By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On December 14, 2019, Police arrested Sitadevi Mahara, Province 2 coordinator of Netra Bikram Chand aka Biblab-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand); as well as Lalita Mahara and Ramsovit Gaha, both central members of the group. The trio is suspected to have been involved in the December 13, 2019, blast. Three persons, including a Police Officer were killed in a bomb blast in the Mahendranagar area of Dhanusha District in Province No. 2 on December 13. Another three persons sustained injuries in the incident.
On December 6, 2019, Police arrested Yam Kumar Giri (37), a District Committee member of CPN-Maoist-Chand, from Tinkune of Kathmandu city in Kathmandu District. Giri was arrested for his alleged involvement in planting a bomb at the Jhapa District-based Sahara Nepal Saving and Credit Limited on September 9, 2019. The main gate of the cooperative, its guard room and window panes of the building were damaged due to the explosion.
On November 10, 2019, Police arrested 20 cadres of the CPN-Maoist-Chand in Kathmandu city for staging demonstration against an Indian political map that depicted the Kalapani region in Pithoragarh District of Uttarakhand as Indian Territory.
On November 8, 2019, acting on a tip-off, Police arrested 16 leaders and cadres of the CPN-Maoist-Chand along with the Party Manifesto and other political documents, from Majhpali in Bajura District.
On October 16, 2019, Police arrested 21 CPN-Maoist-Chand leaders and cadres from Rajpur Rural Municipality-4 in Dang District, while they were holding a meeting.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 12, 2019, when the CPN-Maoist-Chand was banned, at least 161 leaders and cadres of the outfit were arrested across the country (data till December 15, 2019). Moreover, one District in-charge and seven cadres of the CPN-Maoist-Chand were killed across the country in various operations during this period. The last of these eight killings was reported on July 10, 2019, when CPN-Maoist-Chand cadre Nir Kumar Rai was killed in an exchange of fire that took place between Police and CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres in Bhojpur District.
Accusing the CPN-Maoist-Chand of trying to engineer the failure of the present Government, undermine democracy, sabotage development works and obstruct the Government’s targeted socialism, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli warned, on March 25, 2019, “The group would be brought into political mainstream politically if possible and if not even by putting ‘the phony comrade’ behind bars”. On June 18, 2019, Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa directed Police chiefs of all the Provinces to control CPN-Maoist-Chand activities.
Hardening the Government’s stand further, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Ishwar Pokharel, talking to media persons at Biratnagar Airport on July 22, 2019, observed that the Government would take the process for talks with CPN-Maoist-Chand group forward only if the group gave up arms and violent activities. Separately, highlighting CPN-Maoist-Chand as a major threat to peace and security in the country, Home Minister Thapa noted, on July 23, 2019,
Though the government is largely successful in maintaining law and order in the country, complete peace will not be possible unless the Chand-led group is brought to the political mainstream.
Similarly, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota,speaking at a regular press meet at Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, on October 24, 2019,declared that the Government would not lift the ban on CPN-Maoist-Chand. Baskota, however, urged the outfit to shun violence and come for talks. He also urged the underground group to enter peaceful mainstream politics by abiding to the Constitution. He stated, further, that the demand for the release of arrested cadres of the group could not be addressed at any cost until the party came up with a peaceful compromise.
CPN-Maoist-Chand was formed on December 1, 2014, after splitting from the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist) headed by Mohan Baidya. Soon after, it initiated violence across the country. According to the SATP database, between January 19, 2015, the day of first reported incident of violence by the outfit, and March 12, 2019, the day it was banned, it was found to have been involved in at least 32 incidents of violence resulting in death of one civilian and injuries to 19, including 17 civilians and two Policemen, across the country. On March 25, 2019, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, while addressing the Parliamentary Party Meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), stated, “The group would be brought into political mainstream politically if possible and if not even by putting ‘the phony comrade’ behind bars.” However, since the ban on March 12, 2019, the group has been involved in 14 violent incidents which claimed 11 lives, including six civilians, three cadres of the group and two Security Force (SF) personnel. Another 13 persons, including 11 civilians and one SF trooper, were injured in these incidents (data till December 15, 2019).
Before banning the outfit, the Government had attempted to hold talks with its leadership. On August 25, 2018, for instance, the Government formed a five-member High-Level Political Talks Team led by Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmaker Som Prasad Pandey. However, the team couldn’t even commence with the process, as Chand paid no heed to repeated approaches for talks by the team. The Chand party articulated three preconditions for talks: an official invitation, the lifting of the ban on its activities, and release of its leaders. Significantly, on December 27, 2018, the High-Level Political Talks Team submitted its report to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, stating, inter alia,
The Biblab group, which is involved in semi-underground activities, has owned up to incidents of general shutdown, strikes and vandalism. Security agencies have concluded that the group was behind the bomb blasts that occurred during the three tiers of elections. But since the group has also advanced a political agenda and the background of the individual leading it is also political, it is appropriate to hold negotiations with the group.
Of late, CPN-Maoist-Chand appears to be trying to widen its influence, and has not limited itself to violent activities, such as minor explosions and intimidation. On November 6, 2019, CPN-Maoist-Chand released a statement declaring that it would start protests to condemn the Indian action of releasing a new political map. On November 2, 2019, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs released a new political map showing the Kalapani region as part of India.Both Nepal and India claim the region as their territory. Similarly, when the US Government pointed out ‘domestic terrorist activities’ of the CPN-Maoist-Chand in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 released in October 2019, the outfit declared, on November 6, 2019,that it would target the US Government’s interests and activities in Nepal.
As CPN-Maoist-Chand refuses to negotiate, Nepal’s Government is using its full capacity to curb its activities. There are no signs of the Government backing off in its clampdown on the recalcitrant group, as it continues to reject calls for unconditional surrender. With a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has the mandate and a golden opportunity to consolidate the stability the country currently enjoys. Any latitude to the Chand group would increase the risks of derailing the new Constitution adopted on September 20, 2015, and undermining the federal republic system newly established after the elections of 2017.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management