Has the ‘New Nepal’ process stalled?

Young Nepalese Maoist protesters, Kathmandu, March. Photo: Jed Brandt

The 2006 Jana Andolan (“People’s Movement”), which shut down Nepal and overthrew the 240-year-old Shah monarchy, was widely hailed as the birth of a new era of democracy.

For the first time, the people of Nepal were able to elect a constituent assembly in 2008, giving the mass of Nepalis an unprecedented say in the future of their country.

The party now known as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) won the most seats on a platform of democratic, pro-poor transformation. The Maoists had waged a 10-year “people’s war” against the monarchy and helped lead the 2006 uprising.

The process of creating a “New Nepal” has since stalled and is in danger of collapse — precisely because of the Nepali people’s enthusiasm for the democratic transformation, which caught the Nepali elite by surprise.

The democratic revolution in Nepal is much deeper than the Kathmandu-based “civil society” understands. The Jana Andolan was not a movement of people passively under the sway of “civil society” leaders against an overextension of royal power — it was a genuinely popular upsurge whose roots lay in the Maoist armed struggle.

The more the balance of power moved towards those pushing radical change (the changes promised in the Jana Andolan), the more the establishment tried to clamp down on this process and stifle it.

The most striking example was the “soft coup” in May 2009 that removed the UCPN-M government when it tried to push reforms of the royalist military — in line with agreed-upon peace accords. The other parties in the assembly, who support the status quo, backed the military chiefs.

But the intervention onto the political scene by the Nepali people, with ongoing protests, strikes and blockades, stopped the regime imposed by the coup from functioning. The UCPN-M lead the mass struggle outside the assembly and UCPN-M deputies blocked the budget inside it.

A stalemate was reached, with the regime unable to govern.

The situation came to a head when the Maoists launched a nationwide general strike, starting on May 1, which shut down the entire nation. The mass outpouring of public pressure, the biggest protests since Jana Andolan, forced the illegitimate prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to agree to step down.

However, Nepal reneged on the deal and refused to resign within the agreed three days. He eventually resigned, but has continued in the position as caretaker because repeated attempts in the assembly to elect a new PM have failed.

The institutional path of the “New Nepal” process increasingly appears to be stalled. The assembly was supposed to have written a new constitution by the middle of this year, but due to divisions sought a 12-month extension.

The assembly appears more divided then ever. The country is operating without an approved government or budget with no signs of a breakthrough.

All indications point directly to a breakdown of the process. In recent months, the unreformed military, led by royalists, has illegally bought arms and munitions and refused to abide by the peace accords.

Among right-wing politicians and the media, there are increasing calls for the United Nations mission in Nepal that is overseeing the peace process to have its mandate revoked before the peace process is completed — a move that would take Nepal close to civil war.

There is also obvious and increasing foreign intervention aimed at propping up the status quo against the Maoist-led push for change.

It appears the phones of Maoist leaders are being tapped and their movements monitored by Indian security forces in collusion with Nepali military and political elites.

There are consistent efforts stemming from India to destabilise and discredit the Maoists.

There are debates inside the UCPN-M over how to relate to the state. The Maoists are stepping up efforts to organise progressive sectors of society, and some links with progressive wings of the movement of the oppressed Madhesi people have been partly re-established.

The whole process has been built by the Nepali people themselves and its fate remains in their hands.