Like CK Raut, Netra Bikram Chand has been in the news for the past few weeks,but for the wrong reason.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
Two opposite views surfaced immediately after the government signed an 11-point agreement with secessionist leader CK Raut’s outfit, Alliance for Independent Madhes (AIM), on March 8. One view was critical of the agreement. It said that the government had made a mistake by striking a deal with the secessionist leader, without asking him to publicly apologise for what he did in the past and without him publicly committing that he won’t resort to the same activities again. The other view supported the deal, claiming that even though some words in the deal are ambiguous, the government has done the right thing by mainstreaming the secessionist outfit.
Two weeks have shot by since the govt-Raut deal was inked. And now, perhaps, there is no doubt that Raut has shunned the secessionism agenda and embraced mainstream politics.
Raut had for the last six-seven years been making a pitch for “liberating Madhes and Madhesis from the oppressive regime controlled by the hill people”. The Madhesi activist, who has been in and out of jail several times in the past, was last sent behind bars about six months ago. On March 7, the Supreme Court ordered his release.
A day later, he appeared at the City Hall in Kathmandu, sharing the stage with Prime Minister KP Oli. He signed an 11-point deal with the government, expressing his commitment to honour the constitution and the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and dignity. The government, in return, committed to dropping all charges against him and other leaders and cadres of his alliance.
Interestingly, Raut, during his speech on March 8 after signing the deal, did not touch upon the issues surrounding constitutional amendments, which has been a major demand of the other Madhes-based parties such as Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN).
Instead, he appeared to be on the same page with the ruling party leaders. Calls for constitution amendment have not died down in Madhes. But Raut was talking about ‘prosperous Nepal, happy Nepalis’, which is a slogan oft-repeated by Oli.
Some analysts claim that the government used three tactics in Raut’s case - threat, tempt and co-opt – and that they worked.
“The whole episode is nothing but a government-orchestrated drama in an attempt to create a third force in Madhes,” says Bijay Kant Lal Karna, a professor of political science and former ambassador, “By propping up Raut, this government wants to negate the two existing Madhes-based forces - RJPN and FSFN.”
Perhaps because some words in the govt-Raut deal were left deliberately ambiguous, especially in point 2 of the deal, there has been some confusion.
Point 2 of the deal reads – “…we are committed towards moving forward in a peaceful manner and through democratic means to achieve our political, social and economic goals.” There is no problem with this. But the next sentence says - “We have agreed. By using the sovereign rights of the people granted by the constitution, to resolve dissatisfactions seen in Tarai Madhes and other parts of the country through a democratic process based on Janaabhimat.”
The interpretation of ‘Janaabhimat’ which loosely means ‘People’s verdict’ or ‘people’s mandate’ falls into the problematic area. While the government interpreted Janaabhimat as regular elections, Raut supporters interpreted it as a referendum.
It would be disingenuous to stretch the meaning of Janaabhimat that far as Raut himself, 10 days after signing the 11-point deal, announced at the national council meeting of AIM in Lahan, to have formed a political party named Janamat Party, which, he said, would contest elections! Also, reportedly, Nepal’s national anthem was played at the start of that meeting and the participants were asked to produce their Nepali citizenship certificates to enter the programme venue!
Secessionism is truly dead in Nepal.
But everything is not alright. Like CK Raut, Netra Bikram Chand has been in the news for the past few weeks, but for the wrong reason. After declaring an all-out ban on all activities of Chand-led Nepal Communist Party, a Maoist splinter group which shares the ruling party’s name, on March 12, the government has launched an aggressive crack down on Chand’s outfit. Dozens of Chand’s cadres including his party’s regional in-charges, have been arrested since the ban.
The government seems to be determined to continue its aggression against Chand and his party. Only on March 24, Prime Minister KP Oli issued a stern warning to the outfit. Addressing the federal parliament, the prime minister said the government has already started action against the Biplav group and that there was no turning back. Chand is often known by his nom de guerre of Biplav.
“We tried to convince them several times but they kept on carrying out criminal activities. The government will control those activities. There is no chance of backtracking on the decision,” Oli said, urging the group to surrender its arms. “If they do not surrender their arms and weapons,” the prime minister warned, “the government knows how to get hold of those weapons.”
Chand was a key leader in the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Maoist party which waged the decade long insurgency against the state from 1996 to 2006 when in agreed to a peace process and gradually joined mainstream politics. But Chand had left Dahal in 2012 and sided with Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa, the current home minister. In 2014, Chand deserted Baidya and Thapa and formed the Communist Party of Nepal to start what he calls a “unified revolution”. The current crackdown against Chand, however, comes at the behest of Thapa, who in 2016 re-joined Dahal and went on to become the home minister of the current government.
Security officials believes that the arrest of top leaders of his party has put Chand in a fix - whether to lay down the arms and join dialogue with the government or launch a counter attack.
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. 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. In fact, the Nepali people are not ready to accept communist extremism. Nor do they want to go through a ‘People’s War II’.