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Dr. Baburam Bhattarai Stays On-Part VII

Issue 18, April 29, 2012

Siddhi B Ranjitkar

The exodus of a large number of combatants than anticipated from among the remaining combatants opting for integration into the Nepal Army has eased the peace process. Leaders have been doing their best to come to a common understanding on the disputed issues of a new constitution making Nepalis in general optimistic about the possibility of promulgating a new constitution by May 27, 2012. However, President of NC has been drumming up the forming of a so-called unity government led by his parliamentary party leader causing Nepalis to be concerned with the possibility of derailing the proclamation of a new constitution due to the power struggle among the political parties.

The number of combatants opting for integration into the Nepal Army could hardly exceed 5,000 after most of them opted for voluntary retirement; more than 80 per cent of former combatants at the Seventh Division of People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Kailali are returning home after choosing voluntary retirement; a total number of 738 out of 1,026 PLA combatants in Lokesh Smriti Brigade, Gorunge and Lisnegram Smriti Brigade, Badaipur of the Seventh Division has opted for voluntary retirement instead of integrating into the Nepal Army; the number of combatants at the Seventh Division was reduced to 1,026 from 3,131 reached after the first phase of regrouping, this is the report on the regrouping of combatants, ‘The Rising Nepal’ of April 18, 2012 has reported. In fact, the number of combatants opting for joining the Nepal Army has reduced to 3,000.

Why the combatants originally so enthusiastic about joining the Nepal Army have chosen to go for voluntary retirement rather than joining the Nepal Army. Most probably, they did not see any future well-being for them joining the Nepal Army. They had fought ten-year people’s war that culminated into the death of the monarchy and the birth of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. They believe that they are the ones that have fought for bringing down the monarchy. They have been proud of being the members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The greatest pain they have felt must be the ending of the PLA.

The PLA members have marched to occupy the capital of Nepal. They have in fact directly or indirectly won the 72 districts out of the 75 districts of the country limiting the power of the then rulers to the Kathmandu Valley by 2006. After their party: the then-CPN-Maoist had signed off the 12-point understanding with the then-Seven-party Alliance in New Delhi, India on November 22, 2005, most probably on the command of their party boss, some of them took part in the People’s Movement II of 2006 holding green twigs identifying them as coming out of the forest. The People’s Movement II forced the then dynastic king to bow down to the people’s demand of reinstating the dissolved parliament on April 23, 2006. Thus, they have been the last instruments to tear down the monarchy. Naturally, they feel like the heroes of the people’s liberation war. They have anticipated a great reward for taking Nepal to the federal democratic republic in the 21st century.

However, they ultimately have found that they are the most neglected warriors. They need to meet the standards of the Nepal Army undergoing training for being the part of the Nepal Army. So, that might be the last straw on their ego in other words one of the main humiliations they felt. In addition, most of them get the positions in the Nepal Army well below the positions they have held. Certainly, that is another humiliation to them.

Most of the PLA members lacked academic qualifications. Most of them came from the laboring farm families hoping to improve their lot fighting against the landlords and the evil rulers. So, they became the Maoist fighters. They were poorly trained but they had the courage and determination to achieve their goals and the goal of the Maoists. They did achieve their goals and that of the Maoists. They upgraded their fighting skills undergoing training while staying on at the cantonments up until they left the cantonments. In fact, the cantonments had become their army barracks and the homes for the last few years they had been in cantonments. Some of them took the SLC (School Leaving Examinations). More than thousands PLA members have passed the SLC. Thus, they have even improved their academic background.

Most of the PLA members have anticipated that they would have en masse entry into the Nepal Army. The Maoist leadership had tried their best to take the PLA members en mass to the Nepal Army dragging the peace process in limbo for the last four years and putting the promulgation of a new constitution in question. However, they have realized that it would not be possible to get the PLA members en mass to the Nepal Army without meeting the entry standards of the Nepal Army. So, Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai agreed on setting up a special directorate at the Nepal Army for taking the PLA members in the directorate following the standards set by the Nepal Army for anybody opting to join it. The Nepal Army standards require certain academic qualifications, trainings and years of services to be eligible for various level positions in the Nepal Army. As already said most of the PLA members lack the academic qualifications, they might have a number of years of services at the PLA, they might be good commanders but they don’t have official trainings; so, en mass entry of the PLA members has not been possible.

