Letter from Kathmandu: Maoist May Day Rally and Planned Strike

The Maoist May Day rallies are originating from different parts of Kathmandu..they are moving towards the city center (Khula Manch) where they will assemble to hear their leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda). Here’s an analysis by Akhilesh Upadhyay

If the ongoing efforts for an agreement between the Maoists and the ruling parties fail by Saturday (today), the UCPN (Maoist) will go on an “indefinite strike” the next day.

What will follow looks grim.

First, the May Day rallies. A large turnout is expected, though estimates vary. The number of Maoists on the streets in the Capital will not exceed 150,000, according to a senior Metropolitan police officer keeping tab of incoming Maoists. A senior Maoist leader put the number at 400,000, including 67,000 party members based in the valley’s three districts and the party’s broader Tamsaling and Newa Autonomous regions.

“Our morale is high and we have enough numbers to manage the streets of Kathmandu,” says Superintendent of Police Ramesh Kharel, who was recently transferred from Pokhara to Kathmandu for his outstanding operational capabilities. Assisting him will be some 9,000 Nepal Police and 6,000 APF (Armed Police Force) personnel. “The security situation is under control,” he says, sounding confident.

Many others closely following the developments last few weeks are far less sure. Clearly, at stake is more than a security issue here.

The Maoist leadership believes that the government has made “a strong rightward surge” and is taking “a confrontationist approach” in recent weeks. The National Security Council meeting that took place on Friday, amid fast growing Maoist rallies in the Capital, decided that the Nepal Army could be mobilised if the government believes that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement has been violated. The move has a huge political significance for a number of reasons. It formalises Defence Minister Bidhya Bhandari’s earlier position on the use of the national army “should the Maoists get out of control.” It also gives the Army much needed official cover should it decide to intervene, a move that is consistent with Army chief Chhatra Man Singh’s position that the Army is an apolitical institution and will follow whatever the political leadership decides.

“All the major state actors are together. Both the President and Prime Minister are in no mood to concede the Maoist demand,” says a Nepali Congress leader. “If that means a confrontation with the Maoists, so be it.”

Upon his arrival from Thimphu, Bhutan, on Friday, morning Prime Minister Nepal stated he was not stepping down, a key Maoist demand for withdrawal of their strike. The government, for its part, wants the Maoists to withdraw their general strike without setting any conditions.

There are widespread fears that the renewed conflict could be “multidimensional” this time around — unlike the 1996-2006 conflict — with serious implications for classes, castes, ethnicities and regions.

The gravity of the emerging scenario hasn’t been lost on UNMIN chief Karin Landgren. “There are grave concerns about the direction that the peace process may take in the coming days,” she told reporters at a hastily organised press conference on Thursday afternoon.

UNMIN’s own term expires on May 15 and the government is yet to ask for a term extension. “Who needs UNMIN if there is no peace process?” wondered the Nepali Congress leader. That’s another possibility should the government decide to take a hard-line position against the Maoists.

Or, perhaps it has already taken one.




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