Maoist extravaganza kicks off in Nepal

November 21st, 2010 - 2:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Nov 21 (IANS) Dogged by deepening controversies and distrust, Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas Sunday kicked off a key party meeting in a village that will dominate all news in the days to come with the communist extravaganza whispered to cost billions of rupees.

Palungtar, a little-known village in western Gorkha district with scant motorable roads, electricity and water supply, was transformed into a pulsating tiny township overnight as Maoist cadre toiled to build roads, erect huts and dig ponds to set the stage for the sixth plenum of the party that will decide if the former rebels will return to war, disband their guerrilla army and help the ruling parties write a new constitution by mid-May, 2011.

This is the most talked-about meeting of nearly 6,000 Maoist leaders since the plenum in Chunbang village in 2005, when the then banned party decided to lay down arms and forge an alliance with the major political parties.

The Chunbang meeting paved the way for a peace treaty the following year that ended the decade-old uprising in which over 16,000 people were killed.

In an uneasy coincidence, the sixth plenum begins on the fourth anniversary of the peace pact, amidst a new deepening discord with the same parties.

As smiling women in traditional attire welcomed delegates, offering them flowers and the traditional white tika on the forehead, there was growing speculation that the Palungtar meeting could see cracks in the Maoist party.

Since the last days of the insurgency, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had been developing differences with his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, resulting in the party demoting Bhattarai along with his wife, Hisila Yami, and other rebellious leaders.

Though the differences were papered over to avert a vertical split in the party, they have persisted and the Palungtar meet will see Bhattarai as well as another deputy, Mohan Kiran Vaidya, tabling documents on their own that will challenge Prachanda’s suggestions for the future course of the party.

Vaidya is regarded as the hawk among the former guerrillas, who has been urging a return to war. While he is not likely to prevail at the plenum, the plenum will indicate the extent of his power.

It will also shape the party’s policy towards India, with whom Prachanda remains deadlocked in a growingly acrimonious dispute. New Delhi has been accusing Nepal’s Maoists of providing arms training to India’s outlawed Maoists while Prachanda says India is thwarting his party’s bid to return to power through the ongoing prime ministerial election.

The Palungtar retreat was preceded by the Maoists storming parliament Friday to prevent the caretaker government from tabling the new budget, a gesture that forced the cash-strapped state to impose the budget through a presidential decree.

There is also a row about the Maoists’ guerrilla fighters’ participation in the plenum.

The ruling parties have warned that the People’s Liberation Army should be dissociated from the Maoists and not attend the political meeting.

About 1,300 PLA commanders were expected to attend the plenum. But after the UN also said it could hit the peace pact, it remains to be seen if the Maoists will backtrack or scale down the number of PLA participants.

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