kathmandu started to return home by foot. Weak sections of the demonstrators are often victim to diarrhea, fever, common cold and cough, throat-ache, allergy and other health problems due to unhygienic food, drinking water, sanitation and acclimatization, such problems increase each day.
IGS IV Day (May 5th): The strike continued to paralyze normal life across the country and was taking a nasty turn from peaceful agitation to violence. More than a dozen strike defiance incidents occurred. A Youth Force or YF, aide-de-camp of the UML and the PM Madhav Nepal, cadre Sudip Karki of Manahari VDC Makawanpur, was killed in a clash with the YCL as the youth force was trying to open the Manahari bazaar. The tension raised in Bhaktapur between the YCL and YF while the latter urged locals to open their market places and go about their normal routines. The YCL allegedly said that the YF opened fire on a rally and vice versa. A used cartridge and four rounds with the magazine from a pistol were found and this information was publicized in front of the media personnel by the YCL. The clash between the NC-UML and Maoists also took hold in Humla and it remained in tension for one and a half hours. The Maoists pelted stones at the ruling parties’ district offices and ruling cadres at the Maoists offices. A few people including a journalist was injured. About half a dozen journalists were tortured by the demonstrators in Kathmandu valley.
Tension erupted between the demonstrators and the police at Butwal in the Rupandehi district (western Tarai-Madhes). The clash occurred while the demonstrators seized the Butwal municipality building. More than 35 demonstrators including police persons were injured. The aggressive demonstrators torched a police post at Traffic Chowk. While the YF tried to thwart the Maoists rally, a clash broke out in Dhankuta district too.
The Ministers used the security force vehicles to attend their ministries before dawn as early as 4 AM and stayed in the office until 8 PM doing nothing. One minister spent a whole night in his ministry inside the Singha Duarba. The Kathmandu peoples started to face inadequate supply of food, drinking water, medicine, fresh vegetable and gas on the one hand. Green vegetables and milk are thrown on the streets by the farmers to protest against the indefinite strike on the other. The mobility of media persons, human rights activists and ambulances were tightened with the checking and verifying of them. The participation of locals has generally been booming.
The PM Nepal invited all 42 foreign diplomats based in Nepal and expressed his worry at the IGS. A US Ambassador in Nepal said, “We all share the view that we would like to see dialogue of consensus and there is no alternative to a compromise among the parties”, (Kathmandu Post: May 6, 2010). UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Robert Piper, Danish Ambassador Fin Thilsted, Thomas Gass, Swiss Ambassador, the French Ambassador and others, all attended the meeting.
Similarly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the government and political parties to redouble their efforts to address the present impediments. The appeal reads, “It would be my earnest appeal to the government and parties to resolve without delay the remaining political impediments and take concrete steps towards the fulfillment of commitments on the basis of clear benchmarks and timelines and through a structured process of consultation and dialogue.”
IGS Day V (May 6th): Due to the sporadic clashes between the Maoists and ruling parties youths, the local administration of the Dhankuta, Humla, and Parbat district headquarters imposed a curfew from that evening to the following morning. In Budhanilkantha, Basundhara, Jorpati, and Dapasi in Kathmandu, tensions erupted between the Maoists cadres and ruling parties’ supporters. The clash occurred while the government supporters and locals tried to open market places defying the Maoists indefinite shut down, and the Maoist cadres enforced that they close down. An 8 year old boy including two others was injured in Budhanilkhantha by the pelting of stones.
Birjung, central Tarai-Madhes, remained fraught with tension throughout the day as the Hindu Youth Association accompanied by the ruling parties supporters, retaliated against the demonstrators of the indefinite general strike. Sixty-one cadres including two Maoists CA members were injured and the most serious of them were lifted to Kathmandu for further treatment. The injured Maoist leader Prabhu Shah claimed that the state security forces attacked them in the name of the agitators. About 10-15 youths also vandalized and burnt the Maoist cantonments and their personal belongings and bare essentials, including their clothes and hundreds of dinner places and utensils. The live televised report showed that many instruments and tools were taken away by the youth groups. Two parked vehicles including a motorbike were also burnt by the agitators. Birjung is a place where former prince Paras had visited and organized the press conference at the verge of indefinite strike.
In some places, the bazaars were opening defying the street protests, in other places, the business centers were opened for two hours from a consensus between the Maoists and civil society. Similarly the Maoist leadership also showed its flexibility to allow vehicles carrying vegetables through bearing a green flag. The meeting also decided to retaliate to their opponents if they tried to hurdle enforcing the general strike.
Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood and Swiss envoy Thomas Gas met with Prachanda for discussion on the political outlet. The Swiss envoy expressed their interest of a mediation between them. US Ambassador Scott H DeLisi also held meeting with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. Six Ambassadors of the EU urged the PM to negotiate the problem and to refrain from using provocative statements and actions.
IGS Day VI (May 7th): Tens of thousands of people rally for the restoration of peace, organized by the 50 professional organizations such as FNCCI, PAPAD, the civil society and the ruling parties cadres and supporters in Kathmandu and urged both parties in conflict to end the deadlock giving them a 48 hour ultimatum. There had been a conflict in many places between the Maoist youths and the ruling parties. The EU organized a secret, inconclusive, tripartite (Maoist, NC and UML) meeting at the Norwegian Embassy. As the Maoists received a tremendous pressure from all national and international communities to stop the general strike, the Maoists finally called off its six day long general strike.
