Chand party’s killing of school principal is a grim reminder of the Maoist conflictAnalysts say the government appears to be failing in its approach to deal with the Communist Party of Nepal which has been involved in violent activities for long.
The brutal killing of a school teacher in Morang after abduction by the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal has raised the spectre of a renewed conflict in the country.
The Chand outfit is a splinter of the Maoist party that led a decade-long war against the state, leaving over 13,000 dead, 1,333 disappeared and hundreds of thousands displaced by the time it ended in 2006.
The KP Sharma Oli administration in March last year had branded the Chand-led party a criminal outfit and banned its activities. The move followed two blasts in the Capital and the death of a person.
Four people lost their lives when bombs planted by the party went off in five places in Kathmandu and Lalitpur on May 26, 2019.
Though the Oli government had invited the Chand-led party for talks, the outfit refused, demanding that the ban be lifted first and it be recognised as a political party.
The outfit’s act to brutally kill Rajendra Kumar Shrestha, 54, “in retaliation”, however, has raised a question over its claim that it is a political force.
The Mechi-Koshi bureau of the outfit had abducted Shrestha from his home in Miklajung Rural Municipality-1 before killing him on Tuesday.
Shrestha was working as the principal of Saraswati Basic School in Ramite of the rural municipality.
“A group of four to five unidentified people abducted Shrestha from his house, took him about a kilometre away before killing him and fled,” said Deputy Inspector General Ishwar Babu Karki, the Province 1 police chief. “Shrestha’s hands were tied. His body was found in a nearby forest with a slit throat.”
Issuing a statement on Tuesday night, the party’s Mechi-Koshi bureau said that the party “took action” against Shrestha “for working as an informant” for the police.
Analysts and former security officials say people had taken some blasts and violent acts by the Chand-led party as isolated incidents but Tuesday’s killing of a school principal has unleashed terror and generated fear if the country is going back to the era of the armed conflict.
“A political force doesn't kill an individual in such a brutal manner,” said Hemant Malla, a former deputy inspector general.
But somehow, according to Malla, it has become apparent that the government failed to deal with the outfit in an effective manner.
Chand had deserted the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Maoist party in 2012, along with Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa, saying that the party had left the “people’s war” halfway. Chand formed his own Communist Party of Nepal in 2014 to launch what he calls “unified people’s revolution” alleging that Dahal’s Maoist party abandoned the revolution after it joined mainstream politics in 2006.
Two years later, Chand parted ways with Baidya and Thapa; the latter returned to the Dahal’s Maoist party in 2016. In 2018, Thapa was appointed home minister in the Oli Cabinet.
Thapa has since taken a tough stance against Chand. The administration has so far arrested around 500 Chand-party members. Since its formation, the party has been involved in violent activities, including attacks on some private companies, and extortions.
Immediately after the Chand outfit was branded a criminal group, it had vowed to retaliate.
In May last year, Thapa said that the party had “four military companies”.
Analysts say the government either underestimated the Chand-led party or kept on using excessive force, rather than making constant efforts to bring it to the talks table. On a couple of occasions, security personnel killed Chand-party cadres after arrests.
According to Geja Sharma Wagle, who writes on political and security matters for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur, the government failed to make a proper assessment of the political and security dimensions of Chand's party.
“If the government thought it could contain the outfit by force, it should have mobilised security forces accordingly,” Wagle told the Post. “It looks like the authorities completely lost the plot; it failed to devise a proper plan—neither politically nor security-wise—to find a solution to the problems posed by the group.”
Though Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal does not use the “Maoist” tag anymore, its activities are similar to those of the Maoist party that led the decade-long war.
Fourteen years after the peace deal, conflict victims are still awaiting justice, while none involved in committing serious crimes during the war has been booked. There are now concerns if failure to conclude the transitional justice process and to bring even a single individual to book for war crimes is prompting the Chand-led party to resort to violence and killing.
After Tuesday’s incident, Home Minister Thapa on Wednesday called a meeting of the Security Committee which consists of the chiefs of Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force and the National Intelligence Department.
According to officials, the meeting concluded that Chand’s activities are becoming serious.
“The committee directed the police to control the violence of Chand's outfit but also to exercise restraint while doing so,” said an official at the Home Ministry who wished to remain anonymous because he was not allowed to speak with the media.
Indrajit Rai, a security adviser to Home Minister Thapa, said the Chand-led outfit had so far been resorting to some violent acts, prompting the government to ban its activities.
“But Tuesday’s killing is a terrorist act,” Rai told the Post. “If such incidents continue, either the Cabinet or the prime minister should take a concrete step to deal with the outfit.”
Shrestha’s killing on Tuesday also comes as a reminder of one of the most gruesome acts of violence carried out by the Maoist party when it killed Muktinath Adhikari, also a school teacher, in January 2002.
The Oli administration in August 2018 had constituted a Political Dialogue Committee led by Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader Som Prasad Pandey to hold dialogue with various disgruntled groups, including the Chand-led party.
“But this group is divided; some leaders want dialogue and others do not,” Pandey told the Post. “I have not been in touch with this outfit lately, even though I had tried to establish contacts informally for some time after the committee’s term ended.”
The committee’s tenure ended in March last year.
Pandey said during his talks with government officials and Chand’s outfit—as the chair of the committee and after the committee’s term ended as well—he always stressed that dialogue was the only solution.
The formation of the dialogue committee, according to Malla, the former police official, was a right step by the government.
“But after its term ended, no sincere initiatives were taken to bring the Chand-led party to the negotiating table,” Malla told the Post. “Now the government seems to be lacking the strategy to deal with the problems posed by the outfit.”
The same month the term of the dialogue committee ended last year, the Oli administration had signed a deal with CK Raut’s Alliance for Independent Madhesh. It was seen as a major feat of the Oli government for being able to make Raut quit his secessionist campaign. Days later, the Oli government branded Chand-party a criminal outfit, in what looked like a coercive method to make it renounce its armed struggle.
Malla said there is no alternative to dialogue and the government should not give up on its efforts to bring the Chand-led party to talks.
“There seems to be a lack of coordination between the Home Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office,” Malla told the Post. “It’s ultimately the general public who will suffer if the government tries to contain the outfit with force.”