Print Edition - 2014-08-23  |  On Saturday

The Maoists’ nemesis

  • Katawal’s biography is an attempt at lifting the veil off the politicking that goes on inside Nepal’s power corridors
- Narayan Manandhar
The Maoists’ nemesis

Aug 22, 2014-

There is perfect compatibility of chemistry between the two of us.” This is how Comrade Prachanda used to compliment Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Rookmangud Katawal. The phrase appears in a couple of places in the recently released memoir Rookmangud Katawal. But after reading the 447-paged book, one would not fail to understand that, actually, it is the lack of compatibility between these two personalities that has brought Nepal to its present- day political abyss.

Excepting the last chapter, which has been made the prologue of the book, the book is divided into 12 chapters written in a chronological order, starting from Katawal’s childhood  and adolescent life and moving on to his career in the (then Royal) Nepali Army. The prologue, entitled The 16-Day-Long Battle, should have logically come at the end of the memoir, but it appears at the start, drawing the readers’ attention to the central event of Katawal’s military career and constituting the climax of the whole memoir. The section meticulously details the unfolding of the 16-day-long limbo facing Katawal after he was served a letter of clarification by the Maoist supremo in an attempt to unceremoniously oust him, until finally, a near-midnight letter from the president saved his job. In the ensuing tug of war between the political titans, which goes by the name Katawal kanda in Nepali, the first-ever elected prime minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, resigns and effectively brings us to the present situation. What follows thereafter will probably be written in the days to come.

The memoir is written in a simple, lucid language. It is leavened with a sense of humour at places, which makes for some enjoyable reading. Much credit for that probably should go to the up and coming professional Nepali writers who worked on the book. At most, only two people will find the book difficult to read-former King Gaynendra Shah and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. More than half of the memoir revolves around these two personalities. But these two people will probably have a problem with the memoir because it sheds light on the hard-headedness of the former king and the arrogance on the part of the former prime minister: if Gyanendra’s obstinacy led to the downfall of the monarchy in Nepal, it was the arrogance of Prachanda that added to the political instability and turmoil of the nascent Nepali democracy.

For outsiders trying to peer inside Nepal’s power corridors, the memoir is a fascinating read. It is not just that the former king failed to listen to Katawal’s plea to hand over the rein of power to the political parties. As Katawal discloses in the book, it was also the hard-headedness and arrogance of the monarch and his inability to take a timely decision that made matters worse. In one instance, the former army chief reminisces that while the army was heavily engaged with the Maoists in the battlefield and calling for more aerial support, one of the helicopters of the army had been commandeered in order to fly artists and journalists from Pokhara to Mustang for royal entertainment.

COAS Katawal presents himself as a pro-monarchist and a pro-Hindu nationalist, but laments  that despite his effort to save monarchy even in the last hour, by coming up with a three-point formula, he was rebuffed. His formula included: (a) the king’s renouncing all his personal and royal wealth to a Nepal Trust, (b) the king’s accepting a ceremonial role by surrendering all his powers; and (c) garnering support for the concept of the ‘baby king’.

Katawal’s animosity against the Maoists started from the very day when the Maoist duo of Comrade Prachanda and Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai made their first public appearance at Baluwatar, went live on TV and accused the army of being nothing more than a bunch of rapists looting the sanctity of innocent Nepali daughters. He understood that the Maoists’ clichéd idea of Sattakabja (state capture) basically implied the capture of the Nepali Army through a well-planned annihilation of the army leadership and subsequent infiltrating of the army with Maoist combatants.

The memoir tries to present Katawal as the saviour of the Nepali Army who was able to keep the army intact as an institution from the possible onslaught of the Maoists. But reading the inside accounts of the army presents no encouraging picture. Though Katawal says he abhors the comments often made about the then Royal Nepal Army—that it was as an institution dedicated to the salami, gulami and malami of the (royal) family—from Katawal’s  own account, one can see that the institution itself seems  far from perfect.  

After reading the memoir, readers will probably muse over one and only question: What would have followed had Prachanda prevailed over Katawal?

During a decade-long war with the Maoists, the then Royal Nepali Army might not have been given an explicit mandate to finish off the Maoists; their only purpose was to bring them to  the negotiating table and this is what the army accomplished—that could be an explanation. However, the reality is that Maoists could not and did not need to win the war; their victory rested simply on not being defeated. This is where they had a strategic advantage. In the end, the memoir, even after discounting Katawal’s self-aggrandisements, leaves readers with the narrative that Katawal was able to destroy the Maoists during peace times—something the army could not do during the war.

Published: 23-08-2014 09:21

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