Chand party agrees to shun violence, government lifts banDetails of the three-point pact to be made public today. It’s unclear what happens to the outfit’s political demands like scrapping of parliamentary system and a round-table meet.
Days after Ram Bahadur Thapa became home minister of the incumbent KP Sharma Oli government in February 2018, an arrest warrant was issued against Netra Bikram Chand, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal, charging him with murder and multiple explosions.
A year later in March 2019, the Oli government imposed a ban on Chand party’s activities following two blasts in the Capital in which one person was killed.
On Thursday, two years later, the Oli government lifted the ban on Chand party’s activities. The decision came after Thapa, as the leader of the government talks team, signed a three-point deal with the Chand party, bringing the last of the active armed outfits in the country to mainstream politics.
The three-point agreement, signed by Home Minister Thapa and Communist Party of Nepal spokesperson Khadga Bahadur Bishwakarma, has it that the Chand party would seek to address all its political issues through dialogue and carry out all political activities in a peaceful manner, and the government, in return, would lift the ban imposed on the party’s activities and initiate the process to release the party’s cadres and withdraw cases against them.
A statement issued on Thursday morning, signed by Thapa and Bishwakarma, said that details of the agreement would be made public on Friday at a formal programme in Kathmandu which will be addressed by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Chand, the general secretary of the party.
Thursday’s development, at a breakneck speed, comes as a major feat for the embattled Prime Minister Oli who is struggling to save his political legitimacy ever since his December 20 House dissolution move was overturned by the Supreme Court on February 23.
The development also comes days ahead of the scheduled House meeting, which has been called for Sunday, where Oli can take credit for being able to convince an armed outfit to renounce violence, two years after he managed to bring CK Raut, who was spearheading a secessionist movement, to mainstream politics.
“We are excited about the agreement,” said Anil Birahi, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Nepal. “It is interesting, but also a bit bizarre that the government dialogue team was led by one of our former colleagues.”
It, however, is unclear how the government is going to address Chand party’s demands, especially the political ones.
The Communist Party of Nepal has so far maintained that it will not accept the parliamentary system. It has also been demanding an all-party round-table meeting to decide on the political system Nepal should adopt.
“Since this existing parliamentary system has failed to bring social, economic and cultural transformation, there is a dire need for a broader conference to evaluate why that failed,” said a central member of the Communist Party of Nepal. “Now the debate will begin on the possible alternatives—we regress to the monarchical structure or move forward to achieve socialism.”
Ever since it was formed in 2014, Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal had been involved in activities like arsons and extortions and police once in a while arrested its cadres.
When the arrest warrant was issued against Chand three years ago, the Communist Party of Nepal was quick to respond, issuing arrest warrants against Oli and Dahal, asking them to attend “jana adalat” or “people’s court”, something which was practised by the Maoists during the armed insurgency.
Another central member of the Communist Party of Nepal said that the agreement paves the way for broader discussions to achieve scientific socialism.
“Our pursuit of scientific socialism has not ended; it’s just that we have decided to take peaceful means to achieve our goal,” the leader told the Post over the phone in a brief interview, hours before the Cabinet lifted the ban. “Our understanding is that the existing parliamentary system has failed on all fronts. There is a need to establish a better system to attain scientific socialism.”
The picture is expected to be clearer after Oli and Chand address Friday’s function and the government makes public the details of the agreement.
Analysts say the pace at which the government clinched a deal with the Communist Party of Nepal was startling. Why Chand so readily agreed will also become clearer only after a few days, according to them.
“The three-point agreement signed between the government and the Chand party does not say anything about the political and economic agenda and agenda of change that the arumed outfit was voicing for,” said Hari Rokka, a political economist. “We do not know what would be the status of the agendas for which Chand had started his revolution campaign.”
Chand, now 53, had formed his Communist Party of Nepal in 2014 to launch what he called “unified people’s revolution”. Chand believed that the “people’s war” set the tone for revolution, but it was left incomplete by his mentor Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Incumbent Home Minister Thapa, now 66, too once shared a similar thought—that Dahal had left the “people’s war” halfway.
Chand and Thapa, along with Mohan Baidya, had deserted the Dahal-led Maoist party together in 2012—six years after the peace deal as per which the Maoists laid down their arms—to form their own Maoist party called CPN-Maoist.
Thapa and Chand, however, differed on how to take the revolution forward.
Thapa’s political line was “people’s revolt on the basis of the people’s war”, which meant the foundation for a revolution had already been created [by the war] and that they should employ urban resurrection to seize power.
Chand, however, believed it was time to launch “unified people’s revolution”, which stipulated that since the structure of the Nepali society had already undergone a significant change, there was the need for a unified class struggle for which both the proletariat and the middle class should join hands.
