Rebels without a causeNo one seems to understand what exactly Biplab wants, not even Biplab himself
Two government decisions that came close on the heels of each other have hogged the headlines for some days now. The first was the agreement with CK Raut to end his proto-secessionist movement, and the second was the proscription on the Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplab’-led Communist Party of Nepal.
Even though he never really posed any serious threat to Nepal’s territorial integrity, and it was mainly decisions by successive governments to incarcerate him that elevated his stature, being able to bring Raut into the political mainstream can be considered an achievement of sorts. How his political journey pans out in the future remains to be seen, and much will depend on how the state acts to neutralise the very real grievances that provided momentum to his movement.
The issue with Biplab, however, is somewhat different. His outfit has been responsible for various vindictive acts, including the reprehensible arson attack on a school bus,that appear designed to extract payments from recalcitrant targets. And, then, there are the periodic bandhs that serve no purpose other than demonstrating their ability to inflict fear on the population. But, as for what he really wants, there seems to be no clear understanding about what that is.
It is not only ordinary citizens like us who are in the dark. Even the prime minister himself has been professing ignorance about Biplab’s demands, even though that is technically not quite correct. Recent media reports citing the government team mandated to begin a dialogue with Biplab’s party wrote that the latter’s demands included transforming the parliamentary system(presumably, into a party-led form of governance a la China’s), an alternative reading of scientific socialism(whatever that means), and an end to societal discrimination.
A TV report actually dug out some old footage to call out the government’s professed obliviousness about what Biplab and his group wants. In September 2016, not long after having ousted KP Oli, as a second-time prime minister, Prachanda had hosted some representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal to receive their petition in person, and listened to their 10-point charter of demands. These consisted of: 50 percent discount on food items; an undertaking that the state purchase farmers’ produce at a reasonable price; end the system of brokerage and middlemen; terminate agreements with Indian companies on developing the Arun III and Upper Karnali hydropower projects; dismantle weirs built by India along Nepal’s border; prevent handover of the country’s integrated security programme to India; withhold the contract to construct the fast-track road from Kathmandu to the Tarai from Indian companies; re-nationalise previously privatized industries and resume production; nationalize all land; and provide relief to squatters and end landlessness and unemployment.
Prachanda gave his former colleagues a patient,and, probably because the nature of these demands was quite similar to the outlook he himself had espoused in another life, looked rather sheepish while thanking the delegation for reminding him about his responsibilities. He then went on to say that the petition actually helps the government and that there is a meeting of minds on what needs to be done. As the TV commentator said, that was the last anyone heard of those demands. Biplab’s party did not raise them again and neither did the government care to inform the party of what steps had been taken in response.
Harking back to the 40 points
Biplab and his followers are hardliners who view the entire peace process since 2006 as a sell-out of the decade-long ‘People’s War’.One fails to fathom what the alternative would have been,apart from more fighting and further mayhem and destruction. Scores of other Maoist leaders who had detached themselves from Prachanda, unhappy with his failure to drive the terms of the reform agenda, later returned to his fold and are now part of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Whether their volte face was driven by plain self-interest or a realisation that,thanks in no small measure to their own efforts, Nepal has actually transformed in many fundamental ways, the fact that they are active participants in multiparty politics bodes well for democracy.
Biplab should understand that repeating history is very difficult, as King Gyanendra learnt the hard way. The Nepal of 2019 is very different from the Nepal of 1996. Besides the fact that he is faced with a state that is much stronger, in general, people are beginning to look to the future and are very unlikely to extend his party the kind of support received by the Maoists of yore. The current government has yet to deliver on its promises but that is hardly a reason to resort to armed action. Democratic politics is always messy and change comes but slowly.
Consider the famous 40-point charter of demands the Maoists began their insurgency with. These envisaged a Nepal which fully embraced everyone who lives within its territory. Even if there was disagreement on how such a goal was being pursued, there was broad agreement on the righteousness of many of those demands. Even one American ambassador is on record saying, “[I]f you look at the 40 points, I think most sane people would agree with a large percentage of it.”
By my reckoning, only nine out of the 40 have been fully met and a further 10 partially so. Three have been rendered irrelevant by the turn of events since, but a full 18 are nowhere close to being fulfilled. To provide further breakdown, of the nine demands grouped under the heading ‘Concerning Nationality’, nothing has been done on eight. Likewise, regarding those ‘Concerning Livelihood’, a full nine out of 14 are unaddressed. Among the 17 ‘Concerning People’s Democracy’, seven have been fulfilled and six partly, three became redundant and one is not fulfilled. Yet, as a country, we have progressed far beyond anyone could ever have imagined 23 years ago even if we continue to experience hiccups persistently in the roll-out of federalism.
That is no small accomplishment and credit for that goes to Biplab and his fellow comrades, as it does to politicians of all stripes—barring, of course, the retrograde royalists. Instead of revelling in the creation of a New Nepal, albeit somewhat imperfect,and endeavouring to reform it from within the system, we are treated to statements such as this from Biplab: “As we are fighting for no one but the future of the people and the nation, it is our innate right to raise donations.”
Increasingly, at best, Biplab and gang are beginning to look like rebels flailing about trying to find a cause,or, at worst, extortionists masquerading as revolutionaries. Either way, the country loses.