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Nepal and the Maoist Rebels

Shanet Clark

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Deuba and Koirala, The Nepali Congress Party Factional Split

( DS CLARK 2002) The Nepali government is fragmenting and facing a serious constitutional crisis due to the deep divisions between the Congress Party Chief and President of Nepal Girija Prasad Koirala and the elected Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. The Maoist insurrection has laid a heavy burden on the already overstretched resources of the Himalayan Kingdom’s government. The fight over the proper response to the civil war can only benefit the Maoists along with the somewhat more moderate communist cadres in opposition in the (now dissolved) Parliament.

The Maoist low intensity guerrilla war is now in its seventh year, and debate over the proper response has fragmented the ruling Congress Party. Prime Minister Deuba, who came to power on a platform of moderate mediation with the Maoists, has adopted a hard line. He has extended Emergency Rule beyond the constitutionally allowed one-year period, he has dissolved the Parliament and he has called for new elections. In response his own party has ousted him from the party.

In May of 2002, Deuba became the first Nepali head of government to ever meet with the U.S. President in the White House. The Bush Administration, stressing Nepal’s role in the global war on terrorism, gave Deuba $20 million for helicopters and other military assistance to deal with the Maoist insurrection. Immediately upon his return to Nepal, Deuba precipitously dissolved the Parliament in an unannounced midnight move, and by extending the Emergency Rule decree beyond constitutional time limits has basically began a dictatorship with martial law -- although elections are scheduled for November. Issues leading up to the Congress Party rupture include previous personal and political conflicts between PM Deuba and the former PM and Congress Party leader Koirala. Deuba’s efforts to transfer parts of the Civil Police into the National Investigation Department was also a factor in the May dissolution, as Deuba faced strong opposition to his plan to federalize local police.

On May 22 the Congress Party suspended Deuba from all party posts. The Party accused him of dissolving the Parliament when elections were impossible--due to the unsettled rural situation especially in the southern and western areas of Nepal. The insurrection is centered in West Nepal and has caused over 4,600 fatal casualties since erupting in 1996.

The party decision to oppose Deuba on emergency rule was based on his failure to observe party directives to stop “excesses and corruption and the failure (of Deuba) to start a reform program” within the government of Nepal. In 2001 Koirala was Prime Minister, but stepped down after failing to militarily end the Maoist insurrection. Koirala’s abdication of ministerial supremacy was also influenced by the mass murder of the royal family by the Crown Prince in 2001. Deuba took power as a moderate conciliator, but his position on the issue in opposition diverged sharply from his position once elevated into the Prime Minister slot. Congress Party spokesman KC Arjun Narsingh said that Prime Minister Deuba “has become a pawn of an ultra-rightist conspiracy.” A socialist leader in the now dissolved Parliament calls Deuba’s actions “an intentional conspiracy to avoid constitutional blockades so as to lead the country towards a dictatorial regime.”

Former Prime Minister and Congress Party chief Koirala has called for Deuba to resign, an improbable eventuality. Three ministers of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) have resigned in protest, but thirty-four members of the Council remain in support of the Deuba government (and so stay in power themselves). The Army leadership says the party split demoralizes the troops and plays into the hands of the Maoists.

In late May very personal derogatory comments by Deuba about Koirala worsened the split in the ruling Congress Party. Apparently Deuba called Koirala a terrorist, and both have been criticized for displaying rash “intransigence” instead of “magnanimity.”

In June Deuba issued an official appeal to the Nepali Congress party to revoke his expulsion from the party.

Koirala raised tensions to very high levels by going to India to build support for the ouster of Deuba. Koirala’s diplomatic flight direct from China to India raised suspicions of external interference in traditionally isolationist Nepal.

While some would point to possible Chinese backing of the Maoists, which is possible, Saubhagya Shah of Harvard University says that India has a history of sponsoring opposition movements in Nepal, and Shah insists that India supports the Maoists secretly for their own, Indian, purposes. Other academics believe that Indian lack of interest in providing resources for the defense of Nepal is simply a function of the tight Indian budget and domestic concerns. Koirala flights into China and India did little to clear up these questions.

