According to the Independent of 23 August 2004: “In just eight years, the Maoists have evolved from a small group of insurgents armed with knives and homemade shotguns to a formidable fighting force.” Furthermore, “at least 80 percent of the country is now under rebel control”. (‘Welcome to the kingdom ruled by fear’ by Malika Browne and Jan McGirk)
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), armed with advanced Marxist revolutionary theory, has been able to lead the masses of workers and peasants to achieve these remarkable successes despite being militarily overwhelmingly outnumbered. If the Guardian of 23 August is to be believed: “The ‘people’s war’, which has claimed 10,000 lives since 1996, pits a rebel force of an estimated 15,000 fighters against a Nepalese army of 80,000 soldiers, armed with sophisticated American and British weapons.” (‘Nepalese struggle to break rebel hold on capital’ by Randeep Ramesh)
But for all the armed might of the degenerate Nepalese ruling class, it is quite unable to contain the rebellion of the masses of impoverished Nepalese people.
It is a timely reminder that it is the people who make history, and whoever is able to mobilise the masses of the exploited is unbeatable. Even government soldiers, coming as they do from the peasantry and working class, will often sympathise with the rebellion and assist it rather than the government they serve. There is even some suggestion that Ghurkhas, trained as soldiers in the British and Indian armies, have been putting their training to good use in support of the guerrilla war: “Many Indian and British Army Ghurkha soldiers have retired in rural areas controlled by the Maoist rebels. Authorities suspect that some now train the guerrillas, who have become more professional.” (Malika Browne and Jan McGirk, op cit)
As Isabel Hilton notes, somewhat sourly, in the Guardian of 4 September: “The government has responded with force, but there is no military solution in this war on terror, any more than in Iraq, Chechnya or Palestine.”
The middle class Indian and British tourists, who still continue to visit Nepal in considerable (if reduced) numbers, have by and large not been troubled by the insurgency. The Independent (op cit) says that: “Trekkers on Nepal’s remote mountain trails last spring would return to Kathmandu with a cherished souvenir: A receipt for ‘donating’ to the Maoist guerrillas’ campaign to overthrow the monarchy. The receipt was in danger of beating the pashmina to become the most treasured memento of their stay in the Himalayan Kingdom … Trekkers were stopped by well-spoken young men, most of them former teachers who had joined the People’s Army. Rebels would give a well-rehearsed speech about their ‘people’s war’, and demand ‘donations’ of between 500 and 1,000 rupees (£3.60-£7.30). Although the rebels were polite, tourists said they did not feel they had a choice of whether to donate … In return, they were handed a receipt they could show if they were stopped again so they did not have to pay a second time.”
In a country, such as Nepal, where the vast majority of the masses belong to the peasantry and live in the countryside, those fighting to overthrow the reactionary government will naturally build their bases in the countryside, from where they are in a position to pressurise the cities. Recently, the guerrillas have been providing strong proof of their commanding position – for they have blockaded Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. As The Times reports: “Maoist rebels in Nepal lifted the blockade of Kathmandu before serious shortages could hurt the population, but not before they had given the world a chilling demonstration of their strength.” (‘Red alert’, 28 August 2004)
The blockade lasted for a week, but: “The Maoists have warned they will reimpose the blockade in a month unless the government frees jailed rebels and investigates alleged executions of leftwing activists, a claim that is part of its campaign to depose the monarchy in favour of a new, republican ‘constitutional assembly’.” (‘Mountain kingdom braves Maoist rebel blockade’, Financial Times, 28-29 August 2004)
Companies come under pressure
However, the rebels’ demands are not limited to the anti-feudal democratic demand for a constituent assembly. They also directly target imperialist interests in Nepal, demanding that named companies leave the country. On 4 August, they ordered the closure of 10 companies, including bottlers of Coca Cola and Surya Nepal (a tobacco joint venture involving British American Tobacco and the Indian Tobacco Company). All these companies have duly ceased operations. (See ‘Nepal’s Maoist rebels blockade main highway in bid to isolate Kathmandu’ by Binod Bhattarai, Financial Times, 19 August 2004.) To avoid any backsliding, the rebels placed a bomb on 16 August outside Kathmandu’s five-star Soaltee Crowne Plaza Hotel (a hotel with “financial links” to King Gyanendra – see The Independent, op cit).
