In Rolpa, where the ‘people’s war’ originated, I met the PLA personnel who joined the war as members of Ladaku Dal during the war’s initial phase. Cantoned in Dahaban, the combatants think they were duped into sacrificing their happiness to build the political career of Dahal.
“By joining the war, we neglected the future of our three generations: ours, our parents’ and our children’s. And that was for the political careers of a few leaders,” says a combatant from Rolpa, who joined the Ladaku Dal
[the precursor to PLA] to change the face of Nepal. “But it just changed the fate of some leaders. We are just disposable things, like condoms,” said another combatant. Dahal spent the whole process thinking about how to abandon them. And finally, we have been thrown away.” It won’t be surprising if some of them even take to criminal activities, in which case the second installment of those who opted for voluntary retirement will be stopped. They pose a challenge to Dahal.
Similarly, the party doesn’t have any plans to accommodate the combatants. The same is true of the dedicated wartime cadres who are being replaced by the new ones. They are being taken for granted. Maoists say more than 700 state committee members who hold the position of company commanders and above are demanding party responsibilities. The party is at pains to assure them they will be integrated into the party after the general convention. The number of combatants who deserve positions below the state committee is a legion. It is not clear how the party will manage them, even after the general convention.
The party committees are already full with relatives of the leaders and some newcomers. Due to their disproportionally the large size of these committees, the party has been avoiding holding meetings. Even if they are accommodated in the party, things will not be easy. Almost all party committees are headed by those who are junior PLA members. As members of the PLA, they fought the war, while those in the villages and towns were promoted up party ranks.
Similarly, the contradiction between former PLA members and the general cadres will also be a difficult task for Dahal. The cadres have termed the PLA personnel ‘paid people’. They say combatants are enjoying the government’s money, but what is true is the PLA personnel don’t have anything.
The PLA are also falling prey to frustration. The beautiful dream of new Nepal that Dahal sold them and what he did in reality has left them disillusioned. They don’t see viable future for themselves within the party. Some have even spent all the money they received as first installment of the voluntary retirement package. The frustration is turning into anger and hate against the party leadership. They think Dahal intentionally kept them in cantonments for a long time as a bargaining chip. They also think Dahal is aiming to diffuse the revolutionary zeal of the PLA, as communists believe that “the military that are in barracks” cannot effect a revolution. We saw how they are not even allowed to speak up against corruption. The last time they tried, Dahal sent the Nepal Army to control them.
Many joined the PLA as teenagers and young students. Now these people don’t have professional skills for survival, nor can they make their political career for lack of education. What is interesting is that they will not be satisfied with available jobs; but nor do they have the educational qualification for better, well-paying openings.
Such a desperate situation makes them turn back to the kind of illegal activities they took part in for the ‘revolutionary cause’ during the insurgency period. Hence, the recent news about some former combatants being involved in cases of motorbike theft is hardly surprising. There is a high risk that they would be involved in illegal activities including trade in Yarsagumba, red wood and timber after getting their second voluntary retirement installments.
If the former combatants return home, they will have to begin their career from scratch, even as their colleagues have already done well. Their lands have already turned barren for lack of care and houses are in dilapidated conditions. The most frustrated are the 4,008 ‘disqualified PLAs’. They feel humiliated and the brand ‘disqualified’ has forced them to stay away from society.
Besides, the PLA members will also have to face tough questions such as why they returned home empty-handed when they had assured the people that they would not return home without building a new Nepal. How can they answer such questions when they are at a loss themselves? To avoid facing such questions, they will choose employment abroad, or take to criminal activities where their knowledge about weapons will be useful. If steps are not taken for their proper settlement, either by the party or the government, former PLA will become the main cause of anarchy in Nepal.
With these new developments, the PLA issue has entered a new stage, and it could be as costly as the insurgency itself. Dahal cannot avoid the issue easily. Dahal’s success and his luxurious lifestyle come from the contributions of the PLA youth who spent the most productive stage of their lives in the war for the sake of a classless society. It is true that after its desolation, there is no collective force called PLA, but one thing is for sure: PLA members will never forgive the Maoist leadership for what it did to them.
The author is with Republica’s political bureau and covers the Maoist beat. This is the second of a two-part article, the first of which was published yesterday (Sunday)