In February 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) lanched a ‘People ‘s War’, basing their strategy on the writings and experience of Mao Tse- tung, but also drawing on more recent experiences in Asia and Latin America (notably that of the ‘Shining Path’ movement in Peru). Although subject to aggressive police operations in the early years, the early years, the rebels were able to establish themselves in the mid-west of Nepal.
The Government of Nepal called on a number of foreign governments for support and received substantial commitments (including military assistance) from the US and UK governments in particular, as well as from India. Particularly in the aftermath of ’11 September 2001’, the US and the UK Governments saw their involvement in Nepal as part of the ‘war against terrorism’.
This book aims to provide readers with an introduction to the People’s War in Nepal and brings together a unique collection of documents, including statements and analysis by the maoist leadership as well as critical essays by various political analysts and activists on the lefts in Nepal. It reveals the thinking behind the strategy of the Maoists.
Dr. Arjun Karki is the President of a NGO, Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN). He has been active in the human rights movement and in efforts to promote debates on the current conflict.
Dr. David Seddon is Professor of Development Studies and former Managing Director of the Overseas Development Group (ODG) at the University of East Anglia (UK).
In February 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), operating as the United People's Front of Nepal, declared the start of a 'People's War' in Nepal. Pointing to the failure of the new regime instituted following the People's Movement (Jana Andolan) and of successive governments since 1990 to bring genuine democracy and broad -based development to the people of Nepal, they argued that only a revolutionary armed struggle could create the basis for the overthrow and replacement of the corrupt and inadequate ruling classes by a popular democratic republic representing the workers and peasants of Nepal. They had prepared for this struggle during the previous 2 years and now launched a programme that drew its inspiration from the many revolutionary rural movements that have taken similar initiatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America during the twentieth century, basing themselves in the remote and isolated hill districts of the mid-west of the country, while aiming to expand throughout the country and create a revolution in Nepal.
The People's War, as the Maoists refer to their revolutionary struggle, is now in its seventh year. Despite the efforts of the state to re-establish control, notably through two notorious police operations, Operation Romeo and Operation Kilo Sierra-II, the rebellion gained considerable support during the first 4 years and progressively, in a well-defined phased programme, extended its activities and its scale across the country, from its 'heartlands' in the hills of the mid-west of Nepal. In the last 3 years, the success of the Maoists and the increasing effect on Nepali economy and society, not to say politics, of the ongoing struggle has become a matter of central concern and debate, both within Nepal and abroad. Intellectuals, journalists and politicians alike have grappled in public-just as many across the country have done in private-with the theoretical and practical issues involved, approaching the subject, however, from many different ideological and political perspectives, with different preoccupations and concerns, and for different audiences and readerships.
In Chapter 1 of this collection, we provide a historical overview of these 6-7 years, as well as of the previous decades leading up to the launching of the armed struggle. Chapter 2 is also an attempt to provide a general introduction to the People's War from a 'sociological' perspective. Many of the other contributors also provide accounts, from differing perspectives, of the course of the War, attempting often at the same time to develop their own analysis of the dynamics of the Maoist movement, the class, caste, ethnic and gender relations that characterise Nepali society and the historical development and underdevelopment of the political economy of Nepal.
This book was conceived and planned over a year ago, before the events of late 2001 (the attack on Washington and New York on 11 September, the breaking off of talks between the Maoists and the government on 23 November and the declaration of a State of Emergency on 26 November). It was- and still is-intended to provide a commentary on the Peoples' War, and on the political, economic and social issues associated with the development of the insurgency, from a variety of perspectives on the 'left' of the political spectrum--on the roots of the conflict, on the evolution of the conflict over the last half decade and on the implications for the future of Nepal and its people. In the long tradition of Marxist analysis (within which this collection is situated), it is intended not only to try to understand the complexities of the armed struggle and its wider political economic context, but also to make an intervention whose purpose is to bring closer the time when social justice and the welfare of the people of Nepal are guaranteed by a popular and democratic government, that is, to contribute positively to the process of change.
Some of the contributions in the section (Part Two) devoted to the statements and commentaries of the Maoist leadership were written several years ago, and provide vivid, if partisan, accounts and analyses of the early years of the People's War. Most, however, are more recent, and the majority of the contributions in the section on 'left perspectives' (Part Three) were written especially for this collection within the last year or so; at least one has an explicit 'postscript'. But the situation is extremely fast-moving now, and even since some of the contributions were written, there have been significant developments on the ground. Today, as we write this Introduction, in October 2002, more than six and a half years after the initiation of the People's War, and immediately after the Hindu religious festival of Dasain, the king has intervened directly (and controversially) in the political process and formed his own government, the major political parties (Nepali Congress and UML) are in disarray, the country lacks any form of elected government (at national, district and local level) and the United States and United Kingdom are providing increased assistance to the government for 'counter-terrorism'. The Maoist insurgency is now a key issue in the politics of Nepal, and the events of the coming months could affect the future of Nepal for many years to come.
The last year has been a turning point in the People's War. The events of 2001-the massacre of the Nepali royal family in June, the attack on Washington and New York in September, which gave rise to a U.S.-led, international 'war on terrorism' and the breakdown of talks between the Maoists and the government followed immediately by attacks on army installations by the Maoists and a declaration of a State of Emergency by the government-combined to change the political context of the People's War. No longer could the conflict be considered a local matter of law and order to be dealt with by the Nepali police force. The political implications for Nepal-even for the future of multi-party democracy under the present constitution-were evidently becoming extremely serious; the consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the Nepali people were becoming a matter of urgent concern, as were the issues of human rights abuses by both parties to the conflict (the Maoists and the state); the wider implications for the economy and for 'development' in Nepal were now an issue not only for Nepalis, but also for the multitude of foreign so-called development agencies (bilateral and multilateral) and non-government organisations, whose projects in the field and programmes across the country were being increasingly threatened and compromised by the conflict and finally, the wider political implications of instability and insurgency in Nepal were an issue for other states whose governments felt they had a stake in Nepal-the United States, the United Kingdom and India in particular.
