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Prachanda: From radical Maoist to lovable mascot

By B Raman
April 29, 2008 15:20 IST
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Since 2005, Prachanda, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has become a lovable mascot of India's liberal elite. They see nothing but positive in him. His pre-2005 record has been forgotten -- the brutal massacre of innocent civilians in different parts of Nepal by the well-trained, well-armed and well-motivated insurgent army raised by him, his contacts with the Shining Path guerillas of Peru, his role in helping the Maoists in India, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, his fulminations against India, particularly against the Indian Army, his devotion to Mao Zedong's thoughts, his raising of his insurgent army with the clandestine support of the royal family in order to use it against India, his turning the insurgents against the monarchy after having benefited from its largesse.

For the elite, he has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. From a Maoist, he has become a Dengist -- for whom pragmatism and not ideological rigidity guides policy-making. His fulminations against India have stopped. He has embarked on a charm offensive directed at India and its elite. His supporters from the Indian elite welcomed him with open arms and took him round the corridors of power and the labyrinth of think-tanks in Delhi. They all hailed the born-again democrat, who wants nothing but genuine democracy in Nepal.

He made it apparent in many of his statements in Nepal that he would not consider democracy as genuine unless it enabled him to become the President of a republican Nepal, but that did not sound a jarring note in New Delhi. The desire to encourage his seeming metamorphosis became the driving force of policy-making and the negative comments emanating from him from time to time were overlooked.

Anybody, who drew attention to his pre-2005 past and urged caution in assessing him and his metamorphosis, was frowned upon and even abused.

Welcoming an insurgent movement into the political mainstream and integrating it in the mainstream is a delicate process, which has to be handled carefully and gradually so that in our over-eagerness to achieve integration, we do not make the problem worse. We have a good record of managing the process of integration. We did so successfully with the so-called Naga Federal Government when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister in the 1970s and with the Mizo National Front under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s.

Indonesia has recently embarked successfully on a similar exercise for the integration of the Free Aceh Movement.

Many issues came up during the long negotiations with the NFG and the MNF-- such as, their giving up the use of violence and accepting the Constitution of the country, the government accepting their legitimate demands relating to greater political and economic role, the rehabilitation of their armed cadres after they surrender their weapons and their participation in the elections.

Their participation in the elections, winning them and taking over power as part of an over-all peace settlement already arrived at before the elections came as the culminating stage of the process. Till that stage, negotiations were held between the government and the insurgent leaders. The insurgent leaders were the negotiators of the process and not the decision-makers. The ground rules for the integration were decided upon by the policy-makers of the government on the basis of the negotiations with the insurgent leaders, who had no role in finalising the ground rules and in implementing them.

The most difficult stage of the exercise is the integration and rehabilitation of the armed cadres as part of the process. All insurgent organisations demand that their armed cadres be integrated into the army or at least the security forces. We did not agree to integrate them into the armed forces, but the army was encouraged to make recruitment in the civil societies of the affected states to convince the people that they had been accepted without any mental reservations as part of the national mainstream.

Eligible cadres of the insurgent organisations, who were not involved in murders or assassinations, were inducted into the local police and central police organisations. All decision-making was in the hands of the government till the culminating stage.

In Nepal, the reverse has happened. Taking advantage of the popular uprising of 2006 against the widely-detested King, the Maoists entered the coalition government, which replaced a government of royal stooges, and started dictating terms as to how the integration should take place. They became one of the policy-makers to decide on the process of integration. The integration is taking place not on the basis of negotiations between the government and the insurgents, but in response to diktats issued from time to time by the Maoists in return for their continued participation in the government. They kept giving discreet threats that if their diktats are rejected, they might quit the government and revert to insurgency.

The holding of the elections to the Constituent Assembly before the ground rules for integration were agreed upon and the victory of the Maoists in the elections -- significant, but not spectacular as projected by sections of the media -- have led to a situation where the Maoists will be at the head of a government which will take crucial decisions on the post-facto legitimisation of the terrorist infrastructure raised by the Maoists and on the ground rules for the integration of their ideologically motivated and well-trained cadres. The moment the Maoists assume leadership in the seats of power and decision-making, will it be possible to resist their demands?

If the integration of over 3,000 ideologically indoctrinated cadres of the insurgent army into the Nepal Army comes about, we will have to the west of us an army ideologically motivated by jihadi doctrines and to the east of us an army ideologically motivated by Marxism, Leninism and Mao's thoughts.

There are two possible scenarios -- these fears turn out to be baseless and Prachanda turns out to be a genuine democrat and a genuine friend of India or Prachanda after the elections turns out to be different from Prachanda before the elections and takes Nepal on a road, which would be detrimental to our national interests. While hoping for the first scenario, we must be prepared for the second.

Highlighting stark realities is not an act of blasphemy. It is an important component of threat analysis.

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B Raman