ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Making of a 'New Nepal'

The comprehensive peace treaty between Nepal's parliamentary forces and the Maoists is not simply historic; it has brought together disparate ideologies and ways of functioning. The challenge now before the "new Nepal" is to contain the fallout of the destruction of the old order and accommodate the aspirations of different groups seeking their place in the sun.


Making of a ‘New Nepal’

The comprehensive peace treaty between Nepal’s parliamentary forces and the Maoists is not simply historic; it has brought together disparate ideologies and ways of functioning. The challenge now before the “new Nepal” is to contain the fallout of the destruction of the old order and accommodate the aspirations of different groups seeking their place in the sun.


“There comes only one chance, on

one day, in an age”, said Pushpa

Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, the chairperson of the Communist Party ofNepal (Maoist), quoting the Nepali poetGopal Prasad Rimal, at a public meetingin Kathmandu. That historic “chance” for ending the violence of the People’s War, disempowering the autocratic monarchy,integrating the Maoists in a competitivemultiparty democracy, and restructuringthe Nepali state was the conclusion of theNovember “12-point understanding” andits consolidation a year later in the Comprehensive Peace Treaty (CPT) betweenNepal’s parliamentary forces, the sevenparty alliance (SPA) and the Maoists.

The CPT and its precursor, the “8-pointunderstanding”, a few weeks before, signalled a breakthrough in the protracted impasse that followed the April 2006peaceful urban uprising backed by theMaoist control of the countryside established during their 10 years’ “People’s War”.The autocratic power of the palace crumbled before peoples’ power, halted just short of the assault on the Narayanhitipalace and which would have precipitateda democratic republic and a Maoists takeover. Instead, the house of representativeswas reinstated. Radical left political analystHari Roka and civil society leader, Devendra Raj Pandey feared it would bea stratagem for re-enacting yet anothercompromise that would enable the feudalelements backed by foreign forces to againundermine democracy as has been happening since the 1950s.

The functioning of the reinstated parliament as “sovereign” rather than an interimarrangement to pave the way for a constituent assembly; the attempt in May topre-empt the constituent assembly by proclaiming Nepal as a secular state, lopping off “Royal” from the Nepal army and gender mainstreaming the monarchical line

– all had raised fears of a possible backdoorreturn of the status quo ante of the twinpillar recipe of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. Further, thefixation over an agreement on the management of Maoists arms as a precondition topolitically integrating the Maoists in aninterim government, was accompanied by achorus of statements by the US and Indian envoys – “you cannot be in the governmentwith arms and you cannot extort money”.It was a reminder of the obtrusive role of

“external forces”, in this case, namely, theUS and India (now strategic partners) inthe two sites of mainstream politics, the political parties and the palace.

But Prachanda had read carefullyAttmabrittanta, the autobiography of thefounder of democratic politics in Nepal,B P Koirala and the fateful decision of the armed rebels to “disarm” without ensuring physical control of the Royal NepalArmy (RNA) leaving the democratic forcesvulnerable to king Mahendra’s coup. Thismight also explain why his brother primeminister Girija Prasad Koirala is so keento alienate not the “Nepal army”, even acquiescing to the appointment as armychief of Rukmangat Katuwal, notoriousfor human rights violations.

Efforts to put back on track the road mapto peace via the “June 16 understanding”floundered over India’s misgivings over a precipitate dissolution of parliament.Prachanda reacted with ominous talk of an October uprising. To regain the momentum of the “April revolution”, Prachandacalled for a demonstration of Maoist strength, a million strong ‘jana sabha’ in Kathmandu. The build-up to it gave thepeople of Kathmandu, cocooned from thephysical reality of the “People’s War”, ataste of the roughness of Maoist rule. Cadresknocked on doors demanding that 10 ofthem be put up or else. Alienation and fear got channelised into public protests outside the Maoists’ office in Patan. Prachanda called off the rally.

Meanwhile, the media stoked forebodings among the urban populace of redterror with reports of continuing Maoist violations of the code of conduct, of abductions, recruitment of children, beatings, forcible donations/taxing of trekkersand confiscation of 50 per cent of thepaddy. In the vacuum of state power in ruralareas, it was the Maoist peoples’ governments, peoples courts and peoples jails. TheMaoist leader’s defence was cold comfort

– “If they (SPA) had agreed to immediatelymove towards an interim constitution and an interim government, then the peoplescourt and the peoples government would automatically have been dissolved”.

Moreover, over the last couple of yearsas the state virtually collapsed in vastswathes of rural Nepal, the Maoist movement expanded phenomenally with theconsequences of the gun overtaking political consciousness. Prachanda issued corrective statements warning against “annihilation on flimsy grounds” and emphasisedthat “in policy and practice red terror doesnot mean anarchy”. However, what mostvitiated the current atmosphere was the wave of fresh recruitments of schoolchildren. The mainstream media reportedthat the Maoists were “abducting” hundreds of children from schools and takingthem to Maoist camps; protest rallies wereheld to stop buses taking them away; parents visited camps to try and find their childrensome as young as 12 and 14 years.

