Britain is set for an all out war against terrorism following a series of attacks by suspected ISIS terrorists. France, a victim of similar attacks in the past, is likely to bring in legislation restricting individual freedom in its bid to build safeguards against terrorism. Darjeeling, next door to Nepal, is in ferment and demanding a Gorkhaland state. Media reports convey the impression that Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand resemble Nepal during the Maoist insurgency: Most reports from Kathmandu were about abduction or killing of “class enemies” by Maoists or their death in encounters with security forces or Maoists gaining territory.
Against this backdrop, the unrest in parts of Nepal and the proposed boycott of the local bodies election scheduled on June 28 by a section of political parties looks a much subdued threat. The protests are unlikely to snowball into a full blown violent movement as its protagonists had earlier threatened. Now, with the Maoists joining the peace process and the coalition government, Nepal looks relatively more secure than most other countries.
In the changed context, there is likely to be far less tolerance among the local population towards violence or militancy. India’s about-turn on the Madhes issue is a clear indication of this new reality. The Rashtriya Janata Party, a recently launched political outfit consisting of various constituents that used to warn of militancy and violence if their grievances were not addressed, is now on the verge of a split over its stand on the local bodies election. While the leadership is adamant about boycotting the second phase of the polls, a large chunk of the cadres wants to get involved in the election.
The RJP leadership now feels betrayed by India, which extended support for their boycott of the constitution when it was promulgated in September 2015 and later flagged human rights violations by the Nepal state in Madhes at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. India claimed in Geneva that security agencies shot five dozen people during the anti-constitution protests in Nepal. India’s turnaround comes in the wake of criticism at home and abroad over its approach to protests in Kashmir and Darjeeling.
Britain too seems to be changing its stance of providing moral and material support to Madhes and other ethnic groups. During his previous stint as PM 16 years ago, Sher Bahadur Deuba had received a cold response from the British administration when he furnished details about the presence — and activities — of senior Nepali Maoist leaders in the UK. The response from the-then PM Tony Blair was plain and simple. So long as Nepali Maoists did not pose any threat to the peace and safety of Britain, they were welcome to stay, Blair is reported to have told Deuba. The US response to a similar complaint was the opposite. The then US president George Bush is said to have conveyed to Kathmandu, “Find them, fix them and finish them”. At home, Deuba put a price on the Maoists.
During a book release in Kathmandu recently, CPN (Maoist Centre) supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal admitted that the attack on the twin towers in New York and the aggressive approach many countries began to take towards militant movements thereafter, influenced the Maoists towards joining the peace process. The Maoists joined the peace process and the government in 2006, but it took another four years before the US would take them off the terrorist watch list. In contrast, India, the European Union and the United Nations started to work closely with the peace process and the Maoists immediately after the latter joined the mainstream. These parties also supported the Maoists in their pursuit of radical and ethnicity-centric politics.
The war against terrorism now forces political parties and governments to rethink their positions on militant movements. But it may not be easy for many in Nepal, who have eulogised, accepted and legitimised organised violence as an instrument of political change.