Following the split in the Nepal Communist Party, all three of its splinters—CPN-UML, CPN-UML Samajbadi, and CPN (Maoist Center)—have revived their respective militant youth wings. The UML now has Youth Force, the UML has Samajbadi People’s Volunteer, and the Maoists, the Young Communist League (YCL). Similar rationales are being offered for their revival: to help the country overcome the Covid-19 crisis, to carry out social work, and to help the party mobilize during the upcoming elections. Yet these youth wings are likely to serve a different purpose.
The YCL, partly formed with the induction of erstwhile Maoist PLA fighters, was notorious for its intimidation tactics. When the mother party formally entered mainstream politics in 2006, it had to disband the PLA. Party leaders feared traditional parliamentary forces could see this as the Maoist party’s emasculation, making them further strengthen the YCL as a backup militant force. When the CPN (Maoist) romped home to victory in the 2008 elections, the CPN-UML, traditionally the country’s biggest communist force, suspected the YCL’s intimidation tactics of prospective voters and donors had borne fruit.
So it formed its own youth wing in the YCL’s image. Some other Madhesi parties also copied the YCL model. As was expected, they jostled to protect the interest of their mother parties and often clashed. They started shaking down businessmen for donations, even as they, and the YCL in particular, purportedly wanted to eliminate all forms of political corruption from Nepal. Moreover, in the name of assisting the police to maintain law and order, these forces often became a law unto themselves.
For all these reasons, the revival of these militant groups is troubling as the country prepares for another electoral cycle; constitutionally, all three levels of elections must be completed by November 2022. Going by their history, these groups will be used to forcibly collect donations and intimidate rival cadres and voters. The proliferation of such militant groups with the official sanction of political parties is not a healthy development for Nepal’s democratic process. It is also a bad omen for the prospect of free and fair elections.