Maoist road show

October 20, 2008

Daniel Lak in Nepali Times:

You’d think by now that New York had seen it all, but nothing like the Nepali Maoist road show in the Big Apple.

During the war, Comrade Prachanda never stinted on stinging anti-American rhetoric. But at the UN and on the lecture circuit in Manhattan, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was centrist sweetness personified.

This week, Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai also came across as a serious proponent of free market capitalism in Washington DC. Ironically, he and his boss were at the heart of the capitalist beast during its worst financial meltdown in modern times.

Whether PM Dahal spared the time to tour the Asia Society’s excellent exhibit of Mao Zedong memorabilia (paintings, icons, posters and lapel pins) isn’t known, but wonder what he’d have made of the Mao chic.

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India’s street dogs of war

August 19, 2008

From The Times:

India’s legion of street dogs are being offered the chance to make their country proud by joining a crack cadre of the country’s military.

The elite Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) last year picked four mongrel puppies from the streets with the hope of transforming them into a unit of explosive-detecting sniffer dogs.

The mongrels – Lily, Sally, Teja and Kareena – have just passed an intensive nine-month training course with flying colours. After they were found to be “tougher, harder and sharper in battle” than their pampered pedigree peers, there are plans to collect more for similar work.

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Maoists in the forest: Tracking India’s separatist rebels

July 3, 2008

Jason Motlagh in the Virginia Quarterly Review (via Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting):

The express bus from Hyderabad to Dantewada takes fifteen hours on a good day. As the suburbs of the software hub are left behind, and then the wrought-iron gates of Ramoji Film City, the smooth pavement falls apart. But the sweep of paddy fields and palms-a facsimile of the INCREDIBLE INDIA! billboard hanging at the Delhi airport when I first arrived-grew more hypnotic with each mile, making up for the rough going. Hills loomed in the hazy distance. Cowherds shunted their stock out of harm’s way, and women carried grain in clay pots on their heads. Passing into virgin forest so dense that hardly a ray of light broke through, I finally dozed off, rustled by the occasional thwack of a tree branch as we hurtled into dusk.

Dantewada, the main town of Chhattisgarh state’s remote Bastar Division, seemed bucolic enough. The smell of freshly fried samosas wafted from the corner dhaba, where lanky men took cover from a sun that beat down like a fist. Long-distance coaches to Andhra Pradesh and Orissa came and went in a fit of honking. At either end of town, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) barricades, reading WE NEED YOUR COOPERATION, were the only signals that something might be wrong.

[Photo: Teenage "special police officer" scans the forest around Rani Bodli camp, scene of a midnight Naxalite raid early last year that left 55 security forces dead, South Bastar region, Chhattisgarh state.]

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And click here for Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. And below, a video, Kashmir’s uneasy peace, made by the Center.



After Koirala, what?

June 30, 2008

Manjushree Thapa, the Kathmandu-based author of ‘Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy,’ in The Indian Express:

Girija Prasad Koirala’s resignation as prime minister has been greeted with equal relief and dismay in Nepal. Ahead of the April 10 Constituent Assembly election, Koirala had announced that no matter what the outcome, he would resign afterwards. When the Maoists came in as the largest party, though, his apologists began to claim that the election had been only for a constitution-drafting body, and not for a government. They argued that the interim government – with Koirala as the prime minister, and also as the provisional head of state – could only be voted out with an absolute majority. Koirala went along with this dubious logic; and his refusal to resign came across, to his detractors, as an expression of megalomania.

This launched a month of intense inter-party bickering, bickering which cast an anxious shadow over what should have been a joyous moment for Nepal: the abolition of the monarchy on May 28.

The subjects being bickered over have been among the most decisive of the peace process, subjects that will make or break Nepal in the coming years. Who is to be the head of state, the prime minister or (with the king now gone) a president? Which of these should hold executive power? How, if at all, should the Nepal Army and the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army be merged? Who should be the commander-in-chief?

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‘We are trying our best to understand democracy’

The Maoist guerrilla leader who is about to become Nepal’s prime minister faces a dilemma: how can he reconcile his ideology with the realities of political office? Raymond Whitaker of The Independent met him:

It is not easy securing a meeting with the Maoist guerrilla leader poised to become prime minister of the new republic of Nepal.

