Monthly Review from Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, one of the leaders of the revolutionary forces in Nepal. We cannot fully authenticate the piece since there is a revolutionary war under way in Nepal and Dr. Bhattarai is underground. But we believe the article to be authentic from its content alone.
In June of this past year we published the first English translation of an important letter from Dr. Bhattarai setting out the facts and circumstances surrounding the palace massacre in Kathmandu on June 1st, 2001. We suggest that the reader not familiar with the recent history of Nepal review that letter (and our introduction) at https://monthlyreview.org/0601letter.htm.
The letter of June 2001 had been published originally in Nepali by mainstream editors who were arrested for that act of courage, and subsequently released. But even this is not possible today in Nepal. The newspapers friendly to the popular and revolutionary cause are shut, their editors in jail. The editor of a mainstream paper is now subject to arrest and interrogation for even quoting a revolutionary leader. In these circumstances, we believe this article of Dr. Bhattarai to be the first detailed analysis available to the international community from the leadership of the revolutionary forces following the resumption of the revolutionary war in Nepal in late November.
In the seven months since the new King Gyanendra seized the throne over the murdered body of his older brother, events have moved quickly. At first the new King made conciliatory gestures as he sought to establish control over the armed forces. The Prime Minister was changed, and the new Premier (Deuba) called for a truce in the People’s War, talks between the government and the revolutionary leadership, and announced his intention of instituting land reform, abolishing aspects of caste degradation, and achieving legal equality for women. The revolutionary leadership agreed to the talks and to the truce. For the first time the revolutionaries could hold public meetings even in the center of the main cities—Kathmandu and Pokhara—and vast happy crowds assembled.
But the chalice was poisoned. The promised release of the imprisoned revolutionaries was always being put off, even though the revolutionaries released the police they had taken prisoner. The promised land reform was delayed. The talks were sterile, with the government side declaring non-negotiable the key matter of calling a democratically elected national convention to consider the question whether Nepal should be a monarchy or a republic. And the new King moved steadily to assert his control over the armed forces. When he believed his position secure, at the start of November he took the step of declaring his son Paras—hated by many from one end of the country to the other as a thug and a murderer—crown prince and successor to the throne. And army units began moving into place around the country.
Under these circumstances the People’s War resumed on November 23, when the revolutionaries in the countryside moved to liberate their still unreleased comrades in the major district jails by force of arms. At the jail in Salleri, the district town of Solu-Khumbu district, the kids ran up against an army unit recently moved into position. Unlike prior jailbreaks the army did not stand aside, and in the intense fighting the prisoners were liberated, and the district offices burned, but the revolutionaries suffered serious casualties.
On November 26th the King and the Premier Deuba declared a state of emergency, suspended democratic legal rights, closed leftist newspapers, started making mass arrests, and – of course—denounced the revolutionaries as “terrorists.” In the month since the imposition of the royal military dictatorship it has been estimated that some six hundred youths have been killed by the government as “Maoists,” a thousand or more arrested on suspicion of revolutionary activity, and about one hundred police and army personnel have lost their lives. Yet only last week, on December 27th, the revolutionaries entered and took temporary control of Jumla, the primary town of northwest Nepal and not previously a scene of armed revolutionary activity, driving the local police and governmental officials to take refuge at a nearby army camp.
There can be no doubt that much of the countryside, from one end of Nepal to the other, is today under total or partial control of the revolutionary youth. But the better armed Royal Army has commenced “search-and-destroy” missions, and the situation is fraught with the specter of further bloodshed. The following analysis by one of the leaders of the CPN (Maoist), the guiding force of the People’s War, should be of interest to every sincere friend of the people of Nepal.
Birth Pangs of Democracy in Nepal
After the declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of royal military dictatorship in Nepal on November 26, there has been wide speculation and certain apprehension amongst the international community about the real happenings inside the country. Since a strict press censorship is imposed and the general public is subjected to one-sided royal military propaganda, the outside world is forced to buy the deliberately floated theory that the fight there is between ‘democracy’ and ‘terrorism’. After September 11 it has been convenient for every tin-pot dictator to brand any opposition or rebellion against him as ‘terrorism’, and the fratricidal and regicidal Gyanendra Shah has naturally sought to cash in on that global revulsion against terrorism. However, the dialectics of universality and particularity ought to be correctly grasped and every particularity has to be properly discerned so as not to err in policy matters. It is, therefore, submitted here that the real fight currently in Nepal is not between ‘democracy’ and ‘terrorism’, but between completion of the democratic revolution and the restoration of monarchical autocracy.
The 1990 political change in Nepal ushered in a multi-party parliamentary system, but the effective political power remained in the hands of the traditional feudal monarchy. Not only did the King remain above the law with all traditional royal economic, social and cultural privileges intact, but the royal army was allowed to owe its continued allegiance to the monarchy. This was ensured through an ambiguously worded constitution drafted by a committee nominated by the king and promulgated by him using his ‘traditional authority’, rather than by an elected constituent assembly. This seemingly innocuous procedural lapse then proved such a costly political blunder later on (though the revolutionary Left, the precursor of the present CPN (Maoist) had warned of it at the time) that the parliament and the political parties were reduced to mere court jesters dancing to the tunes of the almighty monarchy. As a result no basic structural change in the semi-feudal and semi-colonial socio-economic formation was brought about in the ensuing years, and the country continued to reel under abject poverty, inequality, dependency and all-round underdevelopment. Acute class exploitation was accompanied by yet more onerous national, regional, gender and caste oppression of the overwhelming majority of the population.
