By Kul Chandra Gautam, Subodh Raj Pyakurel, Kanak Mani Dixit
We three citizens come from diverse backgrounds and express ourselves, not always with the same voice, on myriad social and political issues. ‘Lalrakshak’, the magazine close to the UCPN-Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, in its Magh-Falgun 2068 issue (February 2012) attacked us three with cover portraits and the accompanying declaratory headline, “These are the peoples’ enemies.” Against the backdrop of the Maoist party not having formally renounced violence, its continuing use of force and ‘physical action’ throughout the country, and its vocal threats of ‘revolt’ even as it leads the government, we have sought to understand why this mouthpiece magazine of the senior-most party leadership has embarked on this campaign against us.
In the royalist Panchayat era, the slogan of the autocratic state was: “All Panchas are Nepali and all Nepalis are Panchas.” Today, the ruling party would have everyone believe that all patriotic citizens are Maoists, and that only Maoist thinking is progressive and people-oriented. In line with its attempts to forcibly apply its agenda, the party named its violent armed insurgency as ‘people’s war’, its organisational structures as ‘people’s government’, and its kangaroo courts as ‘people’s courts’. It was party policy to label whoever challenged the official line as ‘feudal’ and ‘regressive’, and those who protested Maoist excesses became the ‘people’s enemies’.
We have not heard of the Maoist party having formally abandoned its policy of eliminating (safaya) its opponents. While underground, the party’s practice in relation to those it wanted to eliminate or disgrace through ‘physical action’ (bhautik karbahi) was to first humiliate such individuals in front of the cadres. In the present context, a party which has the announced agenda of introducing a ‘people’s constitution’ through revolt, if found to be necessary, has sought to instil fear among independent-minded citizens by labelling us ‘people’s enemies’. Simultaneously, the party seeks to excite and incite its own cadre through such labelling.
We do not believe that the mouthpiece magazine would take the extreme step of using the ‘people’s enemy’ attack without the explicit consent of the party chairman and other top leaders. However, we will not be cowed by this attack, and will continue to express our opinions independently in our different sectors of societal involvement. It is only cowards who seek to counter the presentation of ideas with guns, swords, threats and intimidation. The irresponsible and inciteful labelling of ‘people’s enemy’, devoid of any basis, evidence or investigation, is the result of the same cowardly approach.
Why this enmity?
It is important to try and understand why the Maoist leaders have decided to attack us, unarmed citizens, with this incitement to violence, even as they themselves move around with security provided by the state and dozens of bodyguards. We three have been expressing our independent opinions on the peace process, human rights and constitution-writing, which ought to be advantageous to the Maoist party as well. We have sought to promote a Nepali-led peace process over the years, with involvement in diverse arena from investigation in the Doramba killings of Maoist activists by the then Royal Nepal Army to the advent of the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) and the Constiutent Assembly elections.
At the same time, each of us have been individually opposed to the Maoist party’s initiation of the armed ‘people’s war’, its use of violence in politics and its agenda against pluralistic democracy. The Maoist party seems to have decided on a need to proactively counter such perspectives and positions as it began to cheat on the 12 Point Agreement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, under which it had agreed to come into open, competitive politics in peace and democracy.
There Maoist leaders may have had many reasons to disdain our openly expressed views, but the immediate cause for ‘enmity’ has perhaps to do with some of our recent positions. Kul Chandra Gautam has been consistent in his argument that the Maoist chairman’s involvement in the development of Lumbini must be more transparent, that the Maoists must abandon the politics of violence, and that the party must stand by its commitments on the peace process. Some say that the Maoists have been annoyed with Gautam for not being malleable to their ‘use and discard’ policy to which so many other civil society stalwarts succumbed. Subodh Raj Pyakurel has held a steadfast position against Maoist excesses, and stands in strong opposition to the ‘general amnesty’ agenda that the Maoists would like to implement. Kanak Mani Dixit’s latest writings about Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s ambitions to become a directly-elected president or prime minister could have earned him the party’s ire, enough to be termed a ‘people’s enemy’.
The attack on us three citizens seems to be part of a plan by the senior-most bosses of ‘Lalrakshak’ magazine to instil fear among the broader civil society, an attempt to force submission among independent citizens including journalists, rights activists, intellectuals and local leaders in the districts. What the Maoist leaders forget, of course, is that since 1990 the people of Nepal have been breathing the oxygen of freedom. The party may prevent the breeze of free thought to blow among its rank-and-file, but the broader Nepali society now revels in free thinking. The entire country is now an open society and there is no way that Nepal can be converted into a ‘people’s democratic paradise’ like North Korea or a former Albania.