During the summer of 2002, as the military conflict in Nepal abated somewhat through the monsoon months, there were major political developments within Nepal and abroad. In June, a meeting was held in London, with representatives from a wide range of states, including Nepal, to develop a more coherent, international perspective and position on the conflict in Nepal, and on the action that might be taken, both by the government of Nepal and other interested parties. Background papers were prepared, one of which-that by Arjun Karki-is reproduced as the final contribution to this collection. Views expressed were diverse and the statements made by different participants in the London Meeting varied considerably as to whether they emphasised the 'security' aspects of the issue, the issue of 'good governance' or the 'development' dimension.
In Nepal, meanwhile, in mid-july, the term of office of elected local government officials (at district and village level) had come to an end, and had not been extended. There were by now many areas of the country where the elected local government had been replaced by Maoist structures, but the failure to extend the term of office of those who remained in place meant that there was now no properly elected local government in Nepal. At the national level, increasing divisions within the ruling Nepali Congress party led the prime minister to dissolve the House of Representatives in August and call for mid- term elections in November. In September, after much wrangling between the parties as to how to proceed, and it had been proposed that the elections be postponed for a year, the King eventually stepped in to dismiss Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. There was now no elected national government in Nepal; indeed, there was now no elected representation at any level. In October, the King, having effectively taken power, nominated his own cabinet. Nepal now faced a new political crisis.
It could be argued that by emphasising the military aspects of the current conflict, the People's War, there is a danger of ignoring the fact that the armed struggle is a political movement first and foremost-an extension of politics by other means, based on the belief that, ultimately, power grows from the barrel of a gun-and that root causes are political. It could also be argued that by emphasising the political aspects of the insurgency there is a danger of ignoring the economic and the social dimensions of what the Maoists at least see as a revolutionary struggle to transform the political economy of Nepal and that by emphasising the immediate, short-term issues, there is a danger of ignoring the longer-term and structural problems facing Nepal.
It is certainly our view that the current 'crisis' is multi- dimensional and that the underlying causes are structural and historical. For this reason, we have been at pains, in this collection of essays to combine contributions that address shorter-term and immediate issues with contributions that take a longer perspective. We would wish to emphasise as editors that although we have tried to ensure a degree of coherence we have in no way, other than by our choice of contributions, attempted to edit the views and perspectives of the various authors represented here. We have also tried to maintain a light touch as regards matters of writing style, while ensuring clarity and comprehensibility.
Most of the contributors are well known in Nepal, as political theorists as well as activists, and most have already written on the subject in a variety of places. But the majority of the contributions, particularly in Parts One and Three, are original, in the sense that they were commissioned for the book and that this is the first time they have been published. The analyses, statements and declarations of the Maoist leadership, presented in Part Two, include some documents that have had some previous circulation, but in many cases these too will be new at least to the English-language readership of this collection. Here, for the first time, they find their place alongside the contribution of other left political analysts and activists. The collection can be seen, perhaps, as an attempt to bring the analysis of the Maoists back into the mainstream of Nepali theoretical and political discourse, and ultimately to make a collective argument, albeit filtered through diverse left perspectives, for radical reform- political, social and economic in Nepal.
The contributions in Part One provide an introduction and an overview, from a historical and from a sociological perspective. As far as the first is concerned, the authors here include the two editors of this collection, Arjun Karki and David Seddon. The historical overview is an attempt to put the People's War in perspective, both as part of the history (ideological as well as political) of the communist movement in Nepal and also as part of the political history of Nepal. It has no pretensions to 'a history of the People's War', still less 'a history of the Maoist movement in Nepal'-that would require a more protracted effort-but merely attempts to provide an introduction and a distinctive perspective in which the 'demands' of the Maoists, and the objectives of their struggle as well as the chosen form of their struggle to achieve these objectives, are situated within a longer, broader history of such demands and such struggles-for popular democracy and for social justice. It ends with the dramatic intervention in the political process by the king and his nomination of a new government in October 2002.
Mukunda Kattel's contribution provides a valuable counterpoint to the political historical perspective, emphasising above all the social context and social character of the People's War. His contribution, as he claims, provides a 'face value analysis' of the People's War based largely on the events and issues that occurred between February 1995 and October 2001. Charting the evolution of the People's War over this period, Kattel makes a central claim that People's War does not justify the entirely negative comments familiar from the what is presented often as the 'mainstream' discourse, although he is all too aware-as a human rights activists and former Director of INSEC -of the real human cost as well as the social costs of the armed struggle, and condemns the abuses of human rights that have increasingly accompanied the insurgency. One of the major contributions of the People’s War is the radicalization of Nepali society- a necessity Kattel emphasizes, if the social and political stagnation of Nepal is to be overcome and a living, vital civil society is to emerge. Another possible contribution may prove to be the creation of an opportunity to sort out differences, to weed out wrong habits or beliefs developed through recent history and to forge new synergies, which, if effectively pursued, may bring about a progressive transformation in Nepal. But, this (Kattel warns) requires all concerned- Maoists, Congress, Palace and other force- to abandon their narrow, selfish and short-term interests in favour of a genuine commitment to human development in Nepal.
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