There is a stubborn category of national and international opinion-creators and decision-makers in Kathmandu that refuses to concede the devastation wrought by the Maoist party on the citizens of Nepal, of all ethnicities, castes, faiths, classes, language groups, river basins, and even altitude zones. The existing ills of the other political parties pale in comparison. This privileging of the Maoists buffets our present and impacts our future.
The argument, not always articulated out loud, runs thus, “The Maoists are the force of transformation, battling age-old marginalisation and structural discrimination. The parliamentary parties are the agents of status-quo.” While the Maoists may have gone overboard with their violent politics, goes the thesis, they have been cleansed by the Constituent Assembly elections.
Try convincing the local and foreign “influentials” that the opportunistic Maoist leaders did little else but trick youngsters to pick up the gun. Try proposing that a party that has been part of the state establishment for six years should no longer be considered an “underdog”. Or ask them to consider that Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai have admitted to working with both the Narayanhiti royal palace and Indian intelligence agencies during the insurgency. Little gets questioned when the level of disinterest is so high.
The dog’s tail
The unwillingness to recognise the Maoists as central to the derailment of the Nepali society and economy would be academic if the wrong analysis did not so directly impact our national prospects. There should be no more need to convince anyone that Dahal-Bhattarai are, singly and jointly, methodically destroying the institutions of state; they seek rule by commissar rather than by elected representatives from the village up; if unable to capture state power they seek to engineer a failed state wracked by destroyed institutions, collapsed economy and stalled development.
Perhaps it is useless to argue with those who refuse to see evidence of continuous Maoist mendacity. Having spent years trying to understand my own failure to convince those who lionise the Maoists and denigrate the democratic parties, this writer’s
conclusion is that the root of the puzzle goes back to how one understands the declaration of the “people’s war” in February 1996.
And so, one must start with the straight-forward question, “Did the Maoists have reason to start the ‘people’s war’ in 1996?” Put another way, “Was the condition of historical marginalisation so rigid and hopeless that armed insurgency was the only recourse in 1996?”
The answer will have to be a “no” or “yes”: the Maoists were justified in raising arms, or they were not.
Those unclear about the answer must do their research and then reach for the conclusion.
Zone of silence
This columnist believes that the “people’s war” was not justified. There was (and continues to be) marginalisation of entire communities, going back to the days of imperial expansion of the Gorkhali state, but the democracy that arrived in 1990 was well on its way to addressing the historical injustices through introduction of open, unfettered society with representative, accountable governance.
The Nepali Congress and CPN-UML made their mistakes, including a dreadful tardiness in implementing the ideals of inclusive democracy, but there was no apartheid, colonialism or totalitarian dictatorship in Nepal in 1996 for one party to reserve for itself the right to kill.
The internationals were influenced by the fact that many of the Nepali opinion-makers buckled under, fearful of the Maoist truncheon. Others succumbed when it looked like the above-ground Maoists would be in command for decades, like the CPM in West Bengal. And so, the very parliamentary parties that risked all to bring the Maoists above ground became the ones to be excoriated as “status quoist” forces. This tag sticks to this day.
The awestruck Kathmandu intelligentsia has continued to look the other way as the above-ground Maoists looted the exchequer, cheated on the peace process (still incomplete six years later), tried to shake the national Army’s chain-of-command, attacked the judiciary, and demoralised the bureaucracy. Listening to present-day discourse, it would seem that the Shaktikhor videotape (laying out Maoists plans of state capture, A to Z) never existed, as also the audiotape of the USD 6 million conspiracy to make Chairman Dahal prime minister. Few remember Bhattarai’s draft constitution, meant to gift us a one-party state. As prime minister, the latter’s proposal of presidential pardon for murderer Bal Krishna Dhungel has entered a zone of silence, as has the cancellation of cases for numerous murder accused (as per the four point agreement between the Maoist-Madhesbadi).
The dignified columnists who revel in analysing the powerplays in and around Singha Durbar by and large refuse to talk about the raging impunity. They certainly do not ask the former rebels to make a formal declaration abandoning violence, and their writings curiously ignore that which is most important to the public, ie human rights, rule of law, accountability for conflict-era excess, and the link between impunity, lack of investment, economic downturn and unemployment.
The opinion-makers who privilege Dahal-Bhattarai tend to be coy about the atavistic demand for revival of the Constituent Assembly, and seem to hold local government elections beneath contempt. To them, liberal democracy is a 20th century affliction, class analysis is passé, and Nepal should prepare itself for the experimental politics of the 21st century under the standard of identity. All of this tends to come from those who believe the Maoists were justified in their “people’s war”.
The Jana Andolan of April 2006 was when the citizenry spoke their mind against royal autocracy and rebel insurgency. But the institutional memory of so many of our own intelligentsia does not seem to reach back six years, and so it may be asking too much to revert even deeper into history.
To understand the polity of today, including our material poverty, we must hark back to the expansionary wars of the Gorkhali state (ref historian Fr. Ludwig Stiller), the century of Rana rule till 1950, and the 30 years of the Panchayat in the modern era. And the insurgency which is the cause of the present-day impoverishment. There is a direct line that connects the decade of conflict and continuing (Maoist-instigated) disarray with the massive unemployment, with millions of additional Nepalis joining the menial labour force in India, the Gulf and Malaysia.
Without getting into the Biblical nuances, the “original sin” of the post-1990 era was committed by the Maoist bosses who decided to take the violent shortcut to power, exploiting the innocence of young foot-soldiers. As for the democratic parties, for all their akarmanyata (fecklessness), they did not commit the transgression of murder for state capture. That was the original sin which got us here, creating in its wake the economic downturn of a full decade-and-half, the fiasco of the Constituent Assembly, and lighting of the fuse of inter-community discord.
An understanding of the original sin is essential for Nepalis and non-Nepalis, citizens and neighbours, as we seek to devise a way out of the dreadful maze.