Rightist and Ultra-Left
The time is past that in the districts and villages that the labelling of ‘people’s enemy’ can subdue Nepal’s citizens. True, in some places, amidst a stifled atmosphere some may maintain momentary silence, but the Maoist party would be mistaken to believe this as acceptance of its agenda and procedures. Because of the corrupt and extortionist proclivities of the Maoist party and cadre, we sense there is an underground volcano developing everywhere against their excesses. This hardly does the UCPN-Maoist itself any good.
There is also the danger that the UCPN-Maoist’s left radicalism is promoting the interests of the rightist flank, sometimes coddled as ‘nationalists’ by the Maoists, with whom they have periodically forged close links. This results in the narrowed space for the democratic middle of national politics. For sure, the current agenda and activities of the UCPN-Maoist will not (and should not) prevail in the long run. However, the true progressives of Nepal must seriously wonder whether the radical activities of the Maoist party help the rightists to sink roots in our society in a manner that will drag the country towards the primitive era.
The Maoists developed their party as a militarist organisation, and have been unable or unwilling to develop democratically after coming above ground in 2006. This is the reason why the party seems to have a need to prop up imaginary enemies, as a means to keep the cadre united through fear. And so, at different times, the party has declared the United States, India and the Nepali Congress as its enemies.
Today, even as the party’s own leaders have achieved nouveau riche status, living in the lap of luxury while providing protection and extracting ransom from wealthy businessmen, to cover the huge cost of its ‘whole-timer’ party membership, the top brass intimidates potential victims by creating fictitious enemies. This is also done by labelling whoever disagrees with the Maoist positions as ‘upper-class’, ‘aristocratic elites’ and the ‘well-heeled’. The Maoists seem to have calculated, quite correctly, that some civil society stalwarts and intellectuals, fearful of being thus targeted, choose to keep quiet about Maoist excesses, or tend to speak vaguely.
Don’t need protection
On 5 February 2012, we wrote a letter to Baburam Bhattarai, not as a Maoist leader but as the prime minister of all the people. In that letter, we did not seek individual protection from the state in relation to the incitement by the Maoist mouthpiece. Instead, we asked the head of government, whose foremost responsibility is to protect the citizenry, to give a public reaction to the attempt by ‘Lalrakshak’ cover article to spread fear through intimidation. We also sought appropriate action against a magazine and editor affiliated with the prime minister’s own party for using the cover of press freedom to incite violence which could lead to the ‘elimination’ of citizens whom it characterises as ‘people’s enemies’.
The neglect shown by Prime Minister Bhattarai to our twin demands indicates his lack of sensitivity on humanitarian issues and on the importance of independent thought. There was a phone contact from the Prime Minister’s Office promising us security, but that was not our demand, nor was it included in our letter.
This is what we say to the party that calls us ‘people’s enemies’: It does not behove those who sit protected by their circle of gunmen to try and scare free-thinking citizens by hurling abuse and threats. We cannot imagine a citizenry which has conducted two people’s movements, in 1990 and 2006, to ever accept a police state. The gift of our nation to its citizens in the 21st century is to enable them to live in an open society.
Some may say that there are deep divisions within the UCPN-Maoist, and the ‘people’s enemy’ attack is the work of only one faction. If that were so, why have the other faction(s) not spoken? While there may be some difference in political tactics, we fail to see any differences within the Maoist leadership when it comes to the use of violence in politics. The only difference is that some speak openly of violence while others are silently in support. ‘Lalrakshak’ has probably spoken for them all, in its attempt to scare the general populace as a way to take the party forward. Such an attitude in this day and age will benefit neither the party nor the country.
At this penultimate moment of the writing of the new constitution, the peace process is not yet over. We have no evidence that the largest party in the Constituent Assembly has abandoned its policy of political violence. If the UCPN-Maoist genuinely seeks a progressive social transformation which the world will respect and the Nepali people will welcome, then we humbly ask the party to place its hand on its chest and ask Nature itself to witness its formal renouncement of violence. Let the party seek forgiveness from the people for having taken recourse to violence in the conduct of politics. When the UCPN-Maoist transforms itself into a peace-loving, democratic and progressive political party committed to help transform the country, we will be there to wish it success.
(A shorter version of this article appeared in The Kathmandu Post daily of 28 February 2012. A Nepali version appeared in Kantipur daily, 20 February 2012).
Kathmandu Post Article