During the last regrouping of the combatants into the combatants opting for joining the Nepal Army, taking voluntary retirement, or professional enhancement package, most of the combatants lacking the qualifications, trainings and years of service required for the entry into the Nepal Army at the same levels they have been serving at the PLA would need to accept the positions lower than what they have today, have opted for voluntary retirement. They have the options of either take the voluntary retirement or take the professional enhancement package or join the directorate at the Nepal Army at the much lower status. At the last regrouping, the combatants’ dream of joining the Nepal Army has shattered by the choice given by their party bosses either to choose the retirement or professional enhancement package or follow the Nepal Army standards for joining the special directorate at the Nepal Army. Most of the combatants have felt that their party has betrayed them.

Section commander at Surkhet-based PLA Sixth Division Manraj Devkota was once for joining the Nepali Army through the army integration process, at the last regrouping time, he chose voluntary retirement saying his party leadership had betrayed them in the name of integration; he opted for voluntary retirement thinking the Nepali Army would humiliate him, ‘The Himalayan Times’ of April 17, 2012 writes. “Our contribution to the party and country went in vain after the party leadership abandoned its stance in negotiation with other parties,” Devkota said adding, “Leaders got the power because of us, but they have forgotten us completely.”

At the latest regrouping of the combatants started off on April 08, 2012, the rival groups of combatants were ready to fight against each other; at some cantonments they started off fighting against each other. The combatants polarized into two groups: one group for accepting the order of the UCPN-Maoist establishment, another group taking the order from the Vaidya faction of UCPN-Maoist. Deputy Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Mohan Vaidya Kiran and his faction have been provoking the combatants saying the UCPN-Maoist establishment means Prachanda-Bhattarai axis has betrayed the combatants and accepted the integration of the combatants to the Nepal Army to the extent of their humiliation.

The combatants belonging to the Prachanda-Bhattarai axis quietly accepted their destiny whereas the combatants following the order of the Vaidya group became belligerent and ready to fight. The situation at every cantonment became the war-like. The Prachanda-Bhattarai axis quickly called in the Nepal Army in alarm to manage the cantonments. Taking the order from Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the personnel of the Nepal Army quietly took over the management of cantonments. Now, the commanders of the PLA could not take the order from one group or another of the UCPN-Maoist.

In order to boost the morale of the former PLA members, Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Prachanda has said that the PLA members are integrated into the Nepal Army not the former royal Nepal Army. So, the combined army is the national Nepal Army. Now, PLA members could be proud of being the part of the national army.

However, the PLA members joining the Nepal have to take the bridging course and the bridging trainings to meet the standards of the Nepal Army for joining it. Not willing to meet the humiliating standards set for them to integrate into the Nepal Army, most of the proud PLA members quit the cantonments with the money they received for the voluntary retirement. The result is only a few thousands PLA members remained to join the Nepal Army.

Originally, the number of combatants were almost 30,000 thousands; most probably, the Maoists have inflated the number. In the video of Chairman Prachanda speaking to the cadres in Chitwon the Nepal Army had leaked to the public, Prachanda said that the number of the PLA was in fact only 3,000 but his party had succeeded to inflate it to the 30,000 causing a great uproar in the Nepalese media, in the political and intelligentsia circles.

Following the letters sent by the Maoists and the then Government of Nepal to the UN requesting for monitoring the PLA members and their weapons, and the Nepal Army and their weapons, the UN sent UNMIN to Nepal to verify the PLA members and their weapons and put the PLA members and store their weapons at various cantonments, and equal number of the Nepal Army and their arms, too following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement the government and the Maoist had signed off in 2006. During the verification, the UNMIN disqualified a number of PLA members stating they were underage. Finally, the UNMIN arrived at the total number of PLA to slightly more than 19,000.

