By S. Binodkumar Singh*
On May 1, 2021, the Netra Bikram Chand faction aka the Biplav-led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist-Chand) split after politburo member Krishna Prasad Dhamala aka Gambhir revolted to form a new party, the Jana Samajwadi Manch-Nepal (JSM-N). Issuing a statement, Dhamala declared that the aim of the new party was to accomplish the ‘unfulfilled revolution,’ Dhamala added, “We are the witnesses of the history where the movement took the leadership to new heights but in the end, it was the leadership that betrayed the people and the revolution.” He called for ‘fierce struggles’ against feudal, imperialist and fundamentalist tendencies.
Though he did not name Chand in the statement, it is widely speculated that the split was in opposition to Chand’s decision to enter into an agreement with the Government. CPN-Maoist-Chand, reached a three-point agreement with the incumbent Government on March 4, 2021. The agreement states:
the CPN-Maoist-Chand will seek to address all its political issues through dialogue, the CPN-Maoist-Chand will carry out all its political activities in a peaceful manner, and the Nepal Government will lift a ban it has imposed on the party’s activities, free all cadres from jail and withdraw court cases against them.
Though Netra Bikram Chand, the General Secretary of CPN-Maoist-Chand, issuing a press note, sought to assert that Dhamala had left the party much earlier and his formation of a new party did not imply a split in CPN-Maoist-Chand, reports indicate that the internal rift within the party is growing.
Indeed, on April 11, much before the announcement of the split by Dhamala, Dharmendra Bastola aka Kanchan, the ‘chief of foreign relations department’, ‘western command chief’ and ‘secretariat member’ of the Chand faction declared that the country needs to hold a referendum to abolish the parliamentary system. Claiming that the current parliamentary set up was undemocratic, he called all the political forces to move beyond the parliamentary system. The statement clearly demonstrated that a section of the party remained in ‘revolutionary mode’, despite Chand’s agreement with the Government.
Chand himself has not given up the idea of a new ‘revolution’. On March 13, 2021, Chand and the Karna Jeet Budhathoki-led Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Center) signed a three-point agreement on cooperation to create party unity. According to the agreement, the two parties will work jointly to build a ‘scientific socialist system’ against the capitalist regime, and will involve other revolutionary parties in the process.
The reason for this dichotomy is quite simple – the delay in the full implementation of the agreement by the Government. Though the Government lifted the ban on the party on March 4, 2021, and the Home Ministry directed the Police to release all cadres of the party, reports indicate that around 2,500 cadres of the outfit are still lodged in different jails. The Government has failed to comply with the terms of the agreement as local security agencies warned against rushing the decision to release of cadres due to two reasons:
Chand faction cadres have not surrendered their arms and ammunition so far, and have only announced their intention to participate in mainstream politics Chand faction cadres may tie-up with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist rebel leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in the elections.
Interestingly, there is no mention in the agreement about the party surrendering its arms.
Meanwhile, on April 28, 2021, ruling out withdrawal of cases not in compliance with laws and the Constitution, the Attorney General of Nepal Ramesh Badal asserted that all cases filed against leaders and cadres of CPN-Maoist-Chand could not be withdrawn.
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 partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), between January 19, 2015, the day of the 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 the death of one civilian and injuries to 19, including 17 civilians and two Policemen, across the country.
Between March 12, 2019, the day it was banned, and March 4, 2021, the day the ban was lifted, the group was involved in another 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. The last fatality was reported on December 8, 2020, in which a teacher identified as Rajendra Shrestha (54) was shot to death by cadres of CPN-Maoist-Chand at Miklajung Rural Municipality in Morang District. Shrestha was accused of working as an informant for the Police. The last violent incident was reported on March 1, 2021, when a pressure cooker bomb was exploded by CPN-Maoist-Chand cadres at Hulas Steel and Industries Private Limited in the Bindbasini Rural Municipality of Parsa District. The blast shattered windows of one of the rooms and caused some damage to the walls. However, no casualties were reported in the incident.
After the lifting of the ban, the group has not been involved in any violent incident.
The Chand group remained a major security threat to Nepal since its formation and up to the time of the agreement. The Government expected that the agreement would improve the overall security situation. The inherent weaknesses of the agreement was, however, completely ignored. The Government failed to secure an assurance from the outfit to hand over its weapons and thus rule out any prospect of future armed rebellions. The Government also made a commitment to release all the cadres without assessing the consequences under the prevailing circumstances.
The post-agreement developments are likely to increase restlessness within the Chand-led party. The threat of launching a ‘new revolution’ by the party leaders is not surprising, nor, indeed is the emerging of the breakaway faction, JSM-N, that rejects the deal with the Government. The growing instability in mainstream politics in Nepal encourages spoilers and will remain an important element in the dangers potential for a regression to armed violence.
*S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management