Acting as a vigilante group/quasi-police force/moral authority, The YCL has allegedly threatened journalists, beat up school teachers, and (according to the US embassy) even stoned the US ambassador’s vehicle (although this incident has subsequently been shown to have been caused by a disaffected group of Bhutanese refugees who are unhappy with the US’s desire to relocate 10,000 of the 100,000 refugees to America.)
Most recently, the YCL detained a prominent banker who was convicted on corruption charges by the Nepali court system,but apparently allowed to remain free due to high level connections in the government. The YCL apprehended and brought this man to the police and demanded that they arrest him (which they did) This sparked the ire of Prime Minister Koirala, who publicly labeled the YCL “The Young Criminal League.” The protest we had witnessed was organized in response to the Prime Minister’s comments.
These recent developments are worrying on several fronts. To me it seems that the Maoists are trying to have their cake and eat it too. By participating in the current government, the Maoists have explicitly signaled their commitment to a multi-party democratic system, and publicly rejected the use of violence and intimidation as a legitimate political tool. This much is evident in the language of the peace agreement and by the subsequent weapon turn in and stationing of the Maoist army in cantonment camps.
Yet it was the Maoists who had the most to lose by participating in the interim government. Prior to the popular movement against the king, the Maoists controlled over 80% of Nepali territory, and enjoyed widespread popular support. To my mind, it would only have been a matter of time before they were able to seize control of the entire country.
So why did they participate in such an agreement at all? In my opinion (which perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt) given the current geopolitical context, if the Maoists were to seize power through violent means, they would instantly face a backlash from the international community (not the least India who is dealing with its own indigenous Maoist movements, and the United States who has placed the Maoists on its list of “terrorist” organizations.) Everyone has seen the lengths to which America is prepared to go to fight “terrorism,” and while the Maoists had the military advantage, participation in the democratic process is a more long-term strategic goal which allows them to transform themselves into a legitimate political force.
Given the widespread support they enjoy in the mostly rural and impoverished countryside, the Maoists stand to emerge as winners in free and fair elections. However, the longer that elections are delayed, the more time the other parties have to attempt to marginalize the Maoists and outmaneuver them politically. Thus, the YCL could be part of the Maoist toolkit (a plan B if you will) to ensure that Maoist power is not eroded during this critical time of transition. By appearing to be a separate organization, the YCL is able to advance the Maoist cause through extra-legal means which are unavailable to the Maoists as a result of their participation in the peace process. I’ve even heard some Nepali’s hypothesize that only half of the Maoist army is in the cantonment camps, and that local people were paid to pose as Maoist fighters and to remain inside the camps so that many key Maoist military leaders could remain at large, involved in the YCL.
However this is not to put all the blame on the Maoists. The political parties themselves have dragged their feet on conducting serious dialogue, and treat the Maoists as if they surrendered rather than voluntarily lay down their arms. Meanwhile they have perpetuated a culture of corruption, nepotism and impunity. The party leaders in congress are the same entrenched elites (many of whom have close ties to the palace) as before the people power movement. Thus, they are at odds with the mandate that the people power movement gave towards ending the monarchy and promoting a more inclusive and equitable society.
At the end of the day it is obviously a problem that a vigilante group is acting in society parallel to the police force. Nonetheless, the YCL enjoy widespread popularity and support as a result of the culture of impunity which exists in Nepal. If you are well connected the rules and laws simply don’t apply to you. Tackling the issue of government corruption could go a long way to eliminating fuel for the YCL’s fire, whoever they actually may be.
Posted By Jeff Yarborough
Posted Jun 10th, 2007