Peace process in Nepal
With the Nepal Army taking control of Nepal People’s Army cantonments on the instructions of the Maoist-led Government, the peace process in Nepal has entered a crucial stage. For the past six years, sharp differences between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) and other political parties, including several communist parties, over the manner and quantum of integration of the former rebels in the national army have been a big stumbling block in taking forward the peace process.
Non-Maoists parties took a firm stand against induction of former rebels in the Nepal Army and insisted that only a section of Maoist combatants against whom there were no serious charge of human rights violations and forcible occupation of public and private properties and extortions should be absorbed in the armed forces. Maoists, on the other hand, pressed hard for induction of its 20,000 combatants, though there are doubts about the actual number of former rebels. Eventually the Maoists had to climb down. A broad consensus was evolved last year about the number of combatants and their qualifications for induction in the army. Verification drive was conducted. About 9700 PLA personnel opted to join the army and more than 7,000 volunteered to “retire” with cash packages. They left the cantonments in mid-February leading to closure of a dozen satellite camps.
A fresh verification drive will now be taken up to offer yet another chance to those who had opted to join the army to accept retirement. The maximum number of combatants to be integrated into the army as per the decision of the all-party Special Committee is 6500. Non-Maoist parties hold that many among those who were persuaded by party leaders to opt for joining the army are no longer interested. A large number of others may be rejected for lack of educational and other qualifications required for joining the army.
Reports in Nepali media suggest that the actual number of rebels who may eventually be integrated into the national army may be less than 5000. Further, combatants admitted to the Army will be placed in a Directorate that is proposed to be set up to deal with industrial security, infrastructure development, forest security and disaster management. Around 65 per cent of the personnel in the Directorate will be Nepal Army soldiers and remaining from among the combatants. It clearly means that the former rebels inducted into the Army would not be put on highly sensitive jobs like internal security and defence of the country. That is a great relief to those who have grave apprehensions about the loyalty to the Government of the former rebels who were indoctrinated in the pernicious Maoist ideology. Nepal Army is a highly professional body that maintains strict discipline and chain of command. It seems to have successfully resisted unreasonable demands of the Maoists to retain its integrity and identity.
Early this month, simmering tensions among Maoist cadres broke out into violent clashes in several cantonments that led to breakdown of chain of command. There were numerous reports of cadres revolting against their commanders, particularly those belonging to communities other than that of the combatants. Many of those who had “retired” and gone to their villages returned to “gherao” the camps and raised slogans against the Maoist leaders. Former rebels leveled grave allegations of corruption and favouritism against the party leaders and commanders. Complaints galore about commanders and party leaders pocketing huge cuts from the salaries and cash payments made to the rebels. A faction of the party led by Mohan Vaidya Kiran blamed Prachanda for “surrender” to the Government in pursuit of power. This faction may have real differences with Parchanda or may be the drama is part of the Maoists’ strategy to keep alive part of its “revolutionary” force in case the party fails to come to power through democratic means. No one can forget that Maoists have not surrendered all their arms and ammunition. There are reports that they are holding back a major chunk of their armaments in secret hide-outs. Widespread violence by cadres forced the Maoists to order an immediate takeover of the cantonments by the Army days ahead of the scheduled action. Not surprisingly, Parchanda admits there was trouble in a few cantonments over resentment among combatants. So far he is concerned, the decision to hand over the cantonments to the army was a “bold step” to hasten the peace process and not a compulsion arising out of the violent protests.
However, it is too early to say that the road ahead is smooth. Several crucial issues remain to be resolved before the Constitution is written. There is so far no consensus on whether to adopt a presidential form of government or a parliamentary system. Several parties are in favour of parliamentary system while some others prefer presidential form of government. Maoists insist on the third way – a President directly elected by the People and a Prime Minister elected by the Parliament. Many apprehend that this may lead to clashes between the persons occupying the two high offices since both can claim to represent the people. Parchanda insists on the third way presumably because of his bitter experience. He made 10 unsuccessful bids to become Prime Minister in the year 2010. Time and again he failed to secure a majority of votes in the Constituent Assembly in which Maoists are the single largest party. When he agreed to make way for his senior party colleague Baburam Bhattarai, the latter won hands down in the same assembly. It is a clear indication of the fall in popularity of the Chairman of the CPI (Maoists). The Comrade should know that his dictatorial tendencies and anti-India bias are major factors operating against him. He is somehow convinced that in a direct election no one can match him because he is the most visible politician in the country. The number of states into which the country is to be organised and federalism are among crucial issues that remain to be settled.
A large section of people of Nepal, particularly those living in the Terai region bordering India, favours the retention of Hindu identity of the nation and warm and close relation with India. The two countries have open borders and have a long tradition of religious and cultural bonds. People of Terai have long-standing grievances against successive regimes about discrimination against them on countless issues like funds for development and power-sharing in politics and services. Medheshi parties have won a fair number of seats from Terai area in the Constituent Assembly. They need to join hands with other democratic parties like the Nepali Congress to forge a united front to prevent the Maoists from dominating the political scene in Nepal. New Delhi needs to be concerned about Parchanda’s mounting ambitions. He is already talking about “serving” the nation for 10 years as President of the Republic after the promulgation of the new Constitution.