Deuba’s Difference

Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara speaks at a public meting at Kirtipur on the outskirts of Kathmandu during a welcome rally on Aug. 29, 2001 (Photo: AFP).

The July 22 parliamentary selection of Nepal’s new prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, came as a small glint of hope for this otherwise disenchanted nation. The inept responses of Deuba’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, to both the massacre of King Birendra and nine other members of the royal family in early June and the increasingly violent Maoist insurgency had earned him the deep resentment of his people as well as the Nepali Congress. He was finally forced to resign at the end of July.

Deuba’s main priority is to resolve the long-standing conflict between his government and the Maoist revolutionaries. Since King Birendra’s murder, the rebels have been escalating their violence against police in the hopes of extending their sway beyond the third of Nepalese districts they already control. The aim of their anti-state “people’s war,” which has been going on for six years, is to do away with the present parliamentary system of democracy as well as the Nepali monarchy.

Unlike Koirala, who fought the group’s fire with fire, Deuba is taking a different tack toward the Maoists: He has called for a cease-fire and is offering dialogue.

For now, the policy seems to be working. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Comrade Prachanda, has agreed to hold talks. He has also asked his guerrillas to suspend offensive anti-state activities.

But Kathmandu’s independent Nepali Times (Aug. 3) remains skeptical about the new prime minister’s plan. How fruitful can talks be, Binod Bhattarai asked, when the two leaders stand so far apart on the core issues? Prachanda wants a new constitution; Deuba wants the current one. Prachanda wants a People’s Republic of Nepal; Deuba is for a constitutional monarchy.

The independent Kathmandu Post (Aug. 10) feared that Deuba “might be giving away too much too soon without a matching gesture from the Maoists.” Already Deuba has released the last of the Maoist detainees held under the Public Security Act.

The independent Rising Nepal (Aug. 10), however, remained cautiously optimistic about the talks. Prem N. Kakkar wrote that “the right tone is being set....For the moment, it is fit to keep one’s fingers crossed.”

Asian neighbor India’s press acknowledged that Deuba’s approach, while popular, is not necessarily an effective solution to the Maoist conflict. New Delhi’s independent The Pioneer (July 28) was critical of Deuba’s “soft-line policy,” saying that “by itself, [it is not] any guarantee for a lasting peace.”

The editorial went on to opine that at the heart of the problem are systemic ills, such as rampant corruption and poor social infrastructure, which the Nepalese government has failed to address. It is because of these problems, it said, that Maoists enjoy such a large constituency among the rural poor in the first place.

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