Since 13 February 1996, when the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) launched their ´People´s War´ in the districts of Rolpa and Rukum in the mid-western hills of Nepal, the insurgency has spread to nearly a third of the 75 administrative units of the country. Maoist violence has come as close as to districts adjoining the capital, Kathmandu. Statistics of lives lost during this period varies between about 200 and 2000. However, neither the Maoists nor the government has been able to achieve anything to justify such high casualties. The Maoists are led by two Brahmins Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Comrade Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai. Not much is known about Comrade Prachanda except for his background as a student activist during the late seventies when college campuses in Nepal bristled with foreign agents of all possible hues. But Bhattarai, an alumnus of the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, was a high-profile Kathmandu academician with plum consultancy assignments before he went underground three years ago. He has his family safely tucked away in England while he enunciates his interpretation of Maoist ideology through party-funded newspapers in the capital. For a while, he even had a home page on the internet from his underground hideout when such a facility was more of a rarity. These two gentlemen of priestly class have everything to gain and nothing to lose, not even their reputations, no matter who wins the People´s War.
The government does not appear worried. Contrary to claims, no sophisticated weapons have been recovered from the Maoists from anywhere in the country. The insurgents appear to command little support and even less respect in a society mired in religious orthodoxy and an ingrained fatalism. They also appear to be resource-starved, apparent from actions like looting the wages of workers from a rural road project. On the other hand, the government has almost total control over the carrots amnesty, incentives, offices, opportunities and wields a huge stick in the form of a relatively large police force. Just as the Maoist leadership wants to prolong the confrontation, the government too can afford to wait and test its resilience.
While each side waits for the other to blink, the real losers are the people caught in the crossfire. The secretary general of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist), a minority partner in the government, has claimed that more than 300 people were killed in a recent police operation against Maoists. Development works have come to a standstill in the affected areas. Donor agencies have withdrawn projects, and embassies have issued advisories against travelling in these areas. Even the allocated budgets have remain unused as the local government units had not been formed until recently due to Maoist threats and government employees did all they could do to stay away from their postings in the affected districts.
The money set aside for a special development programme in these impoverished districts for the current fiscal year is a paltry NPR 80 million (USD 1.2 million). But even so, the institutional arrangements to utilise the money are yet to be worked out months after the announcement of the package. The hills continue to burn even as the fire of insurgency has begun to spread to the southern Tarai plains districts adjoining India.
In the aftermath of the much-vaunted police operation, the Maoists appeared to have gone into hibernation and the police had started to gloat over their apparent success.With the onset of winter, however, the insurgency has begun heating up again. Maoists have started their ´Base Area Preparation Campaign´ and the police have struck back with equal ferocity. An escalation is likely.
Meanwhile, the intelligentsia and other elites of Kathmandu Valley are indignant at this disturbance to their merry money-making and blame the government for being insensitive, incompetent and brutal, all in one breath. The national media comments on Maoist-related casualty figures with the nonchalance of reporting cricket scores. The government damages itself as it fights an enemy it cannot see, while Maoists are killed by the score in their quest for a communist republic in an inhospitable social reality. This war, if it can be called one, shall continue to produce losers all around.
The first move in search of solutions has to be made by the government. Local elections, despite limited participation, have been a step in the right direction. Emergency relief measures in the form of small, village-based, labour-intensive development projects need to be initiated without further delay. The offer of amnesty has to be implemented, and implemented in good faith. The police deployed in these areas need to be given special orientation to cope with the dangerous levels of job stress. The government needs to acquire credibility by prosecuting not only Maoists, but also various other offenders who have been getting away with a lot under the guise of being police informers. Awareness levels need to be raised by leaders of political parties visiting the affected villages. These solutions are simple to the point of being simplistic and are unlikely to end the confrontation in a day, but the other option, bullets, is as uncertain a solution.
Maoist cadres need to realise the futility of an armed confrontation in a democracy where politics permits alternative solutions to the permanent problems of society. Their leadership may consist of hounds too old to learn new tricks, but there is simply no escaping the reality that retreating into the jungles after hacking a few ´class enemies´ can never deter an elite steeped in the culture of exploitation.
Going for broke when it´s the establishment that holds all the aces is not heroic, it´s suicide, a moral surrender. Social struggle through political competition to fight the common enemy of poverty, ignorance, unemployment and discrimination is still an op tion that deserves another chance both from the government and the Maoists.