CEPRID

2065 : the beginning of a New Nepal

Wednesday 30 April 2008 by CEPRID

Alberto Cruz CEPRID XXX - IV - 2008

Nepal has entered the year 2065 of its calendar and (after two postponements) has already held elections for the Constituent Assembly that may end the monarchy and open the way to the proclamation of a republic. This is an aspiration of a majority of the Nepali people and has been symbolized by the political and military struggle of the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-M) since 1996.

Nepal thus enters a new era following the popular rebellion that defeated the coup d’état of the feudal monarchy and forced King Gyanendra to leave public life while maintaining the institution of the monarchy. Now, the principal task of the Constituent Assembly is to proclaim a Republic, assuming that the 23 point Agreement between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists is honoured. That agreement followed the Maoists’ abandonment of the interim government when previous agreements were not kept.

The euphoria at elections to put an end to the monarchy should not obscure the fact that multiple threats remain in the path carved out by the revolutionary forces for a New Nepal. Available information indicates that the Maoists are ahead in the recount, despite the Right putting up unified candidacies in many districts while the Left (represented mainly by the Maoists and the reformers of Marxist-Leninist Unification (CPN-UML)) participates divided, each with their own candidates and confronting each other in the Katmandu valley.

The eforts to create a National Democratic Republican Popular Front failed. While the CPN-M reached an alliance with other small parties like the Janamorcha Nepal and the CPN-Unidos , the CPN-UML refused any alliance except in a few specific districts, arguing that the PCN-M has not turned into "a democratic party". (1) This fact, taking into account that the 23 point Agreement of December 2007 set up a mixed electoral system (42% of seats will be allocated by simple majority and the rest by proportional representation) means that one cannot discount a resurgence of monarchist arguments such as the maintenance of the monarchy either as a ceremonial figure, argued for by some, or as part of a parliamentary system, proposed by others.

The monarchy is still strong in the business sector, in the army and among the former ruling class - which also has an important caste component - within the traditional political parties, especially the Nepalese Congress party and the Democratic Nepalese Congress party. Nor should one forget all the Western countries who are betting on a British style monarchy.

Should that come about, the responsibility will fall largely on organizations like the CPN-UML. They already formed part of a monarchist government in the 1990s (even heading the government for some months in 1994) and were accomplices to the repression, imposed not only on the Maoists but on social and popular activists, which led the PCN-M to take up armed struggle in 1996.

The PCN-UML is what the supporters of the viability argument (alliance with right wing, neo-liberal sectors as the only possibility in a globalized world) would consider as the "correct left" , one which has no revolutionary impetus and is only interested in making the system work better as in the Chile of Bachelet or Lula’s Brazil. Even the Communist Party of India now holding its congress maintains an alliance of collaboration "from the outside" - via the Left Front which includes other parties with similar policies - with the governing National Congress Party of India, regarded as centre-right.

So it is not for nothing that US ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty, has met frequently with the PCN -UML while refusing even to talk to the Maoists whom he continues to regard as "terrorists". Moriarty has endlessly repeated that the US "would not look well on an alliance with the Maoists". So he said on March 7th 2007 when the Maoists agreed to participate in a provisional government and he repeated it in December of that same year when the 23 point Agreement was signed. (2)

The Maoists have publicly accused the PCN-UML of caving in to US pressure (3) and causing the left wing alliance to break up. Still, if the election results follow current voting patterns, the main loser in these elections will be the PCN-UML, given that not even their Secretary-General will have been elected as a deputy.

The right to self determination and India

When the Maoists began the Janayuddha or People’s War on February 17th 1996 , they did so based on a political programme that has remained unchanged to date and on which they have stood in the elections:

· sovereignty and national independence against the dominating influence of India;

· abolition of the royal family’s privileges and the proclamation of a republic;

· secularization of the State;

· measures against patriarchal exploitation of women;

· opposition to discrimination on the basis of caste, social status, religion or ethnicity;

· autonomy for those districts where ethnic communities from a majority;

· equality of opportunity for all the national languages;

· agrarian reform, water and electricity supplies to all rural communities;

· support for disadvantaged people and action against corruption.

The socio-economic system underlying these measures is self-evident and opposed to the current one.

The Maoist programme is by far the most advanced on offer in the elections, especially in the area of self-determination of peoples. The PCN-M divides Nepal into eleven autonomous states with the right to self-determination and into two sub-states. That makes the Maoist formula for a New Nepal a federal democratic republic substituting a "unitary-federal" form for the monarchist system.

Given the important revolt around the issue of a New Nepal in Terai state which shares borders with the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, that proposal is being used by reactionary forces, in India as much in Nepal, focusing on the end of the monarchy and the proclamation of Nepal as a secular State. The monarchists have become strong in this region and think Nepal should maintain its "Hindu identity".