“They are coming on their own”, saidHsila Yami, alias comrade Parvati, a member of the central committee, drawingattention to a news report about a young woman who refused to return despite hermother threatening to commit suicide. InNepal, the ambition of poor, rural educatedyouth is a job in the army or the police.The prospect of the PLA and the Nepalarmy being merged is drawing hundreds of new recruits. The children are said to be orphans, abandoned by fathers, a commonaspect of a society that practices polygamy.

According to the media the Maoists arebeing driven to take in new recruits to swelltheir numbers to reach the claimed figure of 35,000 soldiers in PLA for the seven cantonments to be supervised by the UN.Most informed estimates place their figureat 10,000 or less. Numbers will be importantin bargaining with the Nepal army as wellas in claiming budgetary support. Also, the Maoists need their more experienced

Economic and Political Weekly December 9, 2006

cadres for mobilisation for the constituent assembly elections. Maoist seventh division commander Prajwal, clarified, “we’redistributing party membership not recruiting them into the PLA”. The UN supervisedarms management agreement providesfor the inclusion of only those recruitedbefore May 25, and are above 18 years.

Does the explanation lie in the compulsions of having to transform the PLA andindeed the Maoist rank and file towards the new “peaceful” path of participatingin competitive multiparty democracy andachieving a democratic republic via the constituent assembly? Hsila Yami explained the urgency to downsize the goalsfixed on achieving “new democracy” byPeople’s War. “That required a centralisedmilitary strategy aimed at the single-mindedpursuit of one goal. Now the requirement is to politically decentralise, to develop amulti-focus. We need to bring in new cadresand in the process of changing them, tochange ourselves,” she said.

It is against this backdrop that primeminister G P Koirala has delivered the CPT that has formally ended the violence andlanded the Maoists into mainstream politics. “It was our responsibility to bringthem (‘terrorists’) in”, Koirala said, claiming “no one else can do that”. Indeed thespecial relationship between Koirala and Prachanda has been crucial, cutting throughthe mistrust between the two sides. It should not be forgotten that in the 15-monthinterregnum between Gyanendra’s coupand the April uprising, Nepal’s two mainparliamentary parties, Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) werevacillating over whether to support theking and uphold the old state or supportthe Maoists to discard the old state. “That the parties could seriously entertain both options speaks as much about their internalcomposition as about their role in the oldpolity”, writes social scientist Hari Roka.The November 2005, 12-point agreementin which Indian agencies and the left partiesplayed a crucial supportive role, brought together for the first time the Maoists andNepal’s political parties on a consensualagenda of defeating the autocratic monarchy. It committed the Maoists to competitive multiparty democracy and the SPA toa constituent assembly.

But would the fractious SPA hold together? Within the parties there was theunresolved tension between the radical, reformist and reactionary factions. As Rokaobserved, the November 2005 agreementwas not the result of a “mature polarisation” between the anti-monarchial and the status quo forces. Moreover, the detour of therestored parliament has provided a pause for further oscillation and backtracking.Koirala defended a “ceremonial monarchy”, arguing that all forces should get appropriate space, “if not provided with someroom, any force could opt for an unpleasant path due to resulting frustration”.

Polarisation and Conflict Resolution

Before the Singha Darbar, the seat ofNepal’s parliament, the statue of the founderof the Shah dynasty, Prithvi Narayan Shah,remains in a red shroud, covering the body blows struck by jana andolan activists asthey clambered to plant “peoples’ flags”on its pinnacle. But the tussle between theforces of the old state coalescing aroundthe monarchy and the republicans set onbuilding a new state is far from over. Will the country get polarised on the basis of monarchy and republican fronts? UMLleader Jhala Nath Khanal certainly thinksso. Left parties, including the Maoists areproposing a common republican front.Madhav Kumar Nepal had advocated a simple referendum which Nepali Congressleader C P Bastola feared, would split thecountry on class lines. Besides, Nepal’sexperience with referendum has not beena happy one. In the 1979 referendum onthe king’s panchayat rule, the people voted against democracy.

The CPT leaves the issue to be settled at the first meeting of the constituentassembly by a simple majority. It makesno mention of a republic. However, itdisempowered the king – “not allow any authority regarding affairs of governanceof the country to remain with the king”.The properties of Birendra and the familyare to be held by a trust and the propertiesof Gyanendra received in his capacity asking, to be nationalised. The momentum of the jana andolan was driven by republican politics but nine months later, thereis no certainty which way the vote will go.The UML has closed ranks on a republic.Within the Nepali Congress (Deuba), thedistrict presidents have voted for a republic. Influential leaders of the Nepali Congressspeak in support of a republic but theKoirala clique supports a “ceremonialmonarchy”. Koirala’s stature is particularlyhigh as the man who has been crucial inevery democratic moment in Nepal. Also, Nepal’s political culture concedes decisionmaking to the leader. What may worry theking is the decision by a simple majority.