Prachanda, which means “awesome” or “the fierce one”, came out of the jungle two years ago, but his journey from insurgent commander to mainstream politician is far from complete. As if to emphasise his distance from the Kathmandu political establishment, which he calls “feudal”, he lives in a run-down area of the city, close to a rubbish-strewn canal. His house, with sandbagged emplacements at each corner, is guarded by unsmiling male and female cadres in camouflage fatigues and caps with a red star on the peak.

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Nepal: the world’s newest republic

June 21, 2008

In The Telegraph, UK, Thomas Bell reports from Kathmandu:

In his last act before leaving his palace last week, Nepal’s former king, Gyanendra, tried something he never attempted during his disastrous experiment with autocratic rule.

He decided to call a press conference – and for dismayed royalists the ensuing scene encapsulated the fall of an ancient institution that had collapsed from within.

Excited journalists climbed on the palace furniture. They posed for pictures in the chair where Gyanendra would sit, flanked by two stuffed tigers. When the ex-king arrived they heckled him with the rudest words in the Nepali language.

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Royal flaws in focus at birth of Nepal’s republic

June 7, 2008

From Reuters:

Kathmandu: Four people, clad in white mourning clothes, carried a dummy corpse in a bamboo coffin.

“Gyane is dead. We are carrying his body to the cremation grounds,” they said, using an abusive shortened form of King Gyanendra’s name.

Watching the crowds gathered to celebrate the birth of the republic of Nepal last Wednesday, it was clear to me they were not yet done protesting against the king.

I flashed back to 2001, when I was awoken by a midnight telephone call. An old friend was on the line, saying he had heard the Maoist insurgency had exploded a bomb in the royal palace.

The Maoists at that time were still classified as “low intensity”, mainly confined to remote villages and valleys in this Himalayan nation and I thought they did not yet have the strength to do this. I was right.

As a helicopter hovered in the sky and after frantic telephone calls, it became clear: Crown Prince Dipendra had massacred his parents and seven other royals at a family dinner, then shot himself.

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Nepal’s ‘living goddess’ in limbo

Reuters report from Kathmandu:

The appointment of a new “living goddess” in Nepal is being held up by the recent abolition of the monarchy, a Nepalese official says.

According to tradition, the king’s priest appoints the girl, who is chosen in her infancy and is treated as a goddess, or Kumari, until puberty.

But the priest no longer has any say in the republic, the head of the trust overseeing the tradition says.

[Photo: The previous goddess, Sajani Shakya, retired in March]

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The king gone, Nepal must confront a new danger

June 3, 2008

Unless the deadlock over government formation is broken soon, the constitution writing process will be compromised, writes Siddharth Varadarajan in The HIndu:

Nearly a week after the abolition of the monarchy in Nepal, a democratically formed coalition government still eludes the world’s youngest republic. Instead of introspecting over the reasons for their defeat in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists are behaving like victors. And the Maoists, who came first but still lack a majority, have yet to master the art of compromise without which there can be no coalit ional politics. At stake is not just the question of governance but something much more fundamental. For unless the deadlock over government formation is resolved quickly, the political atmosphere in the country will get so vitiated that enormous and perhaps irreparable harm will be done to the prospects of writing the country’s new constitution.

Nepal’s voters want the Maoists to lead the government and process of constitution writing, but only on the basis of power sharing. That is why they gave the former rebels 220 out of the 575 elected seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA) but withheld the two-thirds majority needed to allow them to run a single-party government under the terms of the interim constitution. Of course, the Maoists have never said they wanted to run the government by themselves. As soon as the election results became known six weeks ago, Chairman Prachanda extended an invitation to the others to join a government under his leadership. The terms of power sharing had been clearly spelt out by both the text of the interim constitution and the spirit of its working over the past 18 months and it was assumed that these arrangements would carry over.

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Sentence first, verdict afterwards

June 2, 2008

Dr Binayak Sen, a public health specialist and human rights activist, has now spent a year in an Indian prison. He is accused of links with Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest states where the rebels have a strong presence. The doctor denies the charge.

The latest issue of The Economist carries a piece on how India’s anti-Maoist laws have become an international embarrassment:

Dr Sen worked in the remote reaches of Chhattisgarh, one of several places where India’s Maoists (known as Naxalites) hold sway, raiding police stations, sabotaging telecom towers and intimidating villagers. He helped set up a hospital for miners and trained community health-workers. He is also an official of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), which campaigns against human-rights abuses. He became a vocal critic of the government’s strategy of arming and mobilising villagers against the Naxalites, thereby relying on vigilantes to quell an insurgency which the state itself has failed to end.

