Monday, April 23, 2007

Maoists' free run in democracy garb

By Sandhya Jain

Evidence of the growing differences between the Maoists and the original Seven Party Alliance government comes from the decision of Maoist ministers to walk out of the April 18, 2007 Cabinet meeting after Prime Minister Koirala objected to Forest Minister Matrika Yadav questioning the army about its activities in Shivapuri National Park.

Nepal’s ill-conceived and violent democratic “coup” against King Gyanendra appears grimly poised between the devil and the deep sea, with increased political and social instability unavoidable. Already, elections to the proposed new Constituent Assembly have been postponed, and now, Terai parliamentarians are headed for a confrontation with the Maoists on the issue of a fresh census for delineation of constituencies in the Himalayan country. Maoist rebels, it may be recalled, were permitted by Prime Minister G.P. Koirala to enter the interim government without surrendering arms.

The Madhesis (Terai residents) had previously been willing to accept an addition of 28 seats in the Terai districts to accommodate the larger Nepali population based there. But once the decision to postpone elections was announced, 26 Madhesi MPs jointly demanded scrapping of the Electoral Constituency Delineation Commission (ECDC) proposals to increase 28 seats in Terai districts. Led by Shri Bharat Bimal Yadav, vice-president of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP-Anandidevi), the Madhesi leaders want the government to hold a fresh census, following which alone the new constituencies should be delineated afresh.

By present indications, the Madhesi people are gearing up for fresh and prolonged unrest if their demands are not met, warning that the country could be headed for “disintegration” if the ECDC recommendations are implemented in the face of popular opposition. The ECDC headed by former Supreme Court judge Arjun Prasad Singh had proposed the addition of 35 seats in Parliament, 28 in the Terai districts and seven in hilly districts.

It is significant that the demand by the Terai MPs cuts across political affiliations and suggests the deepening of a political fault line with the Maoists led by Prachanda. The MPs include Shri Kailash Nath Kasaudhan and Shri Ajay Kumar Chaurasiya (Nepali Congress), Smt Chitra Lekha Yadav and Mr. Hari Narayan Chaudhary (Nepali Congress-Democratic); Shri Mahendra Prasad Yadav and

Shri Bansidhar Mishra (UML); Shri Hridayash Tripathy and Shri Bharat Bimal Yadav (NSP-Anandidevi); and Shri Ajaya Pratap Shah (Rashtriya Prajatantra Party).

The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), which spearheaded the Terai agitation, claims that the movement was not for a mere re-constitution of Terai or hill constituencies, but for “fully proportional representation-based elections.” Vice president Shri Kishore Kumar Biswas explained that the Terai people did not ask for an Electoral Constituency Delineation Commission (ECDC), and in fact wants it disbanded, as it will only provoke the people. The MJF also wants guarantees of ethnic self-determination rights with the formation of Madhesi autonomous region, and a declaration that Nepal is heading towards a federal democratic republican set-up. The MJF points out that the Maoists continue to be armed, and this was behind the incident of March 21, when 28 Maoist activists were killed by Terai agitators.

Evidence of the growing differences between the Maoists and the original Seven Party Alliance government comes from the decision of Maoist ministers to walk out of the April 18, 2007, Cabinet meeting after Prime Minister Koirala objected to Forest Minister Matrika Yadav questioning the army about its activities in Shivapuri National Park without informing him. Koirala chastised Shri Yadav for his “intemperate” language against the Nepal Army, and added that as Defence Minister, he (Koirala) should have been consulted before any minister spoke to the army. The minister reportedly alleged that the Nepal Army was involved in felling trees and killing wild animals, and when reprimanded, retorted that it was not the Prime Minister but his own party that had made him a minister. The Maoists walked out soon after, when other ministers objected to their demand that they be allowed to make all political appointments under their ministries independently.

The Maoists are also now keen on the resignation of Home Minister Shri K.P. Sitaula, whom they had initially supported when troops fired on Madhesi agitators some months ago. However, since the police raid on the office of the Youth Communist League, they are up in arms against Shri Sitaula.

Prime Minister Koirala has also to deal with the growing evidence that far from disarming their cadres, the Maoists may be trying to increase their revolutionary strength in the run up to the polls later this year. Shri G.P. Koirala’s own daughter and political heir, Sujata Koirala, has already publicly chastised Prachanda for carrying arms.

Meanwhile, Indian entrepreneurs continue to flee Nepal in the wake of extortions and kidnappings master-minded by the Maoist guerillas who continue to have a free run of the country. Prime Minister Koirala has virtually admitted that the eight-point and 12-point agreements between the SPA and Maoists remain paper declarations, and that the Maoist cadres are continuing the practice of extortion and use of force even after joining the interim government. Urging the Maoists to “stop extortion,” Shri Koirala said all parties in the government should abide by the rule of law. In rural Nepal where Maoists practice the gravest extortions, however, the warnings and pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Other leaders have specifically targeted Prachanda’s young wing, the Young Communist League, whose offices were raided recently in search of arms. Calling upon the Maoists to dissolve this body, political leaders have expressed apprehensions that the young wing will be used to “influence” the elections to the Constituent Assembly, whenever they are held. But with Maoists having already joined the interim government without surrendering arms, the accusations are futile. Almost every week, police are called upon to take action against Maoist cadres holding illegal arms and getting involved in shooting incidents. The latest instance involves shooting at Birendra Mandal, an activist of the Nepali Congress (Democratic), at Rajgunj Sinwari, by Maoists Amresh Mehta and Shambhu Sharma. They were caught by local persons and handed over to the authorities—a grim portent of things to come.

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