Sunday, November 28, 2010

Comments on Nepal maoists' Palungtar extended plenum

Here is an op-ed piece: Linky

The Maoist position, no doubt, will prove crucial on how the peace process, already in peril, will move now on. All eyes are trained on the internal deliberation at the Palungtar plenum for its impact on the larger process. At the time of writing on Friday, it wasn’t clear whether the plenum would come up with a clear-cut position on some contentious issues which have divided the parties and indeed the Maoist party itself. Instead of a long-term strategy, the party came up with an interim plan to continue to engage in the current peace process but with preparations for an “urban revolt”. One issue that has been closely followed inside and outside the party has been how the party will define its relationship with India. Already, the hardliners consider the southern neighbour their principal enemy; for pragmatists like Baburam Bhattarai, it’s the internal forces.

Odd that it may sound to those outside, it is important for the party to define its enemy. Once that is identified, the party builds up its political rhetoric to energise its large cadre base. To keep its revolutionary fervour, identifying an enemy is therefore an integral element in its internal cohesion. This is where the party has had a difficult time in the past year, which has seen its relations with India deteriorate. Maoist leaders openly acknowledge India considers the party “hostile” to Indian interests and therefore would go to great lengths to marginalise them. So the big challenge before the Maoist leadership (read Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal) is to maintain the revolutionary zeal and yet not alienate India—a tall order.

Already, Vice Chairmen Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya seem to be at odds as to how they want to view their relations with India. The Baidya faction wants to declare India as the principal enemy; Bhattarai insists the devil lies within. Not surprisingly, Dahal is once again on the fence. He sees India’s role as problematic, yet wants to peacefully engage with India, while all the time drumming up support for ‘national independence.’ Dahal’s multiplicity is partly a product of having to accommodate various strains within a party which is in dire need to go through an ideological evolution. For now, the Chairman should be fully cognisant of the danger a clear-cut decision on the issue of enemy poses on party unity and his ability to steer the party in a direction he perceives to be safe. So his approach: convince his comrades for an interim strategy. “That will be a battle won for Dahal, though the war still remains,” says a senior party leader.

The strategy will be valid for six months or until May 28, the deadline for the promulgation of the constitution. The interim strategy will push for completion of the peace and constitution drafting processes within the given timeframe, but with adequate preparations for an ‘urban revolt’ should the processes fail. “Leaders will engage in peace and constitution writing processes, while cadres will protest and agitate against the conspiracy of regressive forces,” Standing Committee member and Maoist military in-charge Barshaman Pun, an aide of Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, says. Dahal, in an interview with The Post on Tuesday, said the Maoists would adopt a flexible strategy to end the current political deadlock.

Now that he seems to have gained the confidence of his deputies for the interim period by accommodating the ideological line of both Baidya and Bhattarai, he may have a much freer hand in dealing with other parties. This has bought him much needed time to consolidate his hold on the party. The six month interim strategy that is likely to endorse Dahal’s plans will be a gamble for him. The full party support gives him room to manoeuvre in making concessions as other parties have demanded—especially a detachment of the party from combatants and a decision on number and modality of PLA integration and rehabilitation. But an interim strategy isn’t without pitfalls. If he succeeds in completing the peace process and delivering a constitution, it will only reinforce his credentials within the party—silencing his dissidents. But if he fails it will only invite questions about his leadership—emboldening his deputies.

For now Dahal seems to have prevailed, but much hinges on his ability to deliver on integration and statute drafting. Even if the Chairman seems to have won this battle, he will have to use all the weapons in his arsenal before he restores his early aura as the party’s uncontested leader.

This is what the three leaders had to say about India

Pushpa Kamal Dahal: The Maoists will adopt two strategies simultaneously—taking to the streets to protest Indian interference while making efforts to hold dialogues with the Indian political leadership. There are two perspectives (Bhattarai’s and Baidya’s) about India—surrendering to it or directly fighting a war. We have always protested Indian interference but we continue to hold dialogues with India and maintain cordial diplomatic relations. We do not want a war with India. However, we will launch a movement of national independence.