Dr Sen was charged under both the national penal code and a sweeping state law. The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act criminalises a broad array of dealings with unlawful organisations, including the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the main Naxalite party.

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The doctor, the state, and a sinister case

From Tehelka:

The story of Binayak Sen is the story of the dangerously thin ice India’s democratic rights skim on. The story of every dangerous schism in India today: State versus people. Urban versus rural. Unbridled development versus human need. Blind law versus natural justice. It is the story of an India unraveling at the seams. The story of unjust things that happen – unreported – to thousands of innocent people, the story of unjust things waiting to happen to you and me, if we ever step off the rails of shining India to investigate what’s happening in the rest of the country. Most of all, it is the story of what can be done to ordinary individuals when the State dons the garb of being under siege.

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Previously on AW:

Losing the plot


Chattisgarh loses the plot

May 13, 2008

A year after the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen, one of the state’s most eminent doctors, Chattisgarh state authorities have gone and arrested another civil liberties activist, journalist and film-maker Ajay T.G., reports Siddharth Vardarajan in The Hindu

On May 5, the Chhattisgarh police announced the arrest of Ajay T.G., a Raipur-based journalist and filmmaker, under the State’s draconian Special Public Security Act (PSA). He has been charged with sedition under the Indian Penal Code and with having unlawful contact with a banned organisation, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), under Sections 3, 4 and 8 of the PSA. Like Binayak Sen, who was arrested last year on May 14, Ajay is a leading member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He is also a prominent social worker whose contribution to the education of young girls from poor slum-dwelling families is well known. The circumstances leading to his arrest are so bizarre and reflect so poorly on Chhattisgarh’s approach to dealing with the naxalite problem that they bear recounting in some detail.

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For information and updates on Dr Binayak Sen’s arrest click here.

Twenty-two Nobel Laureates have written to Indian President Pratibha Patil asking for the release of Binayak Sen who was recently awarded the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. They want him to personally receive the award at a ceremony to be held in Washington  D.C. on May 29. Read that report here

[Pic: A file picture of Dr Binayak Sen with his young patients in Chattisgarh]


The solitude of a king

April 20, 2008

With the Maoists set to dominate the new Constituent Assembly, Nepal’s king may soon loose his crown. In The Indian Express, Yubaraj Ghimire weighs the royal options:

For almost two years now, King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev has been in isolation. He has become a ‘punching bag’ of sorts for Nepalese politicians and to some extent, the international community, a symbol for everything that ailed Nepal. And, of course, everybody holds him responsible for his fate. He is hardly spotted in public these days, and when he is, it is without the trapping of royalty. He remains mostly confined to the Narayanhiti Palace. Even this could be for a short while longer, for if the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) does what it has pledged to, Nepal will be a republic on the first day that the newly elected Constituent Assembly sits.

The emergence of the Maoists as the single-largest party in the forthcoming Assembly, and the likelihood of a government under its leadership, has sent out the message that time and tide don’t wait for anyone. And in this tsunami of change, Nepal-which lost its status as an officially Hindu nation two years ago-looks set to lose the world’s only Hindu monarch whose forefather began the Shah dynasty 240 years ago.

Nepal is now speculating over the king’s future. Will he seek asylum in India? Will he counter the political tide? Or will he live on in Nepal as an ordinary citizen?

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Ballots over bullets

April 19, 2008

Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepali Times, in The Times of India:

Kathmandu: Mao is dead; long live Mao. The Great Helmsman maybe in a mausoleum in Beijing, but he is alive and kicking in Nepal.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Maoists were supposed to come to power by the barrel of the gun. In Nepal, they have been voted to power. With results of last week’s elections nearly in, it’s been a rout. The Maoists have got 50 per cent of the votes in the first-past-the-post ballot, with the mainstream Nepali Congress (NC) with just 14 per cent and other parties trailing further behind.

The result has left pundits scratching their heads, foreign embassies in Kathmandu are red-faced, the NC and CPN-UML are too stunned to even speak. Even the Maoists themselves were surprised by the vote.

