September 16, 2012
Kul Chandra Gautam is one of Nepal’s most distinguished international civil servants. He served as Assistant Secretary General of the UN and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. He was Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal on International Affairs and the Peace Process. He is a seasoned diplomat and civic leader and serves on the Boards of a number of international and national foundations and charitable organizations. Six months ago, he was also listed by Lalrakshak, the magazine backed by the UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”, as an “enemy of the people” – a label many analysts equated to a loosely veiled death threat. CLICK HERE for my interview with Mr. Gautam, February 28, 2012
Three days ago, following the US lifting of the terrorist tag on Nepal’s Maoists, Mr. Gautam published his response in Republica:
“The Teflon Politicians” by Kul Ghandra Gaurtam
The Maoists are ecstatic that the American government has just lifted the ‘terrorist’ tag from them. They never acknowledged or expressed any regret that they had ever used terror tactics. They claim that it was either a “misunderstanding” and their pro-people activism was misconstrued as terrorism, or a “conspiracy” by the world leader of capitalist-imperialist powers to defame a progressive nationalist movement fighting for social justice. In any case, the standard Maoist defence is that if they ever committed any violent excesses, it was their “compulsion”, not their “choice”. Now, the Maoists argue that the Americans have finally corrected their mistake.
The Americans––including the new US Ambassador to Nepal––would surely understand the Teflon phenomena. An American company, DuPont uses the brand name ‘Teflon’ for a ‘non-stick’ chemical in cooking pots and pans, much favored by America’s housewives and chefs. In politics, the term Teflon is used to describe a person who is impervious to even valid criticism and on whom no kind of blame seems to stick. Ronald Reagan was called the ‘Teflon president’ as he easily seemed to get away with all kinds of gaffes and mis-statements. He was a lovable actor and people forgave him for mixing up certain facts and figures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to enjoy similar Teflon characteristics as many ordinary Russians overlook his authoritarian tendencies in their quest for progress with order and stability. Meanwhile, Nepal’s Maoists, and especially their leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, seem to have acquired an amazing Teflon characteristic as well.
Many Nepalis now recognize the deceptive nature of the Maoists when they speak about ‘people’s’ democracy, ‘pro-people’ Constitution, progressive transformation (agragaami paribartan), and even ‘peace, inclusion and social justice’ as their guiding principles. These days, the ordinary Nepali seems immensely cynical about these terms. But curiously, many Western friends of Nepal seem to continue to give the Maoists very generous benefits of doubt, even in the face of blatant and overwhelming evidence. Consider some of these examples.
EXTORTION AND DECEPTION
When the UN Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) started verifying Maoist combatants, the party flooded the cantonments with nearly 32,000 cadres, many of whom were freshly minted “combatants”. Reportedly, quite a few of their hardcore combatants were kept outside the cantonments as members of their ‘civilian’ Young Communist League, some of them on ‘double duty’—registered in cantonments but serving in various party functions outside. UNMIN did disqualify some 10,000 fake combatants and identified 4,000 as child-soldiers and late recruits.
But the Maoists never acknowledged that they had done anything wrong, much less apologizing for their willful lying. On the contrary, in a recorded videotape at Shaktikhor camp, Maoist leader Prachanda gloated with pride about how they had fooled the UN into accepting 19,000 as certified combatants whereas their actual number, he acknowledged, was only 7,000-8,000 only. UNMIN’s response to this disgraceful deception was not an outrage but a plea that we should understand the Maoists’ statement in a “certain context.”
Although UNMIN confirmed that nearly 3,000 combatants in cantonments were child-soldiers, and the Maoist leadership tried to negotiate big cash grants from donors in their name, the party has never officially acknowledged that they ever recruited anyone under the age of 18 in violation of international conventions. For two years, the party leadership delayed the release and rehabilitation of these youngsters, giving them false assurances that in the end, the party will either ensure that they are integrated into the Nepal Army or given very generous allowances. However, these poor kids were ultimately dumped by the party with poor packages.
Then after four years of dilly-dallying, the Maoist party showed ‘extraordinary flexibility for the sake of peace and constitution’, which was much heralded by many Nepalis and the international community. During physical verification of the combatants to ascertain their interest in integration, rehabilitation or voluntary retirement with a handsome package, it turned out that many thousands of combatants were either “phantoms” or had deserted the cantonments long ago. But the party and its commanders were collecting their allowances regularly with fake signatures. The compulsory levy collected from the meager allowances of these poor combatants had mostly gone to a mysterious ‘party headquarters’ and was never accounted for. Credible reports indicate that the party leadership has thus extorted from the government treasury, billions of rupees.
Today, the UCPN (Maoist) is Nepal’s richest but least transparent political party in terms of its financial dealings. After an uproar from within its own ranks, the party has constituted investigative committees to look into personal property and finances of its leaders and commanders. The “agragaami” fanfare with which these committees were created, packed with the party leaders’ henchmen, will predictably absolve the party’s top leadership but hold some middle-level leaders guilty as sacrificial lambs. And once again, many will cheer the glorious party’s courage and ability to introspect and correct internal faults, compared to the opaque nature of other corrupt traditional parliamentary parties.
How is it that in this day and age, a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist party that has not given up violence as a legitimate method of political change and ‘state capture’ by any means—through bullets or ballots—as its ultimate objectives can still project its image as a Teflon-coated ‘progressive and pro-people’ force?
Besides its following among many simple and poor folks or genuine victims of oppression who are looking for a savior and for whom the Maoist rhetoric can be very appealing, there seem to be two main reasons behind this. One, many of Nepal’s ethnic, regional and political activists, some civil society leaders, journalists and commentators are convinced that despite some of their excesses, the Maoists are or can be genuine agents for progressive change. Some tend to believe that even if the Maoists are insincere, they can be ‘used’ to neutralize traditional conservative forces to bring about progressive social change. Interestingly, this logic corresponds to the Maoists’ own design and calculation in the old Stalinist tactic of using independent intellectuals as “useful idiots”.
Two, after the end of the Cold War, Western countries are no longer worried about the ‘Communist menace’, which has now been generally replaced by Islamophobia. So, progressive-sounding dissident movements tend to enjoy a certain romantic appeal. And in their external relations, Nepal’s Maoists have been relatively successful in projecting their image of being widely misunderstood like the Scandinavian social-democrats.
It is interesting to watch how certain groups of Nepali intelligentsia and analysts tend to have a deep impact on the thinking of international progressives. The combination of Western-educated intellectuals—who present all of Nepal’s problems as a simple case of the traditional Bahun-Chhetri Hill elites wanting to perpetuate their privileged position by opposing all progressive change that would empower marginalized groups––and Nepali intelligentsia tends to unintentionally support the Teflon Maoists, offering faith-based solutions like ethnic federalism rather than genuinely progressive affirmative actions.
Now that the more vocally extremist Mohan Baidya group has split from the UCPN (Maoist), it has become convenient for many such potential analysts to say that the mainstream Maoists are truly progressive social-democrats. Never mind that the UCPN (Maoist) too has officially kept ‘all options open’ as a revolutionary party that believes in the dictatorship of the proletariat.
None of this is to say the Maoists should never be given any benefit of doubt. Credit must be given where due. True democrats must be open to all peaceful dissenting views, but always with the wise caution of the old Gipper—‘trust but verify’.