It was against this background that the historic People’s War (PW) for a New Democratic Revolution (NDR) was initiated under the leadership of CPN (Maoist) in 1996. Surpassing all expectations the PW made rapid strides and within five years almost all of the countryside came under the control of the revolutionary forces. In addition to the vast majority of poor peasants, the main support base of the NDR constitutes women, dalits and people of oppressed nationalities and regions, including Madhesis of the Terai region bordering India. Also a large section of the urban and rural middle strata owing traditional allegiance to the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and the main parliamentary opposition CPN (UML) have rebelled against their parent parties for their meek surrender before the feudal monarchy and joined the NDR.
Meanwhile contradictions within the ruling classes got sharpened as regards to the strategy to be pursued against the ever rising PW. King Birendra, with a relatively liberal persuasion, was seen to be too weak and indecisive to take on the revolutionary forces. Hence in a shrewd and swift military coup d’etat on June 1, 2001, the entire family of King Birendra was wiped out and a more crooked Gyanendra and his criminally inclined son Paras were put on the throne. It may be noted here that Paras Shah has been involved in a number of murder cases and intensely hated by the people. As the masses in general refused to accept Gyanendra and Paras as the new ‘King’ and ‘Crown price’, the immediate plan to deploy the royal army against the revolutionary forces was shelved for some time and a drama of negotiation with the CPN (Maoist) was sought to be staged under a new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba. Keeping in mind the public sentiment for a negotiated political solution to the problem, our Party responded positively and three rounds of negotiation were held from August 30 to November 13. But all in vain.
Why did the talks fail? And who is primarily responsible for that? A deliberate impression is sought to be created that we walked out of the talks and they had to deploy the royal army as the last resort. Let the facts speak for themselves. Throughout the talks it was clear that Deuba was just a helpless dummy, while the actual player behind the scene was Gyanendra. (Though Girija Koirala [the previous Prime Minister] had his own agenda to sabotage the talks so that he could upstage Deuba in the Prime Ministerial chair).
Considering the delicate balance of power among the three contending forces, viz. revolutionary, parliamentary and monarchical forces, we did not press for our NDR agenda but sought to make common cause with the parliamentary forces to consummate the ‘old democracy’ first by institutionalizing the republic. Accordingly we proposed three immediate agenda items: an interim government, a new constitution and the republic. When Gyanendra coerced Deuba to reject out of hand the question of a republic, we proposed the convening of an elected constituent assembly to decide on the question of the abolition of the monarchy and institutionalization of the republic. Naturally Gyanendra sabotaged this move, too, and none of the parliamentary parties including the NC and the UML [the rightwing Communist party, the main parliamentary opposition] dared to come out in favor of a constituent assembly. Meanwhile Gyanendra had mobilized the royal army under his command throughout the country and prepared for a final showdown with the revolutionary forces. This is the immediate precedence of the final breakdown of talks, the armed clashes of November 23, and the imposition of Gyanendra’s military dictatorship on November 26.
Subsequent events have proved that the real power of the old state has now been completely usurped by the Gyanendra clique and the biggest losers have been the meek parliamentary forces hanging between the crossfire of revolution and counter-revolution. Otherwise what was the need to declare a state of emergency and suspend all fundamental democratic and political rights of the people? It was a subtle political coup d’etat staged by Gyanendra using the gullible Deuba (who is now connected to the royalty through marriage to a Rana!). And it is a direct corollary to the military coup d’etat (i.e. palace massacre) of last June. It has also been proved, as poignantly highlighted by the late B.P.Koirala in his recently published Atma-britanta (or, self-portrait), that unless the traditional royal army is replaced with a modern people’s army democracy in Nepal can never be safe. The feudal reactionary nature of the royal army and its complete hegemonization by the ruling Shah-Rana families may be gauged from the fact that of the thirty commander-in-chiefs since 1835, twenty-six belonged to the Shah-Ranas and four to their close courtiers, Thapa-Basnets. Hence there should be no doubt, at least to the progressive and modern-minded, that the current fight in Nepal is precisely for ending this age-old feudal tyranny and to usher in a real democracy suited to the 21st century.
And last, but not least, the role of our two immediate neighbors, India and China, is going to be crucial in this epic fight. Traditionally both these powers have sought to appease the monarchy as a symbol of ‘peace and stability’. But the ground reality has undergone a radical change with the all-round democratization process sweeping the vast countryside during the last six years of PW and virtual collapse of the traditional institution of monarchy after the palace massacre of last June. The concept of ‘peace and stability’ should be dynamic, not static. Only the voluntary and unified will of the majority of the people can ensure genuine peace and stability. Let the international community, and particularly our neighbors, India and China, understand the current reality as the birth pangs of democracy in Nepal and let the Nepalese people decide their own future.