Saral Sahayatri was never scheduled to speak at last month’s Maoist party conference in Kathmandu. But in a hall decorated with images of Chairman Mao, Marx, and Lenin he and a group of former Maoist fighters stormed the stage and seized the microphone to the visible shock of party leaders.
Speaking to 5,000 gathered Maoist cadres arranged in rows of plastic chairs, Sahayatri demanded party leaders halt integration of the last remaining fighters into the Nepal Army, the final stage of a peace process which follows a decade of civil war that ended in a 2006 peace agreement between the government and Maoist rebels.
“The country has been able to see the change because of your selfless dedication,” said a conciliatory Puspa Kamal Dahal, the leader of the Maoists, in response to the protest.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But how much has Nepal changed?
Following six years of political uncertainty that has seen Maoist fighters holed up in barracks across Nepal awaiting orders, lasting peace has remained elusive, so too the prospect of stable democracy.
While the Nepalese army began integrating the remaining 3000-plus Maoist fighters on July 4, two months after first announcing the integration, the process ground to a halt days later amid combatants’ claims they were being sold out by the party and forced to sign up like new recruits, a charge the army denied.
Many have been disqualified following arguments about their age and qualifications which means their future remains uncertain. Protests by these former combatants quickly followed in Kathmandu.
Deepak Shahi, a former fighter that has spent the last six years in Shaktikhor Camp 100 km outside of Kathmandu awaiting orders from the Maoist leaders, says that if the process is not done properly it may as well not be done at all.
“I still feel responsible to help bring all this to a logical end,” he says, still using his nom de guerre Suresh.
“[But] much of what goes on at higher levels among our leaders and the political parties and the Nepal Army – I feel it’s politics.”
Recently, a day after Shayatri’s brazen defiance of his party leadership, 12 former Maoist commanders resigned en masse amid a corruption scandal after funds collected from former combatants to be used for a welfare fund went missing.
“Add a party split which saw a hard-line faction break away last month, and you have a ruling party in crisis,” says Rabindra Khanal, a lecturer in political science at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University.
He cautions that the recent Maoist meltdown is all just a dangerous power play that threatens to derail Nepal’s long march towards lasting peace.