Nepal has lived for the last 250 years under a feudal autocratic monarchy. meaning that the king is inviolate as well as the absolute owner of the country both as ruler and as a god. One should explain that the Nepalese have historically considered the king as the incarnation of the hindu god Vishnu and nor should one forget that almost half the country follows various Hindu religions as well as around a third of the population being considered as Hindu. This is the factor that the monarchy is stirring up in Terai.

But not only the monarchy. India too. The Maoist programme includes rejection of treaties signed with India by Nepal’s monarchist governments and a new working out of those agreements based on equality between States. After the defeat of the monarchy by the popular demonstrations in 2006, one of the first measures the new provisional government took, before incorporating the Maoists, was the automatic renewal of the bilateral trade treaty Nepal signed with India in 2002 (which the Maoists always opposed) and the Treaty of Mahakali, signed in 1950, by which India came to benefit almost exclusively from the waters of that frontier region. The Maoists have historically described this treaty as "unequal and obsolete" and have repeatedly said they will revise it in search of greater economic independence for Nepal.

By sustaining the agitation in Terai, India is securing a buffer zone to prevent Nepali Maoist aid to their Hindu comrades. In September 2006, the Maoist parties of Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka held the Fourth Conference of Maoist Organizations. The conference’s final document recognizes the need to gather into one group the different Maoist organizations in India (three, all present at the conference) and Bangladesh (two, also present) and "to push forward the revolutions by means of armed struggle". (4) The latest phase for the Maoists is what is currently going on in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala. As was pointed out earlier, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh border Nepal’s Terai state.

India currently faces an unprecedented armed Maoist campaign which reaches 14 of India’s 28 states (Chatisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Asma, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengala Occidental, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya, Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Bihar). In figures, that means Maoists control things in 165 districts from the total of 602 into which India is divided. De facto, the Hindu Maoists (naxalites) are beginning to extend into the cities, especially in working class and industrial areas of Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Jammu, alternating between propaganda and military action. In Nayararh, one of the most important towns in Orissa state, a naxalite commando carried out one of their most daring actions to date on February 16th attacking a police headquarters and capturing 1,100 weapons stored there.

That is the origin of India’s anxiety not to lose influence in Nepal and to ensure an important trump card via the issue of Terai for negotiating with the PCN-M if the elections turn that party into the broker for the formation of a new government. M.K.Narayan, an important Indian leader, no less than the National Security Adviser, has expressly said "our preference in these elections is the Nepalese Congress party because we have little confidence in the Maoists, but we could work together despite our differences." (5) Narayan made these remarks as it becoming known that India has continued to send war materiel to the Nepalese army in what is a flagrant violation of the peace agreement of 2006.

The new army

The Nepalese Maoists programme also includes one of the more sensitive issues for the New Nepal born from the elections of April 10th : the formation of a new army. The incorporation of the majority of the former guerrillas into the new army has been put back since December 2006 despite the agreements signed. This issue, along with the proclamation of a Republic, is central to the Maoist programme and is included too in the 23 point Agreement of December 2007.

The PCN-M has taken up the demands of former Gurkhas (Nepalese soldiers enlisted in the armies of India and Britain) and this has won them important sympathy and support for the creation of a new army. According to the UN, 19,000 ex-guerrillas still remain camped in seven sites (another 12,000 have left them to engage in political activities) and it would be this group that incorporates itself into the new Nepalese army after the elections. In fact, the current chief of army personnel, Rookmangad Katwal, has already had a meeting with the main PCN-M leader, Pushpakamal Dahal "Prachanda”, to open the way for this. (6)

Maoist mistrust of the army is great since they have not managed to achieve either the retirement or the punishment of the generals most implicated in monarchist repression and massacres during the revolutionary people’s war. Furthermore, the army has systematically opposed discussing any kind of structural reform and the Seven Party Alliance has not insisted on it.

In theory, the army is staying calm, without interfering in the political process. In practice, it remains autonomous beyond any democratic control. In fact, the National Security Council, one of the institutions created via the signing of the peace agreement, only exists on paper and has met just once in two years. Both the United States and India see the current Nepalese army as a firm base from which to stop the Maoists taking control of the country. Hence the importance of the Maoist proposal and the pressure it exerts to incorporate its fighters into the new army.

This is the panorama facing the New Nepal of 2065 : many popular aspirations but also much plotting and delaying moves from a reaction that can depend on the Press, yet again, as a shock force. The election results obtained by the PCN-M, despite all the obstacles it has had to face, will influence not just Nepal’s future but a whole political project in this part of Asia.

Notes

1 - The Himalayan Times, 28 de febrero de 2008.

2 - Nepal News, 27 de diciembre de 2007.

3 - Nepal News, 18 de marzo de 2008.

4 - The Red Star, 29 de septiembre de 2006.

5 - Nepal News, 30 de marzo de 2008.

6 - The Himalayan Times, 22 de marzo de 2008.

Alberto Cruz is a journalist, political analyst and writer specializing in International Relations - albercruz@eresmas.com

Translation copy left tortilla con sal


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