By Maila Baje
Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, former supreme commander of the ‘People’s Liberation Army’, has publicly assumed responsibility for the deaths of 5,000 of the 17,000 people killed during the decade-long Maoist insurgency. And everyone seems to be up in arms.
“I take responsibility for both the good and the bad that took place [during the ‘people’s war’. I am not shying away from that,” Dahal declared at a function organized in Tundikhel – the most public of the capital’s public places – by the Tharu Community to mark the Maghi Festival. “But the blame should not be placed on me for the things that we did not do.”
Was Dahal carried away by a level of confidence borne out of a favorable balance of power emerging within his Nepal Communist Party (NCP)? Was he no longer able to contain the ghosts of the ‘people’s war’ haunting him incessantly deep within? Was his declaration part of a carefully crafted effort to influence the much-delayed transitional justice process? Or was the NCP co-chair just messing with us?
It’s a free country and everyone can have a take from every angle. Daman Nath Dhungana laments that Dahal chose to speak at Tundikhel something he should have said in a duly constituted truth and reconciliation commission. As a prominent mediator/facilitator between the state and the rebels during the height of the insurgency, Dhungana certainly has a stake in this.
Baburam Bhattarai, on the other hand, contends that culpability in conflict-era deaths cannot be divvied up. Easy for him to say. Unlike Dahal, he was a pen-pusher during the insurgency who has since graduated to tweeting.
Only Dahal knows what he knows. Intended or otherwise, though, he has subsumed the truth, reconciliation and transitional justice processes into the wider contest of victimhood our national conversation has stalled into.
The political parties, security agencies and former monarchy will no doubt seek to sort out their place in the culpability list. Out of the 5,000 deaths Dahal accepts, which ones weigh the heaviest on the blameworthiness scale? Victims on whom the Maoists inflicted the most pain before their souls departed? Within that cohort, whose suffering takes precedence? Those whose limbs went out before their lives did?
As we go down the hierarchy, where do those rank whose hearts just stopped beating amid the general pressures of the times? Do the dead insurgents who the fleeing rebels beheaded on their way out of the battlefield to evade identification come under the 5,000 or 12,000 column?
It is a telling commentary on our state of affairs that Dahal has been reduced to making such statements today. There was a time, after all, when much of our vaunted civil society was almost sanctifying the blood spilled by the Maoists as a hallowed act against royal feudalism. What other recourse did disadvantaged, dispossessed and desolate Nepalis have?
Time has shed much light on the ‘people’s war’ – particularly its external dimensions – which has only been amplified by the political course the country has taken in its aftermath. This is not necessarily to Dahal’s detriment, though. Maybe next time the erstwhile Maoist supremo should declare that he was merely following orders – from abroad.