Election Watch: New Maoist violence in Nepal

Most of Nepal’s Maoist ex-guerrillas have transitioned into peaceful democratic politics. Now, however, a splinter faction of hardliners is using violence to promote itself ahead of general elections. Their activities are likely to intensify should their former Maoist comrades win power.

picture of a van with communist flags in Nepal

Nepal has seen a spate of improvised explosive device (IED) and arson attacks ahead of a two-stage general election scheduled for 26 November and 7 December. The most common are IEDs emplaced on roads that are detonated when political convoys pass by them. On 21 November alone, an IED was recovered from near the home of an election candidate in Rasuwa; another was defused in Tehrathum; and a candidate’s Land Rover was set ablaze in Chainpur. Nor was the day untypical – army bomb disposal squads have been active on a near-daily basis throughout the campaign.

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The parties that have borne the brunt of the attacks are the two that currently share power: the Nepali Congress of veteran Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the main Maoist party, now called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) after multiple splits. This party continues to be led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a historically significant figure who led the Maoist insurgency to victory in the 1996-2006 civil war and who has served as prime minister twice since.

The Maoists, however, have undergone a multitude of splits since then, and the prime suspect in the pre-election violence is one of these splinter factions

The Maoists, however, have undergone a multitude of splits since then, and the prime suspect in the pre-election violence is one of these splinter factions. Members of Netra Bikram Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal now face arrest by the police due to the threat they pose to the polls. Chand is boycotting the elections, having accused the central Maoists of having sold out their revolutionary cause. Dozens of his activists have been detained over recent weeks.

Chand’s party was formed by a split within another Maoist splinter group in June 2016. Its powerbase is the Rukum district of mountainous western Nepal. It was a major battleground during the civil war, as was neighbouring Rolpa district where on 13 November Chand’s loyalists forced a shutdown strike to demonstrate their power. However, Chand’s faction has a presence in other parts of the country too, as it demonstrated the day afterwards when they seized the estate of the mayor of the eastern district of Khotang. The mayor, Iwan Rai, said this was due to his failure to pay their extortion demands

Chand’s movement retains the ability to operate as a militant group in part because of the difficulty the government in Kathmandu faces in exerting its authority in the Himalayan west

The Chand group is once again raising such ‘war taxes’ in areas under its influence. Reports suggest that the group is demanding between NPR10,000 and 200,000 (USD2,000) from its extortion targets, which include shops and factories. As the Khotang example demonstrates, refusal to pay can result in the expropriation of assets, at least until state security forces recover them, and a persistent threat after that point.

Chand’s movement retains the ability to operate as a militant group in part because of the difficulty the government in Kathmandu faces in exerting its authority in the Himalayan west. In the winter, districts like Rolpa and Rukum are often inaccessible even to the army, an isolation aggravated by the Chand group’s tactics of destroying mobile phone masts. This is a concern for tour operators – not only is it possible that trekkers could face demands for ‘revolutionary taxes’, as they were during the civil war, but severed communications lines pose a safety risk.

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