Four months after ban on its activities, Chand outfit yet to join talksGovernment officials do not rule out violent actions, as security analysts say the approach to dealing with the party is faulty
Days after the KP Sharma Oli administration announced a ban on activities of the Communist Party of Nepal, led by Netra Bikram Chand, the prime minister claimed that the “criminal outfit” and “pseudo communists” would be brought to the political mainstream “within a month.”
Police have since made a series of arrests — around 500 Chand outfit leaders and cadres have been arrested so far — but the party is yet to join talks. Nor has it shown signs of renouncing its violent activities.
Last month, multiple explosions in the Capital, in which four Chand cadres were killed, came as a grim reminder of the days from the armed insurgency waged by the Maoist party, which Chand belonged to until 2012.
Last week, the police administration sent reinforcements to Chheskam village in Mahakulung of Solukhumbu district after reports of movements of armed groups. The incident had left high-level officials in Kathmandu scrambling for a strategy.
Government officials, however, said the Chand outfit would come to talks soon.
“Maybe they want to show their strength before coming to the negotiating table,” Indrajit Rai, security adviser to Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, told the Post. “They could carry out some explosions in city areas and target some VIPs. But we are prepared to tackle them.”
The explosions in the Capital, which police said were accidental as cooking gas cylinders that were being rigged as explosives went off suddenly, however, had exposed the state’s intelligence apparatus, which had prompted Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa to make angry statements against the Chand outfit.
Thapa had called those killed “not citizens”, inviting sharp criticism from the main opposition. He even told Parliament that the Chand outfit had formed its own army and that it already had “four companies”.
A Communist Party of Nepal leader refused to reveal the party’s military structure but said they have developed “enough strength to retaliate if the situation arises”.
As part of their campaign to consolidate strength, the party has, according to its leaders, started “patrolling” rural areas in groups of armed people. The Solukhumbu incident was one of them, as locals had reported movements of armed groups.
The party, however, had refuted claims that they were planning to attack a police post as rumours.
In a statement, party spokesperson Khadga Bahadur Bishwokarma, who had been arrested and released several times over months, said that reports that the Communist Party of Nepal was planning to attack a police post were baseless. He called it “fake news” planted by the government.
Such incidents, however, have instilled fear in the people.
“Our focus, for now, would be to attack the corrupt, black marketeers and government’s policies in coordination with like-minded parties,” Gunaraj Lohani, a central member of the Communist Party of Nepal, told the Post over the phone from an undisclosed location. “We have no plans to attack security forces.”
The government had decided to ban Chand party’s activities after a blast in Nakkhu, Lalitpur in February killed one person and injured two others. Two weeks later, the party carried out another blast in the Basundhara area of the Capital.
Since branding the Chand party’s activities as criminal, the government seems to have taken a two-pronged approach — invite the outfit for talks while continuing the crackdown.
But security experts say the approach is faulty. On top of that, Thapa’s statement in Parliament did more harm than good as it dented the confidence of the security forces, they said.
“If the statement of home minister was true, it proves the failure of the government both on political and security fronts,” said Geja Sharma Wagle, a security expert. “How can the home minister say that the Valley is under threat without convincing Parliament about the government’s strategy to tackle it,” he added.
But government officials have defended their move, saying that the decision to ban the illegal activities of the outfit has saved many lives, as the recent deaths of the party’s own cadres indicate that they could have carried out several such blasts.
“If the government had not imposed a ban on its activities, they could have unleashed more terror,” said Rai.
But terror did continue when there were multiple blasts in the Capital and movements of armed groups were reported in the eastern hill districts.
“The government must deal with the outfit politically,” said Binoj Basnyat, a retired Nepal Army major general.
The government has also entrusted a group of leaders with the task of holding dialogue with Chand.
Though the Communist Party of Nepal has not ruled out dialogue, it has its own set of demands, which it wants to be met as the precondition for talks.
Earlier, the party had accused the government of undermining it by forming a talks team under the leadership of a former minister and refused to talk to the Som Prasad Pande-led team, saying that it did not send a formal invite.
Asked whether the government is taking the Chand outfit too lightly, Rai, the security adviser to the home minister, said, “We are not undermining them; we are prepared to control any untoward incident.”
Some leaders from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) say Chand has demanded a “respectable position” in the Secretariat besides portfolios in the government for which he wants to talk to the co-chairs — Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
“Chand wanted to talk directly to Dahal and Oli, which is not possible,” Rai told the Post.
Most of the ruling party leaders are also learnt to have been pushing for a dialogue with the Chand outfit.
“The party has sent messages to the Chand group saying that the government is ready for talks if they are ready to shun violence,” said Devendra Poudel, a standing committee member of the NCP.
But the internal power play in the ruling party also could be crucial, some leaders say.
According to a leader who did not want to be named citing the sensitivity of the matter, a section of leaders in the ruling party does not want talks with Chand if he comes up with his preconditions — role in the Secretariat and portfolios in the government — because they fear it could undermine their own prospects.
Security experts, however, say the government should make prudent moves urgently rather than engaging in political propaganda.
“The government has neither been able to control the Chand outfit’s activities nor has it been able to bring it to the negotiating table,” said Wagle. “Failure on both the fronts shows that the government’s policy and strategy are faulty.”