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A new Prime Minister but the same battleJuly 22, 2001
Although time has finally overtaken Girija Koirala and we have a new Prime Minister, the situation in Nepal has not changed. We still face the same the same problems that existed before. Nepal is still at war with itself. The struggle between the Government and the Maoists for control of the State has not been decided by the removal of one man from office. We all hope that a newly led Government will address the social and economic problems that have bred rebellion. But we cannot be certain that divisions in the ruling party will not lead us into further chaos. The basic problem facing the Government is this.
Like many other conflicts, there are two extreme groups at either end of the struggle and a mass of moderates between them. It is difficult to gauge real Maoist support but a recent Internet opinion poll revealed that more than 20% of respondents believed the rebels were fully justified to use violence against Government forces. As the bulk of Maoist support lies in the remote hills where both computers and literacy are rare, we must assume their true strength to be higher. It is therefore possible that about 30% of the people are firmly behind the rebels.
But the Government cannot claim to represent the remaining population. Although 77% criticised the Maoists for killing policemen, a large majority of them nonetheless urged violent action against senior politicians and officials. Many of them even called for former Premier Koirala to be assassinated. These are not Maoist supporters but simply citizens who have become completely disillusioned with the whole system of politics and government. They support the Constitution and the Monarchy but believe that most current politicians have betrayed the Nation through corruption and greed. This is certainly the largest group in Nepal numbering perhaps 60% of the population. They are the middle ground caught between the Maoists and the Government.
The remaining 10% are the core of Government support. They are the wealthy traders and businessmen who have profited most from democracy. They are the bureaucrats, professionals and officials who administer the system. And they are the ancient elite families whose position at the head of society depends upon the continuation of the current order. They are not necessarily Congress Party supporters. Indeed many of them might have opposed democracy eleven years ago but today they fear a Maoist regime even more. Their position and wealth is threatened by any significant change and they will fight tenaciously against it.
But decisive military action by either side is unrealistic. We have seen that recently at Rolpa district. The Army cannot simply exterminate the Maoists. Each one shot in action will only inspire another ten to take their places. And no amount of force will ever defeat a rebellion that has a fair and just cause. But equally, with Indian and American support behind the Government, the Maoists cannot hope to take SinghaDurbar by force. The international media would denounce it as an act of terrorism against a properly elected government. Sanctions would be applied to any revolutionary regime and Nepal would find itself isolated in the international community with a large hostile neighbour dedicated to the restoration of the existing order.
Plainly the political struggle to win support from the middle ground is the real battleground of this war. And recently the Government has certainly been aware of the national mood. Careful controls were placed over the Army operation at Rolpa. Plans to improve health and education will be welcomed by all and the problem of significant corruption has been admitted. By forcing Koirala from office, the ruling party has also responded to the will of the people. But divisions within it will remain. Although some Lawmakers will seek compromise with the Maoists others will oppose them. And one very fundamental concern of the Nation remains. Many senior figures and most citizens are dissatisfied with the Palace Massacre report and seek a more detailed investigation. Until they are heard the rebellion will always have the fuel to drive it forwards.
The Maoists also look for greater support amongst the middle ground. Following widespread anger at their merciless killing of so many ordinary policemen, their subsequent attacks have taken more prisoners and left fewer corpses. Their recent bomb attacks in Kathmandu were gestures of political presence rather than deliberate attempts to kill and destroy. And Comrade Bhattarai has declared his Maoist policy will increase democratic rights rather than lessen them. But perhaps rebel strength has increased more through Government failure than any political awakening to Maoist philosophy. Although it would be difficult to actually lessen democratic rights in Nepal at the moment, the idea of a 'One Party State' is still feared by most citizens. And although King Gyanendra may not be as loved as his predecessor the idea of a Republic is still unpopular.
Nepal has long been proud of its status as the only Hindu Monarchy in the world. To many people our kings are not mere aristocrats but holy reincarnations of gods. Perhaps some of that magic has faded after the Great Tragedy. But the common will to believe in destiny and the finer elements of faith cannot be destroyed overnight. And although many may view His Majesty with suspicion and his son with hostility, it must always be remembered that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The inconsistencies of the official report might indicate the strong possibility of a conspiracy but there is no logic to assert that any member of the royal family was necessarily involved. Others may have manipulated events without his knowledge and the Maoists have failed to provide any evidence to the contrary. Perhaps the Monarchy is stronger than the rebels believe. Certainly there is little support for any current political figure to replace the king.
So the ultimate force in this war still lies with you, the ordinary citizens of Nepal standing in the middle ground. It is you that must eventually give support to one of the factions in this struggle. As more and more of our sons and daughters leave their homes to fight for one side or another they are making their choices clear. And even silence does not allow escape from the inevitable decision. Doing nothing is a vote to allow things to remain as they are. In any civil war there is ultimately no middle ground. Each side will fight to control it and the war will continue until one of them succeeds.
With my best wishes to you all,