By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On May 26, 2019, four persons were killed and another seven were injured in three accidental bomb blasts in the capital, Kathmandu. According to the Police, all the persons who were killed were cadres of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand), who were making time bombs to detonate at public places during the nationwide bandh (shutdown) called by the group on May 27. CPN-Maoist-Chand had enforced the shutdown to protest the death of its cadre, Tirthraj Ghimire, in Police firing on May 22 in the Bhojpur District.
The shutdown hit life across country and terrified the population as the outfit planted bombs and torched vehicles at different places on May 27, 2019. Bombs were recovered in the Makawanpur, Kaski, Rautahat, Tanahun, Kailali and Baitadi Districts. Many vehicles were torched during the shutdown in the Ramechhap, Surkhet, Nawalpur, Bara and Makawanpur Districts. Market places and shops pulled down shutters in various Districts, while educational institutions remained closed due to the shutdown.
CPN-Maoist-Chand, formed on December 1, 2014, after splitting from the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist) headed by Mohan Baidya, was banned on March 12, 2019, following a series of explosions that took place at ‘Ncell’ telecommunication towers and other public places across the country. On February 8, 2019, CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres exploded three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near the powerhouse of the under-construction Arun III Hydropower project developed by the Indian company, Sutlej Jala Vidhyut Nigam. On February 22, 2019, one person was killed and two others were seriously injured in an explosion carried out by CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres at the entrance of the office of Ncell at Nakkhu in Lalitpur District. On March 8, 2019, two persons were injured in an IED blast carried out by CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres inside the residence of the Chairman of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies in Basundhara in Kathmandu.
It is not clear whether the CPN-Maoist-Chand has formed its own army, like the one the Maoists had during the days of insurgency, but many believe it has hundreds, if not thousands, of sophisticated weapons in its possession. Confirming this, Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, former supreme commander of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA), had told reporters in Biratnagar on March 5, 2019, that some arms and ammunition were stolen from the cantonments and that he had informed the Government at the time about the incident. Similarly, on March 14, 2019, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Chakrapani Khanal, who was serving as Deputy Commander of the then Maoist PLA, revealed that the Chand-led group had taken away some arms, including some sophisticated ones from the cantonments. According to the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies signed on December 8, 2006, the Maoist PLA stored 2,855 weapons in seven cantonments in addition to 524 for security of the perimeter of cantonments of Maoist combatants and 96 for security of the Maoist leaders.
Further, proving that CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres possess sophisticated weapons, on February 27, 2019, Police arrested Dev Kumar Limbu, CPN-Maoist-Chand’s in-charge of Morang and Dhankuta Districts, from the Sunsari District, with an M-16 rifle, a light machine gun (LMG), two sets of LMG magazines, and an M-16 magazine. Investigations found that the weapons were part of those the former Maoist rebels had looted from the Rolpa Barracks.
Separately, on March 7, 2019, a joint team of the Nepal Police and Armed Police Force raided Netra Bikram Chand’s house and 15 other houses in his village in Kapilvastu District, and recovered two SMGs, three magazines, 129 bullets used in M-16 rifles, a Chinese pistol, two other pistols, a remote control and around 40 metres of cable.
Earlier, CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres had opposed the new Constitution adopted on September 20, 2015. They also boycotted and tried to disrupt the elections held in 2017 under the new Constitution. Amidst the sudden rise in incidents of violence targeting candidates and election campaigns for the Provincial and Parliamentary Elections, the National Security Council (NSC) in a confidential report submitted on October 23, 2017, noted that CPN-Maoist-Chand was the major security threat to the elections scheduled on November 26 and December 7, 2017. The report stated that the Chand-led group had formed a parallel People’s Government and People’s Court, and had mobilised its National Volunteer Organisation, the youth wing of the party, which decided to boycott elections.
In order to hold talks with the disgruntled armed group, the Government formed a five-member High-Level Political Talks Team on August 25, 2018, led by Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Som Prasad Pandey. The team failed to hold formal talks with CPN-Maoist-Chand as Chand refused to meet the team members in person, a pre-condition set by the team. One of the prerequisite set by CPN-Maoist-Chand for talks with the Government was the release of 12 of its central committee members and around 100 cadres, including party Spokesperson Khadga Bahadur Biswokarma. Finally, on December 27, 2018, the High-Level Political Talks Team submitted its report to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, observing, “It is an extremist political outfit and the government needs to take action against illegal activities of the group.”
On March 25, 2019, advising the CPN-Maoist-Chand to join the mainstream peaceful politics, Prime Minister Oli stated, “I urge the Chand-led group to sit for talks with the government as early as possible. It’s a good opportunity for the group to renounce all the violent activities and join the peaceful mainstream politics.” Articulating a tougher stance on Mar 27, 2019, Prime Minister Oli warned “The Chand outfit will be brought to mainstream politics – if possible politically, and if not, by putting them behind bars.” Similarly, vowing to bring the outlawed Chand-led group into the mainstream, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, speaking in Parliament, on May 27, 2019, declared, “The government will leave no stone unturned to bring to book the perpetrators involved in the recent bomb blasts in the Kathmandu Valley.”
Since the Government declared the CPN-Maoist-Chand a “criminal and destructive” group and banned its activities on March 12, 2019, scores of its leaders, including standing committee members and politburo members, have been arrested. But the party has defended its activities saying their fight is against fascism and the Government. A statement undersigned by Chand read “While our party is gaining ground by taking action against anti-national elements, thugs, human traffickers and labour oppressors as per the public mandate, the government, in order to hide its failure, disrepute and crisis, has displayed a high level of fascism by imposing a ban on the party.”
Hours after the Government banned the Chand outfit, Mohan Bahadur Karki, a politburo member of the CPN-Maoist-Chand on March 12, 2019, warned of retaliation, telling the Kathmandu Post over Phone from an undisclosed location “The government has thrown the country into a conflict.” A day later, on Mar 13, 2019, in another statement he declared, “We are ready to take the difficult journey for the principles that we believe in. We are ready to retaliate accordingly if the government attempts to suppress us. Demanding donation is our right because we are fighting for the rights and future of the people of the country.” The Government views the demands for ‘donations’ as criminal extortion.
Little is known about CPN-Maoist-Chand’s party structure and organisation. According to party leaders, the party has its networks in most Districts, under four different commands – Eastern, led by Anil Sharma; Central, led by Hemanta Prakash Oli; Mid-western, led by Santosh Budha; and Western, led by Dharmendra Bastola. The party has also formed a People’s Council, led by standing committee member Santosh Budha Magar. The Chand party in recent years is believed to have expanded its base in Kalikot, Rolpa and Kapilvastu, which is Chand’s hometown.
The Government’s intelligence apparatus is being blamed for failing to track CPN-Maoist-Chand activities. However, the National Intelligence Department (NID) had cautioned authorities about increasing threats from the group. “The government was well-informed about the increasing security threat in the capital city,” a senior NID official claimed, requesting anonymity. Meanwhile, some sections of the intelligentsia and the opposition party continue to insist that the Government should try to persuade Chand to come to the negotiating table.
The recent bomb explosions have brought back the tragic and painful memories of the 10-year-long civil war. Chand and his followers are hardliners who view the entire peace process since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006 as a sell-out of the decade-long ‘People’s War’. At the same time, as Chand rejects any talks leading to the repudiation of his violent ways, the Government cannot evade the responsibility to act strongly and swiftly to punish the perpetrators. If the Government fails to maintain order, the country may slide into another vicious cycle of violence and instability.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management