On February 4, 1996, when the Maoists were ready to go underground for the “people’s war,” Baburam Bhattarai, president of the United Nepal People’s Front, then the legal face of the Maoist organization, presented a list of 40 demands. to the government then headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba who, by the way, is also the current Prime Minister. Then came an unequivocal ultimatum that if the government did not take “positive initiatives by February 17, 1996”, it would “be forced to adopt the path of armed struggle”. The demands included the repeal of the Nepal-India Treaty of 1950, the ban from entering Nepal to all vehicles with Indian license plates, the ban on Hindi films, the end of the “invasion colonial and imperial elements “, the elimination of corruption and the practices of intermediaries. , among others.
No one, including the front itself, believed that the government of the day would be able to meet these impossible demands within the two weeks allotted to it. It was not the goal either. Even if some of the processes had been initiated in good faith, the Maoists’ plan to resort to guerrilla warfare would not have been avoided. The string of political events that have unfolded in recent times has blatantly exposed the lack of moral ownership of these demands on the part of the presenters themselves and represented sheer falsehood and political bickering.
Since the Maoists joined mainstream politics after signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, the party has never lost power, whether leading the government or being part of a ruling alliance. Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal became prime minister twice, and Bhattarai once. But the implementation of these radical socio-political programs has never been part of a government of which they were part. Even today, the Maoist Center is the second largest constituent of the ruling democratic left alliance. No one even wants to remember this 40-point charter of requirements. This is indeed the justification for the fact that these demands were never supposed to be met, but deliberately conceived as empty demagoguery, a crude publicity stunt and instruments to present the group as a “great nationalist” outfit.
On October 18, 1994, Madhav Kumar Nepal, then secretary general of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), wrote a letter to the World Bank expressing “serious reservations” about the ready-to-launch 402 megawatt Arun III hydroelectric project. The timing was such that the bank’s board of directors made a final decision on the project in two weeks, on November 3 of the same year. The pretext was that the country was approaching midterm elections, and the UML wanted a thorough review of the project if elected to government. He formed a minority government the following month and the project was eventually called off. Sensing a politically unfavorable atmosphere under the Communist government, the bank took refuge in the so-called findings of an investigative report with politically correct “findings” to overturn it.
This was a huge loss for the country, as the grant and soft loan component of the $ 1.08 billion project accounted for about two-thirds of the cost. Germany alone had pledged $ 125 million in grants, part of which was later diverted to the Mid-Marsyangdi project. The Arun III project was to be immediately commissioned and completed within eight years. In addition to the lost opportunity in power generation and the resulting opportunity cost for the country (given that the project is not yet complete), the UML’s decision significantly damaged the credibility of Nepal as a nation genuinely in search of development. Since then, the apprehension of development partners with regard to a possible communist reaction when launching large development projects has become a basic phenomenon, and the blocking of such development projects has remained synonymous with the policy of hypernationalism sponsored by the left.
The Upper Karnali hydroelectric project developed by the Indian company GMR Energy since 2008 to date has faced obstacles of a different scale and nature, mainly from one or another dissident group of the Maoist group. (Of course, the unusually long delay in project implementation poses other problems as well.) But the unpredictable nature of politically motivated obstructions remains a real risk to the project, even if the developer crosses other hurdles like financial close and the power purchase contract. with potential buyers.
Needless to say, the latest (near-near) victim of the “Communist Curse” is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a $ 500 million grant deal proposed by the United States with Nepal to build a transmission line. key cross-border electricity with India and expand some strategic routes. Even this time around, the main spoilers of the MCC broth are the same numbers – Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, who are the most critical stakeholders in the Deuba-led government. Sadly, however, the same anti-development demagogues have ruled the roost in Nepalese politics for so long, and the Nepalese people have proven unable to summarily replace them through a democratic process. On the contrary, the number of communist formations continues to grow whose main political slogan, without exception, continues to be pseudo-nationalism.
Development prospects repeatedly thwarted by communists of different shades have raised fundamental questions that require a comprehensive national approach to resolve them once and for all. First: Does the excessive domination of communist ideology, cumulatively, in Nepalese politics turn out to be an anti-development curse for Nepal? Second: Can Nepal get its objective discourse on decentralization back on track, which has now effectively been hijacked either by paid agents of interested competing parties or by die-hard supporters strongly divided along political lines? Third: how long will it take for Nepal to pursue its development strategy based on its own rationalization of priorities, independent of geopolitical interference and rivalry?
Without a doubt, the Nepalese Communists not only need to transform themselves into a credible democratic force, but an additional responsibility they have is to prove that they are not primarily anti-development either. Of course, with an exponential increase in the global strategic weight of our northern neighbor, China, the conventional geopolitical balance is bound to change, but it cannot be a permanent obstacle to Nepal’s development ambitions. This certainly justifies a complete recalibration of Nepal’s foreign policy stance to enable it to simultaneously engage a communist China and the democratic West. Regardless of everything, however, Nepal’s political leadership must show its courage to make the right call in the national interest at the right time. The MCC episode should serve as a litmus test for them.