No closure

Bikram Rai

Just as the government was defusing one crisis by getting Madhesi activist CK Raut to renounce separatism last Sunday, it was faced with another explosive situation created by breakaway Maoist radicals.

The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is made up of ex-UML and erstwhile Maoists, but the faction that enforced a nationwide shutdown on Thursday calls itself the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). Its leader Netra Bikram Chand (Biplav) was mentored by NCP co-Chair and Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and was once comrade-in-arms of Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa. Biplav is now using the same tactics of violence and extortion that the Maoists perfected at the start of the war in the 1990s.

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Thursday’s shutdown affected movement on highways, closed schools and industries throughout the country, although the impact was not felt on traffic in Kathmandu Valley (pictured above). The closures were enforced with terror, but a fatal bombing at Ncell earlier this month had already convinced the public that Biplav meant business. The party has been openly extorting businesses as well as local governments across the country.

Security sources told Nepali Times they had shared intelligence about CPN recruitment drives and militia training, and had warned the government about the group’s preparations ahead of the recent arson and bombing spree.

Read also: It’s a crime not to call it terrorism, Kunda Dixit

Now, the NCP is finally taking the CPN seriously. On Tuesday the Cabinet outlawed the activities of the party, saying that it was a criminal entity, not a political party. Ministers said they were forced to take the step after the semi-underground group refused the government’s offer of talks. Dahal even declared that he faced a threat to his life from his former protégés.

Biplav brushed off the ban, calling it ‘ridiculous’ and adding in a statement on Wednesday that ‘extortion was a fundamental right … necessary for the nation and people’.  Security forces have in the past month seized assault rifles and other weapons from CPN cadre in Dharan and Rupendehi, tracing them back to former guerrillas who absconded from UN-supervised camps with weapons after the ceasefire.

By attacking a Malaysian telecom company and threatening Indian hydropower projects in Nepal, Biplav has thrown a direct challenge to the government ahead of the Nepal Investment Summit 29-30 March, during which the government hopes to attract foreign investments on hydropower projects.

With the CK Raut deal and the warning on Biplav, the government is trying to show that it is willing to negotiate, but will not tolerate violence. Some within the ruling party are asking why if Prime Minister Oli can bring a separatist force to the negotiating table, it is taking so long for him to tame the NCP.

After mainstreaming Raut, the government now needs to expedite political devolution in Province 2. The root cause of extremism is exclusion and inequality, and Nepal will continue to be unstable as long as these injustices are not addressed.