Two years after Chand formed his party to pursue his goals, Thapa returned to the mother party led by Dahal and in 2018 became the home minister in the Oli Cabinet. It was then that Thapa had issued the arrest warrant against Chand. The comrades in arms—they were in the same Maoist Central Committee for 16 years—suddenly became comrades at war.
“Now we have to listen carefully to what Chand has to say tomorrow when he appears before the public,” said Rokka. “It will be interesting to learn about his political agendas and his goal. Has he abandoned his beliefs? Are his political agendas still alive? Has he compromised on his ideology? We don’t know yet.”
According to Rokka, there is not much for Oli to talk, as he would most likely spend most of the time taking credit for Thursday’s agreement.
“Things will be clearer when Chand makes his position clear as to why he decided to reach an agreement with Oli and why at this point of time,” Rokka told the Post. “Timing is also important.”
Ever since the government launched a crackdown on the Communist Party of Nepal, police have arrested over 2,000 of its cadres. Last month alone, a murder charge was filed against 42 of its members, including Chand, for killing a school headmaster in Miklajung of Morang district.
The Communist Party of Nepal leaders and cadres were constantly under the administration’s watch, with at least three members killed by police. At least five of its members had died in May, 2019 at Ghattekulo and Sukedhara in Kathmandu when a cooking gas cylinder they were trying to rig as an improvised explosive device went off accidentally.
Analysts say Chand was under tremendous pressure. Though he was trying to emulate his mentors—Dahal and Thapa—to launch an armed struggle to achieve his goal, realisation had slowly dawned upon him that he would not be able to sustain politics of violence for long.
“Chand and his people were tired of their movement; they had understood that things were not going to work for them,” said Mumaram Khanal, a former Maoist leader and analyst on contemporary politics.
“Such forces are either suppressed by the state or they co-opt with the existing democratic model, just like what happened to those who launched the Jhapa movement and the Maoist war.”
Oli himself made his foray into politics with a bloody class struggle known as the Jhapa movement. Many years after Oli joined mainstream politics, Dahal and Thapa had launched their “war”, terminating the class enemy in a bid to achieve a socio-political transformation.
Dhruba Adhikari, a former Maoist commander who is pursuing a doctorate degree on “the role of emotion in Maoist movement”, said Chand by now has realised that he cannot achieve his goal through the path of “unified people’s revolution”.
“But they cannot express and admit that the path of unified people’s revolution is not right,” Adhikari told the Post over the phone. “So Chand must have chosen to accept peaceful politics now”
According to Adhikari, Chand, however, could, in the long run, work to reorganise and reunite the old Maoists to make one strong force again.
As far as Oli is concerned, some believe the agreement with Chand could provide him political mileage, as he is in a bid to win over constituencies of all hues and colour, including the rightists, ultra-radicals, ultra-leftists and the extremists.
By clinching a deal with Chand, Oli has also sent a clear message to Dahal that it’s him who still calls the shots and can make even those who once were his loyalists fall in line.
Oli now sees Dahal as his arch-rival, just three years after he embraced him with open arms despite being the most vocal critic of the armed struggle.
“It’s a welcome move on the part of Chand to renounce violence if he is honest. We have been saying for long that politics of violence does not help achieve political goals,” said Mohan Bikram Singh, one of the oldest communist leaders who currently leads the CPN Masal. “We will have to keep a close eye on Chand party’s activities now onwards.”
The Oli government, five months after it was formed, in August 2018 had formed a high-level team led by lawmaker Som Prasad Pandey to hold talks with all agitating groups, including the Communist Party of Nepal. The Chand party, however, refused to come to the negotiating table.
Oli started making overtures to the Chand party recently after he took a drastic step of dissolving the House. In the third week of February, Oli sent one of his ministers, Mani Thapa, to meet with Dharmendra Bastola in Nakkhu jail. The Chand party responded by expressing its willingness to come to talks.
Following the Cabinet decision, the Home Ministry on Thursday evening issued circulars to all chief district officers to release Chand party cadres on Friday.
“In the circular, the Home Ministry has instructed chief district officers to release all Chand party leaders and cadres arrested on minor cases,” said Kiran Bhattarai, press coordinator for Home Minister Thapa. “The release process of those arrested on serious charges will begin in consultation with the concerned district attorneys.”
The expeditious way in which the peace talks have concluded, within three days since the dialogue teams were formed, analysts say, shows both Oli and Chand are pursuing their own interests.
“Both Oli and Chand seem to be under the impression that they could use this opportunity to their own benefit,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst and columnist for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur. “Hundreds of Chand’s leaders and cadres are behind bars. Chand was under pressure to bring them out. Oli, on the other hand, may be thinking about cashing in on the agreement for a political mileage.”
Anil Giri contributed reporting.