-Prof. Jeevan Gurung, SUNY Adirondack, New York
Nepal’s volatile political landscape is detrimental to the fate of Nepali people. Political developments in Nepal is shifting fast. Prime Minister K. P. Oli’s expedient move for political survival has driven him to make the ultimate deal with the proverbial devil- Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplav. What does it mean for peace and prosperity in Nepali people’s lives?
Peace Deal ?
PM KP Oli has signed a peace deal with the violent Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). In a striking photo op, PM Oli is seen introducing CPN’s general secretary, Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplav,’ who had gone underground for two years after adopting violent means for political ends. In the picture, Chand is seen waving to crowd of reporters and people, many of whom are busy taking pictures of this historic moment but what is not so clear is what this signing ceremony means for peace in Nepal. The expedient way in which this deal was reached doesn’t bode well for what is to come, for the agreement reads more like a capitulation by the government without any serious give-ins from Chand and his outfit.
Just last week, I had written an article in Nepalism (Read here>>) condemning the political wrangling between PM Oli and former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, most specifically, because I felt that the instability meant the nation was taking its eye off the danger posed by Chand and his faction to the nation. At least, we now know that PM Oli had his eyes set on Chand. But then the nature of his eyesight on Chand was not so much to quash Chand’s outfit as it was to use Chand for his own political need. Nevertheless, Oli’s move has gotten the nation’s attention, and rightfully so. He has been able to bring Chand to sign a three-point agreement with the government. The agreement binds the government to lift the ban on Chand’s radical, violent Communist Party of Nepal, release all of their cadres who are in jail, and drop all cases pending in courts. In return, Chand and his party would disavow violence and use political process to further their goal. Chand’s expression of his commitment to peaceful politics during his first public appearance while standing beside Oli is a powerful image.
Oli must have let a sigh of relief after a number of setbacks. First, the Constitutional Bench of Nepal Supreme Court’s dismissed his unconstitutional plan to hold special election and weakened his fight against Pushpa Kumar Dahal, former Maoist leader and current leader of the rival faction of his own Nepal Communist Party. Now, Dahal is working to oust him through a no-confidence motion vote in the parliament. As such, Oli must have thought of his move to sign a peace deal with Chand a coup-d’état against Dahal. For Chand, a once loyal lieutenant of Dahal had formed his Communist Party of Nepal after accusing Dahal of leaving the “people’s war” halfway. Chand had vowed to complete the movement started by Dahal through carrying out a “unified people’s revolution.” Oli must have thought that having Chand sign a peace deal would make him more credible in the eyes of some wavering lawmakers, which would help his cause if Dahal were to force a no-confidence motion against him.
While there is no doubt that Oli is being applauded by his supporters, the fact is that this peace deal is nothing more than appeasement of Chand to secure his support so that it may bolster Oli’s position within his divided party. The agreement merely asks for verbal commitment from Chand. There is no demand that Chand and his cadres surrender their weapons. And Chand and his party hasn’t ruled out taking up arms again in future depending on how events unfold. As reported in The Kathmandu Post, A Central Committee member of Chand’s party had this to say: “He [Chand] has made all the issues of the party clear to everyone. He has expressed commitment to peaceful means of movement but [use of] violence will depend on how the state treats the party.”
No doubt, the agreement is being seen with some skepticism by other political parties. Nepali Congress spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma reflected his distrust of the agreement by tweeting: “When Prachanda came, he said some weapons were swept away by the river but when Biplav came, have all the arms been swept away? Where is the fourth point saying they will hand over arms to the state? The whole country wants the answer to this serious question.” Sharma here is referring to Dahal’s explanation for the surrender of relatively small quantities of arms by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in 2006 after their 10 years insurgency in which thousands of people were killed. Sharma’s tone may be mocking, but it raises a serious question about Chand’s intent.
Speaking of intent, nothing is clear as to what political path Chand wants to pursue. For Chand, he made it clear during the ceremony on Friday that the fight wasn’t over: “The wishes of some people may have been fulfilled but aspirations of the majority of the people have not.” During his speech, he insisted that the existing political system needs to be changed and that the parliamentary system should be replaced with “scientific socialism” through a referendum. He insisted: “The people should be allowed to make a choice.” However, he did not explain how that would come about or even what he meant by “scientific socialism.” Whether just having a dialog would force other political parties to simply capitulate to Chand’s demand and open up a path to his desired goal is yet to be seen.
