The brutal murder of school principal Rajendra Shrestha in the remote village of Miklajung of Morang district this week is a cruel reminder of the decade of insurgency in this country. And that was perhaps the intention of the Maoist-inspired Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) that claimed responsibility.
The CPN led by Netra Bikram Chand is not to be confused with the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), formed after the fusion of the erstwhile UML and mainstream Maoists led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal in 2017.
Chand split from Dahal in 2012 and vowed to continue the armed struggle. After arson attacks, extortion and explosions, the CPN was banned two years ago. Today, almost exactly a quarter of a century after the insurgency began, and fifteen years after it ended, the message from the Morang murder is that the revolution never ended.
Indeed, several commentators have drawn parallels between the murder of Rajendra Shrestha, and the summary execution of another headmaster – Muktinath Adhikari in Lamjung on 16 January 2002.
Both were abducted, taken nearby and killed. The intention was to strike terror in the population, and make an example of someone who refused to be cowed down by violence. Besides being a teacher, Adhikari was a human rights activist. Shrestha is accused of being a police informant.
Rajendra Shrestha’s killing is murder. It is not a war crime, because no war has been declared. It cannot be labelled ‘revolutionary justice’, it is a criminal act. It is not a reaction to structural violence, such crimes have no place in politics. Like any other killing, it must be investigated, perpetrators apprehended and tried in a court of law.
What is Netra Bikram Chand trying to achieve anyway? There are plenty of avenues available to him within Nepal’s current dispensation to launch a political career.
In fact, the field is wide open to mount a political challenge against Dahal and his former Maoist associates who have failed miserably to deliver on the utopian promises of the revolution in the past 15 years despite being at the helm of the party and government. That is, unless they are being egged on by other forces at a time when royalists are on the march, and geopolitical tensions are rising.
Re-igniting a conflict now would not just be ruinous for the country, it would force Nepalis to relive the sorrows of the decade of war. The violence is also counterproductive for Chand’s own cause, if indeed there is a larger cause he is fighting for.
We doubt it, though. Chand’s divergent path was a result of a falling out with Dahal, and a failure to reach agreement on sharing the spoils of war. Chand felt he was not rewarded a position commensurate with the sacrifices he made during the conflict. And there are quite a few in the rank and file who still think the revolution was abandoned halfway, and their contributions were never recognised.
Chand is also trying to tap into growing public disenchantment with the government, even though he probably knows that most Nepalis now have no stomach for violence. In that sense, the murder, extortion and terrorism spree is just a bargaining chip to propel him to the corridors of power.
There is precedent, after all: many of the comrades Chand fought shoulder to shoulder with during the conflict are now ministers or senior party functionaries, power brokers, or beneficiaries of state facilities. The message is that if you kill enough people you can leapfrog to power, and will not have to answer for your crimes.
The driving force of most crime in this country today — corruption on a grand scale, abuse of power, and even the epidemic of domestic violence, rape, abduction and homicide – is impunity. If people can literally get away with murder, there is no deterrent anymore.
Netra Bikram Chand and his followers are also encouraged by the failure of the transitional justice process. Dahal openly and publicly admits to being responsible for “only 5,000” of the 17,000 killed during the conflict, and yet nothing happens to him. No one was ever arrested or tried for Muktinath Adhikari’s murder, or the tens of thousands of other killings and disappearances by both sides.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Commission on the Investigation of Enforced Disappearances are just for show. History is repeating itself. But it is a farce. Nepalis have no wish to return to the barbarism of war.
It is a crime not to call it terrorism by Kunda Dixit