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World Affairs

 Nepal: Maoists lock horns with the army

Rookmangud Katawal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachandra)

The 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 displaced.

  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.

Maoist’s progress

 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.

Foreign interference?

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.’

  What 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.


India’s great concern about Nepal has been its relations with China. In the ’80s India blocked all exit points save one of landlocked Nepal when the Nepalis favoured arms purchases from China 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.

The 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.

The 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.

A 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

The 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.

The 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 commander.

All 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.

The 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 army.

Constitutional Assembly

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.









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