Then, a month later, according to the Daily Telegraph of 9 September: “Maoist rebels have dealt a blow to Nepal’s tourism industry by demanding the indefinite closure of the exclusive Tiger Tops resort and 34 other businesses.” (‘Maoists tell top resort in Nepal to close’ by Thomas Bell)
They too will close. Tiger Tops, in fact, has learnt from its own experience that the People’s Army means business: in April this year guerrillas destroyed the control tower at the resort’s airfield. It may well be that our readers have never heard of the Tiger Tops resort, but suffice it to say that: “The resort has become a byword for safari chic. The rich and famous, from Henry Kissinger to Mick Jagger, have visited Tiger Tops to see tigers and rhinoceros in the Royal Chitwan national park. Prince Philip has also visited the park.”
All in all, it is clear that the targets of Nepal’s guerrilla movement are quite properly the filthy rich, both local and international, whom the rebel movement correctly sees as being responsible for the hideous poverty in which most of the people of Nepal have to live.
State of the peace talks
Baburam Bhattarai, International Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – CPN(M) – in a letter entitled ‘The peace talks and after’ addressed to the left-wing US journal Monthly Review, dated 7 September 2003, made it clear that the CPN(M) has accurately pinpointed the enemy as “the feudal-bureaucratic monarchy backed by foreign imperialist powers”.
Only a year ago, following consistent violation of “the cease-fire and code of conduct mutually agreed upon by the two sides, it openly challenged the decision of the second round of talks to confine the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) activities within five kilometres of its permanent bases. The most serious and provocative incident was the massacre of 19 unarmed political activists by the RNA in Doramba (Eastern Nepal) on the very day of start of third round of talks on 17 August”. In this way, the reactionaries forced a break down of the peace talks in which they had lost interest when they found they could not divert the revolutionaries from their basic democratic objectives simply by offering a few government posts to their leaders without any solution to the people’s problems.
The CPN(M)’s democratic demands have the backing of the overwhelming majority of the Nepalese population. In the seven months before the reactionaries scuppered the peace talks, the CPN(M) through its “sincere efforts to find a forward-looking political solution in a peaceful manner … won over millions of masses and middle-strata of the population to the cause of democratic revolution and isolated the regressive monarchist forces”.
CPN(M)’s democratic demands
The following are the CPN(M)’s democratic demands – for a republican constitution “with unrestricted sovereignty of the people; no unchangeable features in the constitution; creation of a new national army, proportional representation of different classes, nationalities, regions, dalits, women, etc in the legislature and proper representation of all in the government; a secular state; guarantee of rights to self-determination and autonomy to oppressed nationalities and regions; guarantee of multi-party system, rule of law, freedom of expression etc; education, health and employment as fundamental rights to all; revolutionary land reform on the basis of ‘land-to-the-tiller’ and protection to national industry and trade; and abrogation of all unequal treaties and strict practice of a non-aligned foreign policy”. (See Baburam Bhattarai, op cit)
A year after the breakdown of the peace talks, the Nepalese government and its backers have discovered that the People’s Army has gone from strength to strength. They had hoped that since US and British imperialism want to see the people’s war stamped out, and were prepared to pour money into supporting the corrupt and degenerate Nepalese government to cling on to power (the US giving Nepal military aid and weapons to the tune of £13m a year, and the Blair government £35m), they would be able to overwhelm the insurgency by sheer brute force. However, the resistance they thought could be terrorised out of existence has only intensified.
The talk is now of returning to peace talks, but first the major obstacle must be overcome: the decrepit and moribund Nepalese feudal class want to hang on to the monarchy, but the rebels insist it must go. Imperialism is going to have to change horses if it wants even to attempt to protect its interests, as clearly the Nepalese royalty can no longer do the job. Unable to get the CPN(M) to do their bidding, they will be seeking to build up anti-communist ‘democratic’ parties in the hope of the latter defeating the communists and winning constituent assembly elections.
Whatever nasty tricks and surprises imperialism and the reactionary feudal Nepalese regime may have in store, we are quite certain that the People’s Army is ready for them and will emerge victorious and bring into being a People’s Nepal.
As Comrade Bhattarai said in his 2003 letter: “A lot more blood may be spilled. But it won’t be in vain. The birth of a fully democratic and republican Nepal may not be too far off.”