Since then more than 19,000 PLA members have been staying in various cantonments. European and American governments have provided the Government of Nepal with funding to support the PLA members. Such funding has been made under the peace fund provided to Nepal.

Then, the UCPN-Maoist and UDMF reached a four-point deal in September 2011, and formed a majority government headed by Prime Minster Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. In the deal, the UCPN-Maoist and the UDMF had reached, they agreed to take Madheshi youths in the Nepal Army, and complete the peace process vacating the PLA cantonments. The government had made an attempt to recruit fresh soldiers from the Madheshi community in a large number but the prevailing laws did not permit the government to do so. Someone took the issue of recruiting soldiers from the Madheshi youths to the Supreme Court of Nepal. Hearing on the issue, the Supreme Court stopped the government from the fresh recruit of soldier from the Madheshi community.

NC and CPN-UML opted to stay in the opposition demanding the Bhattarai government vacating the cantonments and transferring the weapons stored in the cantonments to the government before moving on the writing of a new constitution ahead. The opposition said that promulgation of a new constitution with the PLA members still in cantonments would be unacceptable to the opposition at any cost. They did not join the coalition government of the UCPN-Maoist and the UDMF disagreeing the UDMF’s demand for the bulk recruitment of soldiers from among the Madheshi youths.

Then, on November 01, 2011, the UCPN-Maoist, NC, CPN-UML, and UDMF entered into a new seven-point deal agreeing on the Nepal Army taking 6,500 PLA members. The number of the PLA members to integrate into the Nepal Army had been a bone of contention during the last four years. The opposition gradually scaling up and the UCPN-Maoist scaling down the number of the PLA members they want to integrate into the Nepal Army finally reached the magic number of 6,500. They also agreed on the amount of the money to be provided to the combatants taking voluntary retirement, the professional enhancement packages and the standards of the Nepal Army for taking in the PLA members.

Then, a number of teams of the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) presided over by the prime minister went to the cantonments and offered the three choices such as voluntary retirement, professional enhancement packages, and joining the Nepal Army. About 10,000 combatants chose the voluntary retirement and collected the retirement bonus and went home. Thus, the number of PLA members opting for joining the Nepal Army remained slightly more than 9,000: more than the opposition and the UCPN-Maoist agreed on.

The UCPN-Maoist tried to convince the opposition NC and CPN-UML to take the 9,000 plus combatants to the Nepal Army but the opposition stubbornly stuck to the previously agreed number 6,500 ultimately requiring to the second regrouping of the combatants. The second regrouping gave the result of only 3,000 combatants willing to join the Nepal Army. Most of the combatants left the cantonments after the Nepal Army took over the cantonments. Thus, the PLA army disappeared.

What alternative the UCPN-Maoist has to make its PLA members get the respectable entry into the Nepal Army. Practically, the UCPN-Maoist has no alternative to accepting the Nepal Army standards set for the PLA members to join it. Not to accept the Nepal Army standards means not to follow the Nepal Army laws. So, the UCPN-Maoist establishment has to force its army to follow the standards if they are joining the Nepal Army.

Leaders of UCPN-Maoist, NC CPN-UML and UDMF have been sitting at meetings days and sometimes nights, too to resolve the contested issues of a new constitution. Now, the opposition particularly the leaders of NC and CPN-UML have no excuses of not moving the writing of a new constitution forward after the PLA has been dissolved and cantonments have been vacated. These opposition leaders have been against completing the writing of a new constitution until the PLA goes off. However, coming out of every meeting they held, these leaders told the reporters that they had been close to resolve the disputed issues, and they hoped that they would certainly agreed on those issues at the next meeting. Nepalis in general did not have an idea what they had been talking about. They spent a number of days meeting at various resort hotels not to be disturbed by the hanging-around reporters that had been hungry for the good news of agreeing on the disputed issues. The time for completing a new constitution has been running out everyday. Upcoming May 27 is the last day for promulgating a new constitution thereafter the Constituent Assembly elected for making a new constitution dissolves automatically.

