With the dissolution of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA), many people thought Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had successfully tackled the most complex issue of the peace process and led the party to the political mainstream. Last April, he deployed the Nepal Army to disband the PLA in a humiliating manner and accepted the recruitment of a few hundred combatants into the army as a face-saver. With that move, he sufficiently addressed the criteria set by the international and domestic actors to become a “civilian party”, and allayed the widespread fears of the Maoist design to capture state power through violent means.
The question, however, is: Has Dahal been relieved of his responsibilities to the combatants who sacrificed themselves for his political career? If Dahal believes he has left his past behind and can disassociate himself from all that, he is naive.
A cunning politician, Dahal realized the limitation of the protracted ‘people’s war’ leading to a state capture, and began to look for alternatives to ascend to power. The failure of the second Khara attack (2002) was a turning point for the Maoist party. It was a massive offensive on the Nepal Army base camp and Dahal himself, for the first time, had observed it from a nearby village. Unfortunately, his first direct command of a military attack also became his last one. The abortive attempt on the army dented his confidence and ‘forced’ him to jettison his revolutionary zeal altogether. He began to look for other ways to ensure his party’s entry into mainstream parliamentary politics. Thus, the PLA, which had been the backbone of the party, became redundant.
It is not that the combatants were unfamiliar with the political dishonesty of Dahal, but they were just helpless. Their request to not be used as bargaining chips for power only fell on deaf ears. And finally, the seven-point deal (between the four main political forces on Nov.2, 2011 on integration) made it clear to the combatants that they had been duped into the war not for revolution, but to advance Dahal’s political career.
It was painful for them to realize they were being abandoned after spending years in the cantonments under sub-human conditions. The humiliation they faced and the cruel deception of the party remain an untold story. And yes, it was Dahal who was responsible. However, what cannot be denied is this issue will continue to be a headache for Dahal and his party. Here’s why.
First, the former rebel leader has lost his credibility not only among the cadres, but also among the combatants. The combatants now have no doubts about the dual character of Dahal, who says one thing, but does just the opposite. He is widely perceived as one of the greatest manipulators the country has ever seen. So much so that even if speaks the truth, most combatants and cadres don’t believe him.
The corollary is that a majority of combatants have severed their ties with Dahal. They rebelled in the final hours of their time at the cantonments; the chain of command broke down. Fortunately the army took charge of the cantonments and weapons containers, and the PLA gave in. But it also exposed Dahal further. And it wasn’t just the financial irregularities at the cantonments, and not even their wasted youthful years in the war, but his move to send the army to the cantonments that set most of the combatants against Dahal, and he is now widely known as a great betrayer.
In fact, Dahal continued with this deceit. After entering the cantonments, the combatants were told that the integration process would begin only after the formulation of the national security policy, which would fix the numerical strength of the national army. The two armies would be merged into after democratization of the Nepal Army and the professionalization of the PLA. They were also assured that the PLA will be in charge of the Nepal Army given their roles in the political change in Nepal.
Similarly, they were told that the integration will be done on unit-wise basis and they would be a combative force. Without these conditions being met, Dahal argued, the integration would amount to surrender. He also assured them that their latest education qualifications would be taken into account during the integration process, though the seven point agreement clearly states that the education levels they had while joining the PLA will be taken into account.
Dahal knew that even the number of SLC graduates (much less those with university degrees) to join the PLA was very low. It was Dahal himself who had told them that they did not need bourgeois education and that they will be awarded certificates that will have a ‘greater value’ than PhD degrees. They were ready to die for the party once they received orders from Dahal. But now, things are totally different.
The author is with Republica’s political bureau and covers the Maoist beat. The second part of this article will be published on Monday