Monday, December 22, 2008

Maoists attack Himal media

The Maoists in Nepal came to power by winning an outright (constituent assembly) election, defeating discredited parliamentary opponents and helping in the overthrow of the hated monarchy. They did this by graduating from a guerilla struggle and by debating their every move to enter into a multi-party democratic system. They opened up to the media, built international bridges with civil society and solidarity organisations in south Asia, who were equally enthralled about the removal of a feudal autocratic institution - the monarchy as much as the ordinary Nepali citizen.

There has indeed been a lot of goodwill for the Maoists and for the democratic community to build a fresh, egalitarian constitution. No one expected that process to be smooth as the contradictions between the polity was bound to be laid out to the fore and each of the parties were to undergo a certain transformation in the new political game. If the UML had to adjust to the presence of a larger left party which was slowly but surely hegemonising their constituency, the Nepali Congress had to accommodate sections of the erstwhile monarchist right among its already hotch-potch coalition of liberal, social democrats and feudal sections. The Maoists, on the other hand had some catching up to do in a new liberal polity, where it had to subordinate itself to the rules of the "competitive game". They had "suffered birth pangs", as was seen in the way there was a disconnect between an accommodative leadership which was keen on fostering a broad coalition of democracy, and an assertive and confrontational mass organisation such as the YCL which was intent on building and retaining the hegemonic space, not to mention the more difficult transformation from a guerilla outfit involved in a people's war to a democratic political party.

At times, this disconnect created a rift between the Maoists and other political parties - in particular, the UML. But for the sake of a longer vision of a constitutional republic, these were in a way sorted out. Even then, time and again, the illiberal character of the mass organisations of the Maoists (admittedly in a chaotic socio-political system) has raised heads. One such incident is the simply unacceptable attack of the Himal media premises in Kathmandu where journalists affiliated to the weekly Nepalitimes, the Himal Khabarpatrika and others in Himalmedia were attacked by people who were identified as Maoist members of their restaurant workers union and others related to YCL (again).

As a report by Prashant Jha who writes a weekly column with Nepalitimes and is a consulting editor with Himal Magazine points out, it is not the case that the magazines have covered the Maoists favourably or indeed they have been objective about reporting on issues that are dear to the Maoists. But that is not a "grievance" to be addressed in this manner - violent targetting of the media offices and their journalists. Or is any other greivance enough to justify or legitimise a violent attack. After all, the modus operandi reminds this Indian journalist about the fascist attack by Hindu right wing groups in India - the Shiv Sena attack on Outlook magazine or the NCP goons' attack on Marathi journalists.

Clearly the "birth pangs" for the democratic Maoist party in a liberal polity, have continued. And this is untenable. Hegemonising public space by violence and intimidation will only backfire as the international community will obviously react with disgust and so too would other members of the media fraternity in the fledgling constitutional republic.

This writer, who has been sympathetic and supportive of the Nepali Maoist project in Nepal to achieve an egalitarian, developed and constitutional republic of Nepal, free from exploitation and international meddling, unequivocally condemns the violent attacks on the press, orchestrated by elements affilated to the Maoists.

No comments: