All eyes on the general
The recent Maoist government-Nepal Army tussle has meant many things to many people. And whatever be the outcome of the clash, the Maoist-led government can only emerge from the present crisis as a loser. And that will be true whether it removes the present Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Rookmangud Katawal or he goes on to serve his remaining term of which less than six months remain. Ever since 2001 when the army first took on the armed Maoist insurgents, the army and the Maoists have remained virtual foes, and whatever be the present pretext for the government, there is no denying that the main motive for removing the present COAS is the long standing enmity between the Maoists and the present army chief. The present COAS symbolises the strong resistance to Maoist infiltration in the army and this, of course, cannot be tolerated. The government found three, right or wrong, reasons to demand an explanation from the army chief giving him just 24 hours to do so. And whatever be the contents of the explanation provided, it was presumed unlikely that it would be â€œsatisfactory" to the Maoist-led government.
And the Maoists, through various means, lost no time in projecting that the army was contemplating a coup.
There is nothing new in coups in developing countries where institutionalisation of democracy is a slow and time consuming process. Mere casting of votes does not mean democracy; democratic norms and ideals must be reflected in all walks of life. There have been more than five dozen coups -- successful, attempted or failed -- in the past 25 years in various parts of the world, almost all of them in developing countries. A recent article in a foreign journal said, â€œThe real reason why military coups take place so frequently and so easily in Asian countries is the fact that the institutions of democracy had been so badly misused and exploited by the politicians in these countries that they had ceased to be bulwarks against arbitrary rule or effective instruments for protecting the rights of citizens.â€
A democratically elected prime minister in India, Indira Gandhi, resorted in 1975 to an extreme form of arbitrary governance and imposed an 18-month-long state of emergency in the world's largest democracy, the like of which was never seen in the South Asian subcontinent. This was an effective coup though not many call it that because it was effected by civilians elected by the people. Leaders elected by the people can and do disregard accepted democratic norms and indulge in unacceptable activities such as corruption and partiality towards their cadres at the cost of the general public. When this is so, don't the political leaders need to look at themselves in the mirror before pouncing on the army? The Nepalese army chief was painted by the Maoists to be so strong and influential that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has had to put off his long awaited China trip. The postponement of the trip means that the situation for the Maoists is really shaken, and the prime minister has to be present on the scene at all times to prevent any unpleasant thing from happening.
The China trip cancellation also comes at a time when the Maoists have been alleging that foreign powers including India were trying to interfere in the government-army tussle. Some media reports had it that our present COAS was a contemporary of the Indian Chief of Army Staff at a military academy in India, and that our COAS was â€œpro-Indiaâ€. This was reason enough for the Maoists to paint him as pro-India. (This is as if the Maoists are any less pro-India, and as if Pushpa Kamal Dahal had not rushed to India in the past and has had frequent and well publicized meetings with the Indian envoy to Nepal.) The bogey of foreign interference is a convenient tool handy for those who indulge in unwarranted activities.
In this respect, many note that the government has shaken up the civil service in a massive way, transferring many government employees from one place to another. Many are also being bid goodbye through voluntary retirement. The army is one area that remained untouched so far. But with the removal of the COAS, this too looks a possibility. And if the COAS is removed immediately, one hopes that the government has given a proper and thorough examination of the career records of the next in the immediate line of succession. (The next senior-most general after the present COAS is one whose term was extended when he was major general -- an idea that seems to be abhorrent to the Maoists considering their recent opposition to the normal extension of the terms of several brigadier generals. The government, more particularly the Maoists, also want to overhaul the judiciary which is evident from the voices of top Maoist leaders. All these, it is pointed out, is a part of the tactics of the Maoists to rule supreme in the country. But in the present case, the Maoists will continue to harp on the supremacy of civilians over the military as this is a convenient argument that is usually generally accepted everywhere.
Most people are torn between the established concepts and the government's ill-timed decision to assert its authority and the apparent army's defiance of government â€œordersâ€. The army has from time to time said that it will abide by the orders issued by the government. The most frequent reason voiced by political leaders, especially of the left, was the hackneyed clichÃ© of civilian authority being supreme and the Maoist argument that the government had sought an explanation from the army chief to establish the age-old concept of the army being under civilian control. (Or is it that the Maoists wanted to hand over the stewardship of the army to a general who would retire if the present COAS completes his term of office in about five to six months' time?)
But the concept of civilian authority being supreme over the army differs among those who deny it. On the face of it, the concept enjoys universal support, and all armies everywhere subscribe to it. But in the Maoist philosophy, army personnel are expected to actively participate in the political campaigns of the Maoists, something the Maoist armies are adept at doing. It is likely that the present COAS's days are numbered, but it would be a folly on the part of the Maoist government to install a puppet as a COAS and use the army to achieve the party's goals.
Many wonder why it was that the Maoists, who spearheaded the removal of the monarchy in Nepal and did it so easily, are now finding it so difficult to remove a mere army chief. There is a sharp and open difference among major political parties over the issue. Some top Maoist leaders have talked tough saying that they would pull out of the government unless Katawal was fired. Since the never-ending peace process is seen by the international community to be too precious and cannot be allowed to go off the track, it seems likely that the Maoists will once again have what they want. But unknowingly and unwittingly, and possibly reluctantly, the present COAS has taken centre stage, something the Maoists probably did not want, but has now happened.
Posted on: 2009-04-26 22:54:59