Maoists lock horns with the army
Rookmangud Katawal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachandra)
resignation of Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal
(Prachandra) last week raised the spectre of the
emergence of another Maoist rebellion, the previous one
having plunged the country into 10 long years of
bloodshed where 12,000 Nepalis were killed and 100,000
However advances made by the Maoists during the past
three years in Nepali politics make a retreat to the
jungles to fight another war unlikely but the sacking of
their charismatic leader Prachandra while his
organisation holds the centre stage in
Kathmandu politics could lead to the chaotic state it was in before.
Maoists have made rapid progress since the days they
came out of the jungle. Having signed the Peace Accord
of 2006 they joined the fragile government of veteran
Prime Minister Girja Prasad Gujral who led the Nepali
Congress. They pressurised the Nepali Congress and
allied parties to abolish the only Hindu monarchy in the
world and then contested elections to the Constituent
Assembly. To the surprise of all, they won 229 seats,
the highest number by any party in the 601 seat assembly
and Prachandra was elected prime minister.
Political commentators noted that although it had been a
guerrilla organisation responsible for atrocities
committed against civilians for over a decade, the
leaders were quite confident of the people’s support and
they demonstrated it in the Constituent Assembly
elections. Prachandra’s resignation last week is a
challenge to the coalition government and the
repercussions have yet to be fathomed.
Prachandra in his address to the nation after his
resignation blamed all political parties including his
opponents and allies as well as ‘foreign powers’ for the
lack of progress his government had made. Without naming
India he accused a ‘southern neighbour’ of interfering
in Nepali internal matters and added that the country
would never bow down to foreign masters.
Prachandra’s party colleague and Finance Minister
Baburam Bhattarai was more specific in his references.
He said: ‘The so called democratic forces specially
headed by the so called democrats in New Delhi have been
dictating to their patrons in Kathmandu to side with the
army and fight democratic forces.’
exactly went wrong with New Delhi-Kathmandu relations in
recent times have not yet been revealed in detail but it
is well known that before the entry of Maoists to Nepali
power centres, New Delhi have been backers of the Nepali
Congress of Gujral and monarchy. However when King
Gyanendra commenced tottering, Indian support became
less noticeable. New Delhi had also been in contact with
Nepali Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal and it would have
been likely that New Delhi’s support for the army chief
was made known during the crisis.
great concern about Nepal has been its relations with
China. In the ’80s India blocked all exit points save
one of landlocked
when the Nepalis favoured arms purchases from
causing a severe crisis. There is an anti Indian feeling
running still throughout Nepal and this was evidenced on
Prachandra assuming office. He appointed two Nepali
priests to Nepal’s most holy shrine Pushpapalinath,
doing away with the tradition of appointing Brahmin
priests from India.
Supreme Court of Nepal ruled against Prachandra’s
appointments and he relented. In his resignation speech,
Prachandra referred to this incident to illustrate his
regard for public opinion.
major point of conflict has been with the Maoists and
Nepali Army. From the time of the peace agreement there
have been doubts if the two armies that had fought each
other for over a decade could co- exist. The
conservative Royal Nepali Army was against any such move
but it had to play along with the peace process.
Nepali commentator says: ‘The army had to accept
political consensus, and the Indians who have a
traditional relationship with the army, assured the
generals that their interests would be protected.’ But
the gulf between the two armies was never bridged.
Army vs. Maoists
major controversy between the army and the Maoist
controlled Defence Ministry erupted recently when the
Defence Ministry objected to the army’s decision to
recruit 3000 personnel to fill existing positions.
Defying the Defence Ministry orders, the army recruited
which resulted in the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
too announcing fresh recruitments.
Supreme Court then intervened and asked the PLA to stop
recruiting while giving the green light to the Nepal
Army to go ahead with recruitment. The Defence Ministry
then struck back by refusing to extend the services of
eight senior generals as recommended by the army
this resulted in Prime Minister Prachandra sacking the
army commander and two collation parties of the
Prachandra government pulling out of the coalition which
was followed by Prachandra’s resignation.
outlines of the power struggle between the Maoists and
the army backed by non Maoist parties are still
emerging. It is clear that the Maoists want to take
control of the army and the latest demand is the
outright merger of the PLA and the Nepali army. The PLA
strength is estimated at about 19,000. Army Commander
Katawal has objected to such a merger on the grounds
that it would result in political indoctrination of the
Meanwhile the Constitutional Assembly is in the throes
of drafting a new constitution but a two third majority
required to adopt a new constitution is a far cry
considering the diverging proposals and the political
instability that has gripped the country.