November 23, 2006Foreign Affairs

Nepal’s accord

The Maoists have come out into the open

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

They will no longer have to reckon with labels like rebels, guerrillas or terrorists. After their leaders signed a “comprehensive national peace agreement” with the interim government, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has acquired the status of a legitimate political party, as interested in electoral politics as anyone else. Glad to see what they hope is an end to the political crisis that has engulfed Nepal for the past decade, governments around the world have breathed a sigh of relief. As is usual in such circumstances, the accord has been called ‘historic’.

And to quell lingering suspicions that the Maoists may take an anti-India position, Comrade Prachanda has denied supporting Maoist thugs and terrorists roaming the Indian countryside. To drive the point home, he also pointed out that he had turned down the ISI’s overtures in 1996. His transformation, it would seem, is complete. A few months ago he was a rebel leader leading a secretive life in Himalayan hideouts. Last week he was the leading attraction at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit—hobnobbing with the intellectual and political elite in New Delhi. He is quite aware that while he did not need India’s support to be a rebel, he certainly needs it to govern.

Does the accord mean an end to Nepal’s troubles? Not quite. The top rung of the Maoist leadership has a lot more to gain by entering the political mainstream. The lower tiers, though, are unlikely to gain much more than pride and joy to see their leaders in power. Unless they can find satisfactory accommodation in the future dispensation, they will find it compelling to revert to the rebel lifestyle. They will also find themselves fighting their former counterparts—as a merger of the Maoist and government forces is on the cards.

If that is a tricky situation, consider this: the involvement of the Maoists in electoral politics will upset the equations that have kept Nepal’s notoriously fissiparous seven major political parties in alliance. When that alliance unravels—as it certainly will—it is quite likely that the Maoists will be the predominant political force on the ground, if not in parliament. Faced with another political crisis, it remains to be seen whether the Maoists will have any greater commitment to democracy than King Gyanendra did.

The accord buys Nepal some respite from the big uncertainties that have characterised its political climate. But then, only some. The big question relates to the extent of transformation—of the Maoists as of their leader. Is the Maoist leadership as committed to democracy as it says it is? Does it have as much control over its cadre as it claims? The imperative, as far as India is concerned, to do what is necessary to make sure that the answers are in affirmative.


Prachanda transformation extends to other areas: he’s becoming a pop idol too. But not everyone is sold.

When questioned what they would ask if they met the leader, former Miss Nepal Malvika Subba replied: “After all the killings, any guilt pangs?” [DT]

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