Kathmandu, April 3: It was a scene inconceivable even two months ago: a mass meeting of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) at the Open Air Theatre in the centre of Kathmandu.
Addressing a gathering not seen in the capital since the celebratory first few days after the restoration of democracy in 1990, Maoist leaders expounded on their vision of a Nepal for which they fought a bloody war against the state for seven years.
The occasion was to welcome the five-member negotiating team formed by the rebels after the January 29 ceasefire. In a sea of red flags emblazoned with the Maoist hammer and sickle symbol, the huge crowd stood in the dusty grounds of the theatre for more than two hours and cheered as each of the five members of the team rose to speak.
Every speaker said the talks were only the latest “front” in the “ongoing people’s war”. They repeated their commitment to the formation of a constituent assembly, arguing that this was the only way to guarantee the sovereignty of the people.
The team coordinator, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, said: “It was seven years and four months ago I spoke from the same venue and warned the rulers of impending revolution. But they did not listen, and that is why we had to take up arms.”
He said that the need for talks arose from the realisation that neither side was winning the war, and that the endless fighting would only give an opportunity for outside forces to become involved.
He also said that his party had made it clear that there would be some give-and-take from both sides at the talks.
Ram Bahadur Thapa, who had surfaced last Saturday after 24 years underground and who is said to be the mind behind the Maoist fighting machine, declared that the main issue during negotiations would be control over the national army, which he called the “royal army” as opposed to the Maoists’ “people’s army”.
“The army will have to be under the elected representatives of the people,” he said.
Another member of the team, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, criticised King Gyanendra and “those using his powers” of not taking the Maoists seriously. “They still haven’t formed a negotiationg team two months after the ceasefire,” he said.
He also alluded to the recruitment of new soldiers taking place at the army headquarters grounds a couple of hundred metres down the road and questioned if that is how a government committed to talks should be behaving.
Since their first public appearance on Saturday, the Maoist quintet have been busy meeting leaders of various political parties. Two of them even found time to join an anti-war rally against the Americans earlier in the week.
The first round of talks are said to begin anytime soon. But without the active presence of King Gyanendra, nothing substantial is likely to happen. The king returned on Sunday, 2 April, from a 10-day visit to India. He left again today for west Nepal to attend a felicitation ceremony being organised there.