MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
If Jhalanath Khanal had stuck to his word, the Maoist-led government would have successfully sacked General Katawal. If a large section of UML MPs had not raised the banner of revolt on 28 May, the Maoists would not have got the 3-point agreement on favourable terms.
Prachanda is banking on Khanal's ego and ambition, and the old 'progressive' streak of many UML MPs. His preferred outcome is obviously to get the UML to back a government under his leadership. If that is not possible, due to resistance from Madhav Nepal and KP Oli, he will throw the 'left unity' card and back Khanal as PM. If Nepal and Oli publicly oppose this, they risk earning the wrath of many party members. If they do block it, Prachanda is hopingKhanal Ė with Bamdev Gautam's help Ė will split the party.
Prachanda's inability to convince his other comrades and Khanal's reluctance to split off his own party while he is chairman will be the biggest impediments to this plan. Either way, this will not resolve fundamental issues since the three key actors of the process remain India, the NC and the Maoists. And the first two will be in a confrontational mood if this scenario comes to pass.
Prachanda's other gamble is to persist with the status quo on the PLA. The PLA is an asset for the chairman, in both inter-party and intra-party games. The former combatants remain a source of power and money for the party institutionally, and Prachanda personally. Barsha Man Pun's clear support for Prachanda as PM has shifted the balance within the party.
Prachanda may make the appropriate noises, but will not complete the process of integration till he is back as PM, and can extract a governance structure Ė both a presidential system and a relatively favourable federal map Ė that helps the Maoists. Some within the party continue to stick to the old Maoist diktat of needing a People's Army and are reluctant to give it up at any juncture. Others are arguing that if giving up the army can help 'preserve existing achievements', including legitimate state power, it is worth it. But a powerful argument Ė across the pragmatic-dogmatic divide Ė is that if PLA integration does not help them exercise control over the Nepal Army, then the original intent is defeated
Either way, any drastic movement on integration Ė either a separation into three camps or a commitment on numbers and modality Ė will be difficult to achieve. This in turn means the constitution-making and power-sharing processes will remain stuck.
Prachanda's third step is playing on India's fears in public, while continuing to lobby desperately in private. His support for the Naxalites and opposition to Operation Green Hunt is based on the calculation that the Indian establishment will become worried about possible links, and go back to the logic that motivated the 12-point agreement of detaching the Nepali Maoists and the Indian ultra-left and undermining the latter, an argument reiterated by former RAW chief PK Hormis Tharakan this week in a rare opinion piece. If this does not happen, and India continues with its hardline stance, he hopes that open solidarity with Indian Naxalites will block Baburam Bhattarai's chances too, since people in Delhi will argue against allowing any Maoist back into power in Nepal.
But Prachanda perhaps does not understand the limits of his power. There is little tolerance in Delhi, or the embassy, for these kinds of games. It has taken a lot Ė the extension of the CA, hectic lobbying by some key people, the calculation that the Maoists have been relatively weakened and their internal divisions Ė for Delhi to give this process a last chance. Prachanda should just look at the militarisation of the open border, and the recent killing of Naxalite spokesperson Azad, to understand the changes in India's attitude to both Nepal and Maoism in general.
How Prachanda's multiple gambles play out will determine the immediate future of Nepali politics.