Murari Sharma: Will Dahal try to wash some blood from his hand this time?

Aswini Koirala, a writer, writes in his Facebook portal that he would not watch Nepali television as long as Pushpa Kamal Dahal remains prime minister. The reason — his cousin sister Puja, whose father was killed by the Maoists, does not want him to. Puja’s father was the chief of the Police Post in Bethan, Ramechhap, when the Maoists attacked and asked the police to surrender. After the surrender, the rebels lined up and executed all police personnel in cold blood. Now  a grown up Puja, who was three at the time of her father’s murder, blames Dahal for the atrocity and cannot bear watching him.

The photo of Muktinath Adhikari killed and hung by a tree by the Maoists, is all over Facebook once again. Ganga Adhikari is still  on a years-long hunger strike, while her husband has died, seeking justice for the murder of their teenage son by the Maoists. The families of the victims of the Madi bus explosion, allegedly ordered by Dahal in his own district, are waiting for justice as well. So is the family of Ujjan Shrestha, who was killed by a Maoist leader close to Dahal.

These are only a few examples of more than 5,000 people the rebels killed directly and more than 10,000 they killed indirectly during their decade-long armed insurgency. Dahal and his then-deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, presided over these killings and the insurgency. Dahal was the military chief and Bhattarai, the chief of the so-called people’s government.

The duo directly or indirectly ordered the murder of the first group and caused the death of the second group of victims by using them as human shields, a grave war crime under the Geneva Conventions, and asking their guerillas to fire from behind the line of innocent civilians.   

I am afraid, crimes never leave the criminals alone. Sooner or later, justice will catch up with them. Remember Pol Pot, Taylor, and Milosevic? There are only three ways of mitigating the impact and intensity of crimes on your conscience and win the forgiveness of society. Atonement, suicide or jail.

While neither the blood on their hand nor the fear of facing justice will go away completely no matter how much they wash, they can make the blood fade and justice less harsh by expiating themselves and earning the forgiveness of their victims and the people in general. For this, they must rebuild what they have destroyed during the civil war, sincerely work for the country’s advancement, reach out to the victims and their families to heal the wounds inflicted by them, including by accepting some punishment under the law.

However, in the past, Maoist leaders have done no such things. Rather, their priority was to shield themselves and their supporters from justice and to enrich themselves economically.  In his first innings as prime minister, Dahal sought to impose Maoist dictatorship, protected his criminal gangs from justice and met with a Titanic crash. Bhattarai disgraced himself by continue protecting the criminals in his ranks and by letting the Constituent Assembly die without producing a constitution, demonstrating his blatant political incompetence, though he held a Ph.D. degree.  

During the insurgency, and more importantly after the start of the peace process in 2005, the Maoist leaders amassed so much ill-gotten money, in the name of the poor and dispossessed and their combatants, that they own dozens of private schools, hospitals, and business establishments in the country. The voters saw and punished the Maoists.  

They reduced the Maoists from the largest party in the 2008 elections to the third largest by far in 2013. In this situation, they have been trying to evade the hand of justice by playing opportunistic political games, including shifting coalitions.

The Maoists have played the principal role in making and breaking political coalitions since 2008. The reasons behind them have mainly been to protect criminals in the party. They joined hands with the UML last year, hoping that they could buy immunity for their crimes. When the UML failed to deliver because national and international law prevented what he wanted, Dahal broke his marriage with KP Oli of the UML  and married Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress. 

His luck may run out soon. Deuba, the bigger partner in the coalition, has used Dahal only as a bridge to power for himself. He can pull the plug on Dahal any time, and so can India. Dahal will have no immediate recourse to the UML’s protection, so soon after he has horribly betrayed UML leader KP Oli and pulled him down from the high chair.

Clearly, the present coalition has no higher purpose than acquiring and sharing power between Deuba and Dahal, 9-monts each, and preserving Indian influence. Based on the euphoria exhibited by the media sources close to the Modi government, the present coalition will safeguard India’s monopoly on political and economic influence in Nepal. It has also been hoped that this government will prevent Oli from winning the impending general and local elections.

However, by pulling down Oli so quickly, Deuba and Dahal have potentially made Oli stronger than before. He has left office as one of the most popular prime minister on account of his standing up to India in the wake of the Indian-sponsored economic blockade, his signing several agreements with China to reduce Nepal’s economic dependence on India, and several election-winning promises, such as the abolition of tuins, single-rope stretched across rivers for crossing, within two years, construction of railway lines and additional roads connecting China, to name a few. 

Due to this, one should not be surprised if the UML emerges as the largest party in the next election. While the Nepali Congress may descend to the second largest, the CPN (Maoist Center) as Dahal’s party is now known) might lose further ground and lose its capacity to broker power anymore. Dahal might find himself in political disgrace — high and dry, without friends and without options — unable to protect his criminal gang.

If that happens, living in ignominy or committing hara-kiri will be the path forward. Those who disgrace themselves commit suicide through hara-kiri in Japan to preserve their dignity and honor. Elsewhere, they use other methods to take their lives in such situations.

I do not think our current or former Maoist leaders who done crimes should take that drastic path if they demonstrate convincing contrition and make sufficient amends for the heinous deeds they have done. This might mitigate the burden on their own conscience as well. If they fail to show such contrition and make such amends, they may end up choosing hara-kiri or jail.

The current opportunistic coalition has given Dahal a small window to redeem himself and his party by doing what is best for the country and by putting on the back-burner his desire to protect his criminal gang and to amass wealth. This is one more great opportunity for the Maoist atonement. Dahal has no time to clear his throat — to get ready for action. He must hit the ground running and win the forgiveness of people if he and his fellows want to avoid jail or hara-kiri.

Will Dahal do everything to obtain forgiveness from his party’s victims in this small window of opportunity? Or will he engage in business as usual and slide himself and his colleagues a notch down towards the eventual jail or hara-kiri. Let us hope he goes for the first option. Puja, the families of Muktinath Adhikari and Madi bus victims and so many other people would be eagerly watching how Dahal’s second innings as prime minister unfolds.

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