Baburam Bhattarai: Nepal is at a very sensitive geo-strategic position, being sandwiched between India and China. In changing global dynamics, even the US—being a global superpower—claims its interest in this part of the region. That way, there is a triangular contention between China, India and the US. Nepal should conduct its foreign policy in such a way that we maintain a balanced relationship with all these powers and maintain our sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. This is a very challenging task. If we cannot take international powers into confidence, we could invite trouble for ourselves. There is a continuous colonial suppression by India since the Sugauli treaty. It would not be wise to fight directly with India, though. We have to first defeat internal regressive forces backed by India. (A direct fight with India) would be counter-productive.

Mohan Baidya: Indian interference in Nepali politics has sharply increased in recent days due to which there has been a delay in forming a government, which has derailed the peace process. Bhattarai leans towards a reformist agenda and surrendering to Indian powers. India is a principal enemy of the party, for which it should bring a programme to curtail Indian interference. Bhattarai has stated that struggle with India is the secondary part (of our revolution); however, I think struggle with India is the primary factor. There should be a movement of national independence. However, this movement will largely be peaceful.

Reactions from other parties: Linky

Former finance minister Prakash Chandra Lohani, whose Rastriya Janashakti Party is an ally of caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, said Prachanda’s effort to brand India as the “arch enemy” stemmed from the former guerrillas’ chagrin at being unable to return to power through the prime ministerial election, which they had to quit following a vote-buying scandal. The Nepali Congress, the largest party in the ruling alliance, said it was a bid to stoke a cold war between New Delhi and Kathmandu. Arjun Narsingh KC, spokesman of the party, counter-charged the Maoists with violating the peace accord they had signed four years ago by making their guerrilla fighters, whom they were to have discharged in 2006, take part in the ongoing sixth plenum of the party that will decide its future strategy. Former tourism minister Pradeep Gyawali, who belongs to the prime minister’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, said Prachanda was trying to whip up anti-India sentiments to use it as a bargaining tool to be able to return to power. Gyawali also predicted that the Maoist plenum would not endorse Prachanda’s call to prepare for a revolt and a subsequent armed war with India.

My comments:
1) First of all, the three-way ideological split in the maoist leadership is in itself a cause for attention. While this split is not like a major surprise, the level of lethality of language is indeed very reminescent of how a Proletariat revolution reaches its first crisis stage. Indeed, both Prachanda and Mohan Baidya Kiran call Baburam Bhattarai's point as "surrendering to India." The rhetorical flourish should surprise noone as this is the very language that is the currency of a red debate.
2) Second, While Mohan Baidya Kiran's opposite extreme is understandable, Prachanda is trying to play the neutral custodian to the cadre in this matter. Using this as a leverage, he supports a two-fold strategy: i) using the maoists rank and file to attack diplomats such as Rakesh Sood as happened in Solukhumbu, in the MRP saga, and in the Kantipur newsprint saga to make the South Block babus talk to him, and ii) talking to the babus in the backchannel. In fact, Prachanda has met with Rakesh Sood 71 (!) times in the last nine months alone. How can Prachanda explain (logically!) to anyone why he is parleying with someone he brands as holding his "national independence"?
3) Third, it is interesting that Prachanda recognizes the need to deliberate with NC and CPN(ML) while Mohan Baidya Kiran suggests linking up with the maoists in India. This at a time when the Indian embassy has made some serious accusations of Nepalese meddling in the Indian red corridor should be a serious red-flag at a raging bull. While not much is expected on the Solukhumbu incident from the Caretaker government, one brownie point against Prachanda when he will come to visit Sood again will be the draft document of Mohan Baidya Kiran.
4) By bringing in Sugauli, Baburam Bhattarai is playing to the gallery as Sugauli, Kalapani and Teesta-related issues are the pet-peeves of hardline academics such as Dr. Bhattarai. For a historical overview, the Treaty of Sugauli was signed in 1816 after the 1814-1816 Anglo-Nepalese war, where some parts of the Nepali Kingdom were ceded (especially territories in the Terai region, Himachal and Sikkim) to the British, in exchange for Nepalese autonomy. The oft-heard Nepalese complaint that is that the Sugauli treaty has become null and void since Indian independence and the Indo-Nepalese Friendship Treaty of 1950 and thus the ceded territories should be returned.