At least for now, the agreement has strengthened Chand’s position. As per the three-point agreement, a Cabinet meeting on March 4th decided to lift the three-year ban on Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal and the Home Ministry directed the police to release all cadres of the party. Soon they will be dropping all cases against CPN members who have committed violence and crimes against the Nepali people. But with weapons in their hands, Chand and his people will continue to hold the Nepali government and people hostage. It’s obvious that they will, as they keep getting their demands fulfilled: release their cadres from prison and their court cases dropped despite the kidnappings, bombings, and killings of many innocent Nepali lives. All of these without surrendering their weapons, which they can return to using at any time. The question then is who will answer to the family of Rajendra Kumar Shrestha, a teacher who was kidnapped and brutally killed in 2020, and Dhir Bahadur Shahi, the chairman of Thatikagh village council of Dailekh District, who was kidnapped and tortured in 2019 by Chand’s outfit.
Beyond the thought that the criminals are going scot free, it is a travesty that the perpetrators of violence, extortion, and wanton killings will be rewarded as they were in 2006. Dahal set the stage and now Chand is following suit. Dahal hit a jackpot by becoming the prime minister. Ram Bahadur Thapa, the incumbent Home Minister, who led the talks for Oli was himself a key member of the Maoist Party during the war. I would suppose that Chand and his people now want a piece of the pie.
But it’s really concerning that we are not seriously discussing what kind of menace this cycle of violence and appeasement will unleash. The fact is that only the leadership of these outfits get rewarded. The vast majority of the fighters languish and do not get anything for the sacrifices they make. More often than not, they are disillusioned with their leaders, as was Chand against Dahal and the rest of the Maoist leadership, who Chand felt betrayed their cause. If Chand were to continue in Dahal and Thapa’s footsteps, then there will surely be disillusionments within his rank and file. And since, they have the weapons with them just as Chand and his people had weapons with them because Dahal would not surrender all the weapons, there is every reason to believe that a new leader will emerge who will initiate another spate of violence and extortion only to be folded into the system of corruption. That will create a vicious cycle of violence and insurgency.
Just looking across the Indian border to its North Eastern states will give us a clearer perspective of what is in store for Nepal. The same set of circumstances, such as appeasing the militants to give up violence, has continued to create more resentment and even a sense of opportunity among rank and file, which has led to the growth of more militant outfits and continuation of violence. As a result, this has created immense insurgency problem in the North East states of India. It looks like we are recklessly determined to turn Nepal into another land of insurgents just as it is happening south of Nepal’s border.
Lots of Ifs
Of course, that is if we accept that Chand will have renounced violence and be rewarded with a cabinet position in PM Oli’s government. That is, if PM Oli remains in power. That’s a lot of “ifs.” For now, there is immense suspicion of what Oli’s plan is for Chand. Maheshwor Dahal, a central committee member of the Dahal-Nepal faction of Nepal Communist Party said it best: “It’s suspicious why [Chand] was in such a haste to join hands with Oli as any government that will be formed soon could have lifted the ban. This unnecessary haste to join hands with a regressive leader leaves anyone wondering if there is any tacit understanding with Oli.” We can only speculate on the kind of tacit understanding that was reached between Oli and Chand. But considering the situation that Oli is in, it mostly looks like it was a hastily crafted deal done more for the sake of personal gain instead of achieving actual peace. Just the fact that the deal was designed with the government most to lose and Chand to gain the most, for he is not having to show any commitment in kind, tells us how successful the deal is doing to be.
A picture speaks a thousand words
In fact, Oli’s desire to distract us from his problem is appropriately reflected in the photograph where Oli is introducing Chand. In it, Oli’s face is covered with a mask and so is the face of the security personal behind Oli. As a result, our gaze is completely captured by Chand, who is mask-less. It’s as if Oli seems intent on disappearing behind the mask and allowing Chand to take centerstage. Obviously, there is distance between them because of COVID pandemic; but the separation does seem to tell another story, which is that Oli wants to keep Chand at an arm’s length and only use him for his advantage. Chand, on the other hand, seems uncomfortable in the limelight. His jacket is disheveled as a result of his raising his hand. He has an awkward posture, and that seems to reveal something about the nature of their deal. The agreement between the two is as suspicious and awkward just as the two seem in the photograph. It’s just an agreement of convenience.
We do not for sure know what the consequences of the agreement of convenience will lead to if it does not go according to plan. At least we know that Oli is quickly addressing Chand’s demands. But Oli’s future is not so certain, as the vote of confidence by his party may oust him from power. Now, where will that leave Chand? Will he do Oli’s bidding? And what will that be? Would that be in the form of disrupting Oli’s opponents’ plans politically, or will it entail more violent persuasion? I hope it’s the former. But seeing Chand’s awkward posture in his first foray into politics, I am afraid he is more comfortable being a militant than a political rabble-rouser. Let’s hope I am wrong and that Oli has not transformed Chand into a more powerful militant force than he was a week ago.
Note: Mr. Jeevan Gurung is professor of English at SUNY Adirondack, New York. He holds a PhD in English Literature from Drew University, NJ and is originally from Pokhara, Nepal.