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Nepal’s Maoist landslide

An electoral earthquake reflects the social distance that had grown between Kathmandu’s elite and media and Nepal’s people, says Prashant Jha, a political analyst with Nepali Times, in OpenDemocracy:

The results of the general election in Nepal on 10 April 2008, won overwhelmingly by the Maoists – officially the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – have come as a complete shock. Many people thought the former armed rebels would be a distant third, winning perhaps fifteen-to-twenty of the 240 seats directly elected to the constituent assembly under a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system (335 of the remainder are elected under proportional representation). Some argued that the Maoists would do better than conventional wisdom in the capital Kathmandu suggested, giving them about thirty-to-forty of the FPTP seats. Only a few voices sensed the people’s desperate yearning for change, the Maoist base among the young and marginalised, and flagged the possibility of the party coming in second – or first.

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Triumph of the new mainstream in Nepal

By voting in the Maoists, the Nepali people have chosen the party most likely to push for an egalitarian society and inclusive republican system in the Constituent Assembly. Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

After failing to recognise the obvious groundswell of support that had built up for the Maoists in the run-up to the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in Nepal, India needs to move quickly to adjust itself to the new power balance. Despite receiving reliable field reports of the widespread support the Maoists were enjoying across the country, South Block deluded itself into believing that the former rebels would be at best a distant third. Bogus surveys commissioned by t he U.S. embassy in Kathmandu in which the Maoists were shown as winning only 8 to 10 per cent of the popular vote started circulating within the corridors of power in New Delhi. Accordingly, the foreign office’s contingency planning revolved around coping with the fallout of a poor showing by the former rebels. Even here, the official assessments showed scant understanding of the ground reality with improbable scenarios like a Maoist “urban insurrection” being bandied about.

More on his blog:


Nepal’s “radical Democrat”

April 17, 2008

Flanked by portraits of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, Baburam Bhattarai, the chief ideologue of the Nepal’s Maoists, spoke to Nepali Times about sleepless nights, his party’s economic agenda and about whether he’d been offered the prime ministership.

Nepali Times: How does it feel to arrive here after the long journey from a village in Gorkha?
Baburam Bhattarai: There is a deep sense of responsibility, and that comes from the fact that I was born in an ordinary village family, my mother can’t read or write, my father is a farmer. As a child I used to tend livestock and help in the farm, and when I went to high school I had to carry water and cook for myself. From that to be able to go to a good school and be educated, and to have that contrast in one lifetime is fascinating in a way. But now we have been brought to this position where we have to try to resolve issues of national importance, there are enormous aspirations, there is lots to do but we have very little time and resources. It makes us somewhat anxious, thinking about whether we can do it or not. There are sleepless nights, getting up at three in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep.

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A house for King Gyanendra

April 16, 2008

As the Maoists widen their lead in the historic Nepal elections, it is clear that the monarchy’s days are numbered and King Gyanendra could be seeking a new home in India. Josy Joseph of DNA has the story

Facing a possible deposition at the hands of Maoists, Nepal’s unpopular king Gyanendra could seek refuge in India. 

And the king’s new home could be a palace in Rajasthan’s Sikar district, hometown of his daughter-in-law Himani — wife of Nepal’s crown prince Paras Bikram Shah.

According to dependable sources crucial to India’s Nepal policy, the Indian government would accept and provide necessary security to the king if he opts for a peaceful life outside the Himalayan kingdom.

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On AFP, the Nepal king’s royal priest sees a bad omen

A religious adviser to Nepal’s King Gyanendra has revealed that the already embattled monarch has been struck by yet more misfortune.

Not only is the king facing the rapid rise of ultra-republican Maoists who want to sack him, he has also been hit by a terrible omen: a 20-metre (66-foot) pole falling off a wooden chariot.

It may sound trivial to some, but Madhab Bhattarai — a Hindu priest, guru and close aide to the king since 2002 — said the tumbling pole was being taken very seriously behind the walls of the royal palace.

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Hello Maoists, bye bye king

April 13, 2008

Former rebels are poised to take power in the beleagured kingdom of Nepal. But they must put aside a crime-tainted past and deliver reforms, writes Ed Douglas in The Guardian

Jubilant supporters of Nepal’s former rebel Maoists took to the streets yesterday to celebrate what they are already claiming as an election victory in the troubled Himalayan kingdom.

