Barsha Man Pun 'Ananta', a former Deputy Commander of the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA), is known to be a close confidant of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. On Friday evening, two days before the Maoists decided to remove Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Rookmangud Katawal from office, Ananta spoke to Akhilesh Upadhyay and Aditya Adhikari about the Army Chief controversy. Contrary to Maoist actions since Friday, Ananta claimed there was no option but to gain consensus from the other political parties before removing the Army Chief from his position.
Q: What could be the solution for the current controversy regarding the removal of Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Rookmangud Katawal?
Ananta: From a constitutional and legal point of view, the solution is easy. The government is allowed to ask for clarification, promotions and transfers of officials of the organs under its control. But because the issue regarding the Army Chief has become a controversial national issue, the only option is to form a minimum consensus with other parties in the government and in the opposition and then take action against the Army chief.
Q: What are the chief reasons that your party wishes to remove the CoAS?
Ananta: We've been saying this publicly. There are three major incidents and a number of other smaller ones, where the CoAS has disobeyed the government and gone against the principles of civilian supremacy and democratic control. The government then felt that the CoAS was displaying insubordination and asked him for clarification on his position, in which he implies that the Army does not fall under the control of the government. He says that the president is responsible for appointing him and only the president can remove him. Indirectly, he has also claimed that the government doesn't have the right to ask for clarification. This has further convinced the Maoist party of the Army chief's insubordination and it therefore decided to take action against him.
The other claims that have been made in public - that the Maoists want to consolidate their control over the Army, that they want to establish a one-party state, that they want to integrate the entire Maoist army into the national one -- these are only false rumours.
Q: If the clarification had been more conciliatory, would you have desisted from attempting to take action against him?
Ananta: Yes. There was a situation where the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) was saying that the Army was violating its peace accord obligations. Civil society was saying the same thing. In this context, there was no option but to ask the Army chief for a clarification. We had thought that the clarification would be “soft” and that we would easily be able to find a resolution acceptable to all. But the clarification displayed such deep insubordination, and the Army chief, instead of trying to resolve the issue with the government, went to get the help of various political parties and diplomatic missions. This we felt was the incorrect thing to do.
Q: There were only a few months left before the Army chief's retirement. Why did you decide to take action against him and bring so many problems upon yourself, when it was only a few months before an easy solution could have been found?
Ananta: The row with the Army had reached a climax a few months ago during the controversy over recruitment. But the government displayed patience at that time. There were demands in the party that a clarification should be demanded of the CoAS and that action should be taken against him, but the prime minister managed to calm these voices down. He called a meeting of the five parties and said, “Recruitment has already taken place. Let's take a political decision regarding this and accept it.” The court took the same decision later. But the court also implied that the decision to recruit was wrong as it told the Army not to do so again.
So the government initially tried to reconcile differences with the Army. But these differences increased as the Army continued to disobey the government. We were forced to think of what tradition such moves by the Army would set. They have disobeyed the government on recruitment, then on the renewal of tenure of generals, then on the issue of the National Games. If this continues to be accepted by the government, the next Army Chief may also continue this tradition, and the power of the government over the Army will itself come under question. So we tried to establish the principle of the government's supremacy over the Army. There was no other objective to the government's attempt to remove the CoAS.
Q: Had your party foreseen that this attempt would bring such polarization among political parties and civil society?
Ananta: The chain of events turned out to be very different from what we had thought. We had thought that it falls under the rights of the government to remove the Army Chief. The five parties in government had also already agreed to it. The chief opposition party had also been informed through various means that the government would at any time seek clarification from the Army Chief. Various diplomatic establishments had already been informed. But there was unnecessary reaction from political parties and diplomatic missions. If the CPN-UML had been able to come up with a clear policy towards this issue, it wouldn't have become so controversial.
Q: What are your views regarding India's response?
Ananta: India has always interfered in Nepal and dictated to us what to do. It has its interests here. The general Nepali public feels this, as does the political class. Loktantra has now come to the country, and India had been taking a softer position than before. But with this incident, it seems to us that India has again gone back to its old way of doing things here.
Q: Why do you feel that India reacted so strongly to your attempt to remove the Army Chief?
Ananta: A story has been constructed that the Maoists wish to capture state power and take over the Army. This is false, but they have been influenced by this story. India's position also indicates that perhaps it is not very positively disposed towards the integration of armies and constitution drafting processes. The results of the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections were not in accordance with Indian desires. Even after that things didn't work according to their plan. They felt their relations with the Maoist-led government had become difficult. Their strong reaction to this recent incident seems to be an expression of this.
Q: There is an impression that the Indians are upset with the Maoists attempts to cultivate China.
Ananta: We have an open border with India. Tens of thousands of our citizens go to India to seek employment. On occasion if we want to travel from one area of Nepal to another, it is easier to go through India. Tens of thousands of Indians from Bengal and Bihar come to Kathmandu to do business. We cannot stop this right now. We understand these realities. But if anyone tries to use these realities in their self-interest, this will not be acceptable to us.
That's why we've been trying to develop more neutral, equidistant relations between India and China. But it seems that India is not happy with this. If this is true, then India has to change its mindset. It is developing its economy, trying to become a global power. But if it's constantly engaged in fights with its immediate neighbours, how will it be able to develop as a global power? For that to happen, it has to demonstrate that it is large hearted.
Q: How will the process of integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants proceed after this controversy regarding the attempt to remove the Army Chief?
Ananta: There is the special committee that has two representatives each from the four major parties. This will create the policy for integration and rehabilitation. A technical committee has also been formed of eight members, who, although nominated by the parties, consider themselves to be and are considered by the members of the special committee to be neutral experts. This committee will give recommendations on the modalities of integration and rehabilitation.
Even though work has somewhat halted over the past two weeks, some work is still going on. We recently visited the cantonments. We got a briefing from and held discussions with the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee (JMCC), Peace Ministry, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and the expert from UNMIN.