This time both the security forces and the Maoist demonstrators have shown their patience as brothers and sisters, unlike the anonymities between them in the previous strikes and protests. They share drinking water between them and allow free movement for the important supply of public services such as vehicles for the logistics of garbage collection, ambulances and hospitals, diplomatic missions, media persons, human rights missions, tourist buses, etc. Besides this, they clean the roads and no vehicle tires are burning. There is no compulsion for the mass to participate in the street protests. Fun and recreation are available as most of the demonstrators are singing and dancing. The Maoists did not try to cross the prohibited areas. Senior leaders are leading the demonstrators. No anonymity is seen from the government, including the leaders of the ruling parties and the Maoists, as all are involved in action toward the peaceful and respectful exit of incumbent Prime Minister Madhav Nepal and a resolution to the strike. The parties, socio-cultural and regional groups, children and the forthcoming generations may imitate the same liberal democratic practices to fulfill their demands, respecting the principles of human rights, ignoring the forceful national, regional, district strikes also violence, extortions, and so forth, in the days to come.
Who is Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal?
A former Bank employee Madhav Nepal joined the full time underground CPN (ML) politics. He is recognized as a liberal leader and led the UML, becoming a powerful general secretary who held his post for a long time. He has played a pivotal role in bringing the Maoists in to the mainstream of democratic politics from their history of armed violence. His leadership enabled a fuse from the earlier split between the ML faction into the mother party UML.
Furthermore, he has long lists of weaknesses too. His generosity could not drive the UML party that was put forward, which caused a defeat for him from two constituencies in the last CA elections. Under his leadership it was made a top priority to participate on matters of state power after the restoration of democracy 1990. He accepted the former autocratic king’s move and became involved with the government saying, ‘half-regression corrected’. In the past, he filed an application for prime minister with the former king Gyanendra’s announcement of position. If his leadership did not accept the new former king Gyanendra after the Royal Massacre in June 1, 2001, the Republican Nepal would have been able to attain peace, progress, stability and development in these 10-years. Instead, he saluted Gyanendra, putting a coin on his foot on his coronation day. If the republican had declared in 2001, neither the country would suffer huge casualties during People’s War nor could the Maoists have attained such heightened in the CA. Moreover, the UML would be the largest party in Nepal. His weak leadership split the ML. The fraction of the party had made fertile the ground for the Maoist-led People’s War and the Maoist party became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly therein.
The greatest sadness on his part is that he has long since been used by the Indian powers and politics. While the first People’s Movement in 1990 continued, the central committee evaluation meeting for the movement of the CPN (ML) in early March, Madhav Nepal (head of the foreign department), put forward the proposal; disclosing the fact of that India had been ready to provide the arms and ammunition to fight against the monarchy and if necessary gun-men too. His proposal was flatly rejected by CP Mainali and other nationalists. Finally, he took back his proposal on the order of late Madhan Bhandari, the then General Secretary of the ML. Two weeks later, he again put forward the same proposal in the Central Committee evaluation meeting of the first people’s movement. He was then sharply criticized and revoked by the Madan Bhandari himself who compelled him to take back his proposal accordingly. There has been a lot of discussion inside the party to the tune that Madhan Bhandari had been conspiratorially killed due to his dynamic leadership in the communist party, who tried to adopt a multiparty new democracy and nationalist stand in any way they could. His sole witness Amar Lama, had been killed following the strategy of the then People’s War, but the Maoists refused to the admission of Lama’s killing.
Nepali Congress party is benefiting substantially from the present impasse as the two major communist forces; the Maoists and UML, are confronting one another following the ‘diamond cuts diamond’ principle, (The present CA has 62% communist members). The incumbent Prime Minister Madhav Nepal shall just be an instrument of the long GRAND DESIGN to crush the communist ideology from Nepal, particularly the CPN (UML) party similar to Mikhail Gorbachev who had been used in the former USSR in the name of the perestroika. After diminishing the UML, next grand design shall be drawn towards the Maoists.
A Win-Win Situation
Dialogue is the single feasible alternative to the present crisis among the main three, Nepali Congress, UML and the Maoists parties. Beyond the involvement of the National Consensus Campaign for Peace and Constitution representatives, the facilitation and mediation needs to be initiated by the experienced actors, to put both forces around the table to talk about the peace process. The International community shall play a vital role to restore peace and tranquility, pressing both Government, including ruling partners, and the Maoists. If the dialogue shall reach an agreement on a package, both the conflicting actors may feel proud that “we won.” The following points may be considerable in working for a unity with national consensus government.
First, the PM’s resignation and end of indefinite strike should hold at a time. Second, the next government shall be formed on the consensus from the Constituent Assembly avoiding the mathematical head counting policy, majority in the government and minority as the opposition. Third, before the formation of national unity government, the Interim Constitution shall be amended extending its tenure for six months. Fourth, the timetable for the building of the new constitution shall be rescheduled within its six month time framework. The army (re)integration and rehabilitation is a technical matter rather than a political confrontation if a national consensus government is formed.
[i] It raised a lot of questions. He might have fainted because: he was brought in Kathmandu from the mountain region; he was walked a long distance to attend the celebration; he was failed to get hygienic water to drink and consumption of food even in the hot-sunny day; he was attended despite of his ill-health; he had been hungry; he was fallen due to sudden change of weather in Kathmandu from their native locations; etc.
Copy edited by Siobhan McManmon, UK.
Bishnu Pathak is Director of the Conflict Study Center (CS Center) in Nepal, the South Asia Convener for TRANSCEND International, and a Board Member of the TRANSCEND Peace University. His book Politics of People’s War and Human Rights in Nepal is a widely circulated volume. He can be reached at email@example.com. We are grateful to whom they supported us voluntarily to conclude this article including Mr. Joseph Bergson, CSC Representative in UK.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 May 2010.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Nepal’s Peace Process Towards Ambiguity, is included. Thank you.
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