Preliminary results indicate the Maoists are well on the way to becoming the largest party in the country’s first elected constituent assembly, in elections aimed at cementing a peace deal that ended a decade of civil conflict. Their faces smeared with vermilion, several prominent Maoists who won seats, including their leader ‘Prachanda’, staged impromptu victory parades.

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Previously in AW:


Of monarchs and Maoists

April 9, 2008

Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times, in The Wall Street Journal:

It’s been over a decade since the Maoists declared war on Nepal’s monarchy, and two years since King Gyanendra abdicated his throne. If all goes well on Thursday, both eras – of Maoists and monarchs – could come to an end, as voters cast their ballots for a 601-member assembly that will draft the country’s new constitution.

This election is critical for Nepal’s future. Since the King abdicated his throne in April 2006, elections had to be postponed twice because political leaders – both Maoists and from the parties – who thought they would lose colluded to have it postponed. The Maoists resigned from the government and rejoined it, and the country seemed to be on the brink of war again. Then, unrest on the plains bordering India threatened an ethnic conflict.

[Photo: King Gyanendra (left) and Prachanda]

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In Nepal, hope and (some) fear on the campaign trail

Nepal goes to the polls on Thursday in an election that could bring the Maoists into mainstream democratic politics and spell the end of the monarchy. Simon Denyer of Reuters has the story.

High in the Himalayas, impoverished, ill-governed Nepal is hoping its first elections in nine years will help cement peace after a decade-long civil war, and allow it finally to join its booming big brother, India, in a new era of prosperity.

Two years after mass street protests brought an end to an ill-fated period of royal rule, the vote will also formally restore democracy to Nepal. “It is not going to solve everything overnight, but it is closure for one chapter in our history and the beginning of a new one,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times.

Yet the challenges ahead are immense, not least because violence and intimidation have seriously marred the campaign and could undermine the voting day itself.

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Former US President Jimmy Carter is in Kathmandu as an observer. He tells Kantipur Online’s Prateek Pradhan, Narayan Wagle, Damakant Jayshi and Dinesh Wagle that the election will end conflict and establish a republic.

Former US President Jimmy Carter said that the constituent assembly election in Nepal – on Thursday – would end armed conflict and establish a new republic in the country.

“I see this election as doing two things basically: one is ending an armed conflict, and secondly forming a new republic with an end to the dominating royalty,” Carter said during an exclusive interview with the Post and its sister paper, Kantipur here on Tuesday. “We are very excited about the prospects of this country finding peace and also finding democracy based on republic. It is a very wonderful achievement.”

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And on how the Carter Center is observing this historic election click here.


In Nepal, the Maoists’ long journey to mainstream politics

February 4, 2008

In Outlook, Manoj Dahal interviews Prachanda, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.

In December 2007, Outlook featured a story on Prachanda (The Rado Maoist), chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, on the remarkable change in his lifestyle after he emerged from the bush to join mainstream politics. The story said he sports an expensive Rado watch, travels in an airconditioned Pajero, loves his daily two pegs of Johnnie Walker whisky, and has been accused of promoting his children in the party hierarchy. On a cold January morning this year, the Maoist supremo, dressed in a trendy tracksuit, met Outlook’s Manoj Dahal and sportingly fielded questions on his new lifestyle, the problems revolutionary parties encounter in maintaining their ideological purity and India’s role in Nepal.

Excerpts:


Books: Notes from the Red Corridor

January 26, 2008

book1.jpgIn Mint Lounge, Chandrahas Choudhury reviews Sudeep Chakravarti’s fascinating work of reportage Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (Penguin/Viking).

Mao is alive and kicking in India, and how. Jailbreaks, frequent guerrilla attacks on security forces, the emergence of parallel governments in so-called “liberated zones”, and the victory of Maoists in neighbouring Nepal have woken Indians up to realities that for decades they could afford to ignore. Not only have the persistent failures and the eventual retreat of the state been clearly exposed, the dismaying possibility of a “Red Corridor” stretching, like a gash on the Indian subcontinent, from Nepal all the way down to Andhra Pradesh has also been raised.

Who are these Indian citizens who want nothing less than the total destruction of the Indian state, of the Constitution, of democracy? What does their rise reveal about the apathy of the Indian state towards some of its poorest and most marginalized subjects, particularly the tribals? To what extent has the state’s response only exacerbated the problem, and what is the condition of the innocent people trapped between two ferociously warring forces?

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