Nepal: Left wins big victory

April 18, 2008

The Nepalese left has stunned the world yet again. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), a US-designated "terrorist" outfit, won a landslide victory in April 9 general elections.

In a complex electoral process for 601 seats, the Maoists have bagged 112 out of 240 first-past-the-post seats at time of writing. With 30% of votes, they are likely to get a big chunk of 335 seats to be decided on a proportional representation basis. Another 26 seats are reserved for minorities.

Last time, it was the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) that surprised the world when it emerged as the largest party in 1994 elections at a time when, high on the heel of the demise of the Soviet Union, US academic Francis Fukuyama was triumphantly announcing the "end of history".

For the first time in Asia, communists were voted into power at a national level. The CPN-UML victory, headline material for a while, was soon forgotten as the global focus was shifting to the Middle East .

While the Maoist landslide might have surprised even themselves — the media predicted a distant third place for them — a left victory in Nepal should not surprise anyone acquainted with this Himalayan state.

Communist forces have always been at the forefront in Nepal of democratic struggles. Formed in 1949, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) went through all the twists and turns of international communist movement. It split. It re-united. Then it split again.

It was a unification of the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist and Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist that led to the founding of the CPN-UML in 1991, while it a was a split in Samyukta Jana Morcha Nepal (SJMN) in late 1993 that gave birth to the CPN-M. At the time of split, SJMN was the third-largest party in the parliament with nine MPs.

After its birth, the CPN-M headed for the jungles and armed struggle, while the CPN-UML scored its electoral victory in 1994.

Poverty and feudalism

The success of communist ideas in Nepal underlines the crisis facing this impoverished land of 25 million peopl — almost 70% earn just US$2 per day. With an annual national income of just $241 per head, Nepal is the world's 12th poorest country.

Despite some democratic reforms paving the way for multiparty elections in 1990, Nepal has remained a classic example of a feudal state, ruled by a powerful monarch supported by the upper-caste Hindu elite.

The masses have been looking to the communists to rid them of exploitation by the monarchy, its lackeys and the state apparatus. The communists of various hues were always in the forefront of the struggle for democracy and change, hence the CPN-UML victory in 1994.

However, the CPN-UML not only failed to deliver the land reform it had promised, it also disillusioned its cadres. An isolated CPN-UML government was easily removed by the monarchy in August 1995.

Meanwhile, the CPN-M provided the action the Nepali masses were seeking. As the CPN-UML was losing its electoral base in the towns, the Maoists were gaining ground in the countryside. An uprising launched in 1996 had soon won control of almost 70% of the countryside.

One reason for the rapid Maoist control of Nepal's territory could be that the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) was poorly armed at the time the guerrilla struggle was launched. However, it was the Maoists' radical ideas on land reform and negation of the caste system that won them support.

They began running the districts under their control through people's committees and implemented land reform, also setting up "people's courts". Human Rights Watch, however, criticised these courts and accused the CPN-M of killing civilians suspected of informing, with most victims being members of opposing parties.

The Nepalese government was especially ruthless, and in the ensuing conflict, 13,000 lives were lost. Several attempts at peace talks between the government and the Maoists proved unsuccessful. On January 29, 2003, the government and the Maoists announced a ceasefire, but the talks soon reached an impasse over the justified Maoist demand for an elected constituent assembly.

Mass democratic uprising

In Feburary 2005, Kathmandu witnessed another government dismissal — the 14th government change in as many years.

However, the situation took a dramatic turn in April 2006 when a mass democracy movement caught hold of Nepal. Unlike US-sponsored "purple/cedar/velvet" revolutions, the Nepalese revolution was — to quote author Tariq Ali — no "ra ra revolution".

A two-hundred–year-old monarchy was forced by a general strike and mass uprising to give up its hold over Nepal. Fresh elections for the future republic were agreed on by a coalition government.

Meanwhile, the Maoists' growth in tiny Nepal was making the giants of the world nervous. Nepal, serving as a buffer zone between India and China, has been strategically very important. Landlocked Nepal has been in the sphere of Indian influence and is also desperately in need of Indian support and cooperation.

Traditionally, India and Britain supported the Nepalese monarchy, but, of late, the US has increasingly been extending its support too. The Bush administration put the CPN-M on its list of terrorist organisations on October 31, 2003, and also signed a five-year agreement "for co-operation in fighting terrorism and preventing possible terror attacks" with Nepal in 2002.

Washington may have concerns about the impact of instability in Nepal on the Indian subcontinent as a whole. However, the major reason for growing US military ties with Nepal is the country's strategic position.

Washington has a series of military arrangements with countries bordering China, stretching from its new bases in the Central Asian republics through South-East Asia to its allies in north-east Asia — Japan and South Korea. The US became a major provider of military assistance to Nepal, allocating over $29 million in grants to Nepal to pay for US weapons, services and training from 2001 to 2004.

US military assistance to Nepal increased dramatically after 2001 and the justification offered was interesting — to "help its government cope with a brutal insurgency, restore enough stability to permit elections, and prevent the countryside from becoming a haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

The world's only Hindu state becoming a haven for Muslim al-Qaeda!

Nepal could become a serious headache if it becomes a "Venezuela" in Asia. Though the Maoists uphold Stalin's bankrupt "two-stage theory" on revolutions in underdeveloped nations (which argues that a "first stage" of capitalist development for an indeterminable number of years is required before a second, socialist, stage at some time in the future), the dynamics of the international situation may force them to go even further than the Venezuelan revolution.

Time to heed Saint Just's stern warning — "Those who make half a revolution dig their own graves".

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