Now, President of NC Sushil Koirala has been drumming up that his party should have an opportunity of forming a new government before promulgating a new constitution. What is the justification for making a new government of his party before promulgating a new constitution? Mr. Koirala has never explained it to the public. His party holds a second position with only 114 members in the 601-member parliament. Some of his colleagues had even threatened to move a no-confidence motion against the Bhattarai government if it did not complete the PLA integration into the Nepal Army. Now, the PLA has been no more. Now, it is time for all to make a new constitution but Mr. Koirala has put forward another condition for promulgating a new constitution.

If the political leaders are sincere to completing a new constitution, they need to build a consensus on all the contested issues. In case such a consensus is not possible they need to take the issue to the Constitution Assembly for voting and completing a new constitution for promulgating before or on May 27, 2012. Demanding to form a new government as a condition for completing a new constitution will not lead the nation to a logical completion of the peace process and to a new Nepal but to back-to-square one and political chaos. If this is what President of NC Sushil Koirala has in his mind then logical-thinking Nepalis would never forgive him and for his party for that matter.

Whether the NC wants to join the Bhattarai government or not is up to the president Koirala and his colleagues that make the decision but they have to be serious about completing a new constitution. Even if the NC wants to form a new government and promulgate a new constitution and wants to be in power for holding general elections for a new parliament and a government after the promulgation of a new constitution then the NC needs to garner a majority in the parliament to remove Dr. Bhattarai from the office put Ram Chandra Poudel or Sher Bahadur Deuba whoever Koirala wants in the office.

The NC did not join the almost all-party government led by Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Prachanda in 2008 rather opposed every major decision the government made and ultimately made the Prachanda government a failure. Then, the NC put Madhav Nepal not elected in two constituencies in the office of prime minister forming a joint government of NC, CPN-UML and UDMF, and undermining the democratic value of the high public office of prime minister is only for an elected person. Madhav Nepal remained in the office for 20 months doing nothing to complete the peace process and the constitution writing but promoting the allegedly criminals to the highest offices of the Nepal Army. Then, the UCPN-Maoist and CPN-UML formed a new government but the NC did not join it, ultimately making it a failure, too.

Now, the army integration is completed; no more two armies; no more possibility of the UCPN-Maoist going to elections with their armed forces. Then, what does the president of NC Sushil Koirala want putting forward a condition of tearing down the government that has completed the army integration and moving to completing a new constitution, and forming a government of his party? Mr. Koirala would make a great favor to the nation if he lets the current government to remain in the office until the promulgation of a new constitution, and let the country have a new constitution by May 27, 2012. Then, Mr. Koirala might either form a new government or go to the people asking for votes for his party.

The international community is for completing a new constitution as soon as possible and taking Nepal to elections for a new set of parliament and a government. US, European Union, Japan, UN and India have welcomed the completing of the army integration and ending the PLA. India in particular wants to see a new constitution promulgated in Nepal on schedule. “Sources said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to visit Nepal within a timeframe of three weeks, but only one condition — full assurance of the promulgation of the constitution within the stipulated May 27 deadline”, HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE writes on April 20, 2012.

A press release of the office of the spokesperson for the UN Secretary General on Sunday, April 15, 2012 mentioned that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the role of political parties, the Government, and the Nepal Army, as well as Maoist commanders and combatants in the efficient transfer of weapons and maintaining security in cantonments, urged all political parties to maintain the momentum and consensus to bring the peace process and the drafting of the new constitution to a successful and timely conclusion, and reaffirmed the continued support of the United Nations for the Nepal's peace process, writes.

Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Prachanda and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake talked over telephone on maters relating to the peace process and the constitution making on Friday, April 13, 2012 writes on April 14, 2012 quoting the state news agency RSS. During the telephone conversation, Assistant Secretary of State Blake lauded the role played by the UCPN-Maoist in concluding the peace process quotes the Prachanda’s press aide Santosh Poudel. Blake also expressed the confidence that Chairman Prachanda would play a more important role in the promulgation of a democratic constitution following the people’s aspirations.

To be continued.

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