In mid-June Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, the founder of the Nepali Congress Party, attempted to mediate and called on Koirala and the Congress Party to lift the ban on Prime Minister Deuba, but was unsuccessful in the call for Party unity.

In an unusual appearance before the Nepal Supreme Court, the Speaker of the (dissolved) lower house of Parliament claimed that Deuba did not have absolute power to dissolve the house and had acted arbitrarily. Court reports show the Supreme Court then entertained motions concerning the behavior of Deuba in 1994 when he had protested Koirala’s sudden dissolution of Parliament. The court invoked the doctrine of “estoppel” which says that one cannot make an argument in one case and then the opposite argument when in a reversed situation. Party Chief Koirala had dissolved Parliament himself with less of a crisis motivating him in 1994, which points to the present struggle being one of personal power rather than a strict constitutional dispute. Deuba in 1994 had argued against the similar dissolution and this has now come back to haunt him -- as the pressure builds up in the courts to order a return to a non-emergency, parliamentary rule of law.

In late June Koirala stated that Deuba could return to the Congress Party in good standing, if he would resign the Prime Minister position. Needless to say, this overture failed. Concerning such tactics, media reports paint Koirala as a weak and vacillating older man, manipulated by his hard-core cadre of advisers and family fixers. The group does not have a consensus and Koirala often seems to oscillate depending on the arcane ascendancies within this personal circle.

Last year Koirala’s program of heavy military action against the Maoist terrorist actions failed and he stepped down to allow the more moderate Deuba to attempt mediation. Instead Deuba stepped up the military force reaction and Koirala now claims to be the more moderate peace-loving figure. Historically, journalists indicate that the Nepali Congress Party is united in opposition and divided when in power. A deep-seated clash of egos and even hatred is how the Koirala –Deuba relationship is described.

This same kind of personal split within the ranks of the Nepali Congress Party was responsible for the fall of the Congress Party in 1994, when the country was ruled by the largest of the nine leftist parties in Parliament, the Communist Party Nepal, (United Marxist Leninist). This made Nepal the site of the historic event of the first communist government coming to power in a monarchical country. In expectation of a similar win in the upcoming November elections (if they are held) the two largest communist parties, the CPN (UML) and the CPN (ML) have combined together.

The left, however, is split into factions to a degree worse than the Congress Party. Nine squabbling leftist parties sat in the dissolved house. The registered parties of the communist left are the CPN-UML, CPN-United, the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, the CPN-Marxist, Leninist, Maoist; the CPN-Unity Center, UPF United People’s Front, CPN-Mashal; CPN-Marxist and the National People’s Front. This does not include the Maoists, who are outlawed revolutionary insurgency party. These parties will probably be able to take a majority and form some kind of coalition if the Congress Party remains bifurcated. Nepal has also been ruled by coalitions of Congress plus CPN parties and this is again a possible outcome. The November elections may not be held under Deuba’s emergency rule regime, or they may be seriously flawed in turnout, legitimacy or counting.

In late July, the Congress Party continued to expel cabinet ministers from the Party, deepening the split, while the infant Congress (Deuba) Party expelled many Koirala supporters, including the state General Secretary. They are now fighting over such issues as who gets to use the Party flag, logo and symbols. These Election Commission meetings are apparently co-chaired by Prime Minister Deuba and a Koirala Party loyalist, so they are not very productive capital proceedings.

Institutional and structural factors play a leading part in this drama, as the leader of the party; Koirala is a different individual from the party’s head of government, Deuba. Koirala runs the party and commands the discipline of the Congress party members in the (now dissolved) Parliament, while the Prime Minister Deuba controls the Cabinet, Army and executive. Bhattarai and the King have institutional power as well, further complicating the decaying situation.

Nepal government at this time is in the hands of Deuba, who will remain in power upon his own terms. He has promised November elections, but a continued state of emergency is likely. One possible scenario would have Bhattarai, Koirala and the King, or any two, or possibly one of these, urge a coup on the military leadership, but this would not happen until elections were suspended or if the new government to be elected is not allowed to form by Deuba. Needless to say, a poor and notoriously corrupt isolationist monarchy with a thriving communist movement is not benefited by this rancorous personal split in the principle bourgeois party.

The Kathmandu Post

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