There are two lines of response (firmly within the realms of international jurisprudence) to this Nepalese position.
a) Regarding Sikkim, the Kingdom of Sikkim was no friends of Nepal pre-1814. In fact, the British entered the picture as a "mediator" on behalf of Sikkim. After the Sugauli treaty, territories taken over by the Nepalese in what was then Sikkim were restored to Sikkim. Meanwhile, as the British left India in 1947, the referendum in Sikkim decided not to merge with India at that stage. Thus, other than being an Indian Protectorate, which was the role of the Crown in British India, India did not usurp any Nepalese territory. In other words, the Chogyal of Sikkim sua sponte pleaded with the Dominion of India to take over the position held by the Crown. As the Chogyal turned out to be unpopular and a popular call by the Nepalese in Sikkim (no less!) to merge with the Indian Union led to a referendum to that effect in 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state within the Indian Union. The Nepalese in Sikkim did not seek to merge with Nepal, but with India. This was validated by the referendum where >97% of the voting population with a >59% turn-out voted for merging with India. Nepal has no locus standi on Sikkim.

b) Regarding the Terai region, some point are in order. i) The Unification Process led by the Shah kings from 1769 and up had led to an almost doubling in size from 1792 to 1810. Thus, while Nepal wants lands ceded in such imperial campaigns on the Terai to be restored, they would not however deem illegal acts such as extending the Kingdom from the tiny Gorkha principality all the way to the Kathmandu Valley and beyond. Why is the cut-off date for India-Nepal relations determined to be 1816 and not before that? ii) The support of Nepali kings to the British during the Indian War of Independence of 1857 saw some territories ceded in Sugauli to be restored to them by the Treaty signed on November 1, 1860. These illegal handing overs by the British have to come under question because the Government of India was not a party to the handing over of the then de jure British Indian territories by a colonial power. As the British left India, paramountcy was transferred to the two new Dominions of India and Pakistan and as the successor state of the British in territory contiguous with Nepal, India has been parties to both the transactions of 1816 and 1860. One Treaty cannot be ignored while the other dealt with simultaneously. iii) The British Government kept the Nepal-India border open primarily for two purposes. The first was to maintain unrestricted migration of the Nepalese hill people to India and to procure them for recruitment in the Indian army. Recruitment of the Nepalese in the British army was very difficult up to the period of Prime Minister Ranodip Singh, because the Government of Nepal was in principle against the recruitment of its people in a foreign army. The clandestine and secret operations adopted by the British to get Nepal hill people in the Indian army were disliked by the Nepalese government which took strong measures to discourage the practice. Some of the Gorkhas serving in the Indian army on their return home on leave were even put to death and the property of those serving the Indian army was confiscated. Sensing the harassment meted to families of the Gorkhas in the Indian army by the Nepalese government and to make the recruitment easier, the British Government encouraged migration of the Gorkhas from Nepal with their families and established Gorkha settlements in the hills of India, such as Bhagsu, Bakloh, Almora, Darjeeling, Deharadun, Shillong, etc. It was only during the period of Prime Minister Bir Shumsher that the Nepalese government freely allowed enlistment of Nepalese in the Indian army. If Sugauli has to be nullified, then all the acts of migration of Nepalese in de jure Indian territories as of today have to be nullified. In short, if the Nepalese position is that one colonial act has to be undone, then all colonial acts have to be undone. There cannot be a myopic viewing of one act while other acts of omission and commission pass under the radar. Summum ius dictates that a package deal within the bounds of commonsense can be achieved. The Indo-Nepalese Friendship Treaty achieves this in spirit and letter. While the academic body politic of Nepal disagrees with the Treaty, India empathizes with this sentiment and would accede to a rewriting of this Treaty. But as stated above, commonsense dictates that keeping one favorable term within the Treaty such as free and limitless entry of Nepalese into India, but not allowing equal residential rights for Indians in Nepal, while reneging on other unfavorable terms need to be revisited.

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