During the categorization of ex-PLA combatants last December, the majority opted for integration into Nepal Army. Most others (7,365) chose the Voluntary Retirement package with the belief that they would get the promised compensations (of anywhere between 5-8 lakhs) from the state with which they would be able to start their lives anew. At long last, the government has started doling out the cash.
But the process has run into some heavy weather. Over the past one week, it has been widely reported that PLA top commanders have been demanding up to 40 percent of the sums those opting for VR scheme are getting. National dailies have carried images of helpless former fighters begging for police protection against this kind of ‘extortion’.
Now it emerges that there is much more going on than meets the eye. Apparently, the Maoists called back many of the ex-PLA men and women who had deserted cantonments and were thus not liable for the December categorization. This was supposed to be a win-win situation for both the groups. While the Maoist party would get its agreed cut, the deserted combatants, who would otherwise have received nothing, would get the bulk of the retirement sum. There was just a little hitch.
The Maoist top brass clearly didn’t expect some of the deserters to get greedy and seek police protection to save them from ‘extortion’ by PLA commanders. The Maoist gamble of raking in billions from state coffers in the name of the cantoned combatants seems to have misfired this time around. In the past, the party had been happily milking the state: for the last five years the party has been cutting Rs 1,000 from the monthly state allowances for the cantoned combatants. This ‘contribution’ apparently went into ‘PLA fund’.
But there are enough reasons to believe that top Maoist leaders too benefited from the fund, whose size and sources are fiendishly opaque. The justifiably disgruntled combatants suspect that as much as Rs 3 billion might have gone into the pockets of top PLA commanders and those higher up.
The Maoists are in a tight spot. Not only has this blatant misappropriation of state funds made other parties reevaluate their trust in the party, it has also thrown up other unexpected problems for the Maoists. When the ex-combatants the party had diverted into YCL started clamoring for their fair share of the pie, the party establishment was forced to announce compensations for them on par with those opting for VR scheme.
But how? If the party is to compensate a couple of thousand former fighters in YCL, it will have to cough up at least Rs 2 billion. But in a recent report submitted to the Election Commission, the party’s annual income is capped at under half a billion rupees. The party can ill afford to break its promise to its rank and file. Yet if it decides to honor it, the billion-rupee question is: Where will it get that kind of dough