Also, there is the factor of the impactof the US-India strategic partnership in theneighbourhood. In the US, the CPN(M) is listed as a terrorist organisation and the USstate department has made clear, no aid forMaoist-run ministries. In the case of India, the foreign policy establishment pridesitself with having stayed the course in support of democratic forces. It has withdrawn from the twin pillar policy basedon constitutional monarchy and multipartydemocracy as anchoring stability in Nepal.But the key question is does India see itsnational interests in Nepal served by a radical transformation towards a new Nepaldominated by the Maoists? In Attmabrittanta, a book that Prachanda knows well, B P Koirala alludes to the ambivalence in Nehru’s support to the democraticforces, sacrificed to accommodate a constitutional monarch as symbol of stability.

Earlier the Maoists saw India as the final military front in the battle for new democracy, Prachanda now speaks of forces inIndia as allies and the state as “no longera reactionary force”. He has made no secret of the fact that Indian agencies had soundedhim out about a rapprochement with thepolitical parties even before Gyanendra’scoup. Indeed the last couple of years sawa shift in India’s intelligence assessmentof the Maoists – a revision in their misjudgment of the RNA’s capacity to militarilywipe out the Maoists and the removal offears of a Nepali-Indian Maoists operationalnexus. Subsequently, India opposed the royaltakeover and stopped arms supplies to Nepal.

Ironically, in the making of a new Nepal, this old struggle between the monarchyand democratic forces may get redefinedby a new axis of conflict – the ethnicand regional question. In Kathmandu thedominant wall graffiti is about “ethnic”assertion, especially Madhesia rights to self-respect and self-determination. OmGurung, the general secretary of the NepalFederation of Indigenous Nationalities(NFIN) claims that the ‘janajatis’ playedan active role in the jana andolan II asproudly displayed in the photograph of the NFIN flag being hoisted on the PrithviNarayan Shah statue. Unlike the janaandolan I (1990) which was essentiallyKathmandu centric, this time there was a countrywide mobilisation and convergenceon Kathmandu, and the janajatis came in huge numbers.

The 10 long years of Maoist mobilisationof the janajati constituencies has producedsocial group consciousness of state oppression. The Maoists established people’sgovernments in nine ethno-regional autonomous areas further consolidating thatidentity consciousness. Indeed, theMaoists are defensive about having stokedidentity politics. Prachanda states that“ethnic struggle is also a form of classstruggle”, and that self-determination is being advocated within a federal structureon the basis of not only ethnicity but alsoregionalism.

Economic and Political Weekly December 9, 2006

From the margins, the ethno-regionalquestion has come to the centre with the potential to crack open the integrity of aNepal based on exclusions. In the officialnarrative of the kingdom, in 250 yearsPrithvi Narayan Shah united the petty feudalprincipalities and nurtured “a garden offour castes and 36 ethnicities”. The reality was that more than a 100 caste, ethnic, religious, linguistic and regionally differentiated groups were held together in a unitary, Kathmandu centric, Hindu uppercaste dominated state. The advent of democracy, as political scientist Mahendra Lawoti demonstrated was to make the pyramid of institutionalised exclusion evensteeper. The caste hill Hindu elite malecomprising 16 per cent of the populationmonopolised political, economic and sociocultural life. Conflict resolution experts cited Nepal as an example of layering ofpotential conflict indictors – poverty converging with regional, ethnic and socialexclusions. The challenge for the new“inclusive” Nepal is how to accommodatethe aspirations of the officially recorded 21 caste groups, 59 indigenous nationalitiesand 93 languages.

In particular, there is the Madhesiaquestion and the demand for autonomy ofthe region abutting Bihar. At issues arecontesting claims of who is indigenous, who is a migrant and of the rights ofminorities within minorities – the tharus and the dalits. Historically, in the tusslebetween the hill (parbatiya) and the plainspeople (terai), the Madhesia have beendisadvantaged and discriminated against as evinced in the denial of citizenship tomore than 3,00,000 people. The citizenship bill goes some way towards dealingwith this grievance.

Central to the making of new Nepal isthe challenge of inclusion and the restructuring of the state. The CPT does notinclude the principle of federal devolutionof power though it mentions “ending thepresent centralised and unitary structureof state” and the need to address the problems of oppressed social ethnic groups. But political analysts are sceptical, especially in view of the status quo behaviourof the political parties evident in theprocess of forming the jumbo interimparliament.

As for the Maoists, they have demonstrated amazing flexibility, raising fearsof their succumbing to the bourgeoisification process of the UML. More immediately, the concern is over the potentialfor warlordism. Will the Maoists be able to carry their rank and file on the path of peace? Already there are armed splintergroups like the Jantantrik Terai MuktiMorcha. What seems clear is that there can be no return to the path of “People’s War”today is to be found in the remotest cornersbut the peaceful path to making a new of Nepal. Whatever the uncertainties, Nepal has to overcome the resistance ofNepal’s revolution has rewritten the textthe “old state”, the challenge of evolvingbooks on “conflict resolution”. an “inclusive” structure and not squandering the radical social consciousness that Email:


Economic and Political Weekly December 9, 2006

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top