The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 18           May 8, 2006  
Mass protests against
monarchy sweep Nepal
(front page)
April 25—Chanting, “We want a republic, we don’t want the king anymore,” 100,000 people marched through the streets of the capital city of Kathmandu April 22. Defying the cops and troops and a shoot-on-sight curfew, they were joined by protesters in cities and towns across Nepal. The Himalayan nation has been shaken by demonstrations and a general strike since the beginning of the month.

Three days later, on the eve of yet larger protests nationwide, King Gyanendra, under heavy pressure from the governments of the United States and India, gave in to a key demand of the seven-party opposition to reinstate parliament. In response, the opposition called off the planned demonstrations and chose former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress Party to lead a new government.

Popular hatred for the monarchy has not diminished, however. Protesters in the streets, who have been chanting “Hang Gyanendra,” pressed opposition leaders to stick to their promise to force a vote on the constitution. The Maoist insurgents dismissed the king’s action as a maneuver to save the regime, while the opposition coalition said it would try to draw the guerrillas into the formation of a new government.

In February 2005 Gyanendra dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency, and assumed direct power. He called the move necessary to defeat the Maoists who have waged a decade-long guerrilla war and who control much of Nepal’s countryside. With the regime wobbling in face of expanding protests, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) signed a “12-point understanding” in November with the seven-party bourgeois opposition. The accord calls for an alliance of forces opposed to “autocratic monarchy” and for elections to a constituent assembly leading to “absolute democracy.”

Nepal is an agricultural country of 28 million people in the mountainous Himalayan region between China and India. Long dominated by British and then U.S. imperialism, it is one of the poorest and least economically developed in the world. Industry is limited largely to small-scale processing of jute, sugar, and oilseed. India accounts for nearly half of Nepal’s imports and exports.

With hydropower largely undeveloped, only 40 percent of the population has access to electricity. Most working people must rely on firewood and animal dung for energy, leading to widespread deforestation. Telecommunications are poor.

Nepal is a capitalist country with semifeudal relations in much of the countryside. A Hindu-based caste system institutionalizes discrimination against millions consigned to dalit (“untouchable”) status. In addition, many Nepalese belong to various oppressed national minorities.

Periodic upsurges in democratic struggles have forced concessions from Nepal’s monarchy over the decades. Protests in 1990 led King Birendra to agree to a new constitution and parliamentary elections, won by the Nepali Congress Party, the main bourgeois party. In subsequent elections the Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal —the largest Stalinist organization, which was largely pro-Moscow in the past—gained the most votes, heading various coalition governments until Gyanendra assumed dictatorial powers.

As opposition to the monarchy grew, the king unleashed savage repression in the name of crushing the Maoist insurgency. With infusions of U.S. military aid, the regime has nearly doubled the size of the Nepalese Royal Army to 78,000. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the past decade, most at the hands of the army and police in the rural areas.

The monarchy has become increasingly shaky. Gyanendra became king after the previous monarch, Birendra, was killed in 2001 along with much of the royal family in a shooting spree by the crown prince, who also killed himself.

The Maoist forces have carried out repeated nationwide “shutdowns” and week-long blockades of major cities, alternating with cease-fires and negotiations with the government. Unable to defeat the guerrillas, King Gyanendra suspended parliament in 2002 and assumed executive powers. Mass discontent mushroomed after he dissolved the cabinet and imposed a state of emergency last year.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) launched a rural guerrilla campaign against the government in 1996. It reportedly now has between 10,000 and 15,000 combatants, along with thousands of militia members. The war has been fueled by the intolerable social conditions facing the majority, hatred for the monarchy, and the discrediting of the main parliamentary parties as corrupt and unresponsive to popular needs.

The CPN (M) is a Stalinist organization that draws its political outlook from the former Chinese regime headed by Mao Zedong. Formed out of a split from one of the country’s Communist Party factions that has representatives in parliament, its central leader is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Chairman Prachanda (meaning “fierce one”). It labels its political views the “Prachanda Path.”

In an extensive interview in the Feb. 20, 2000, issue of the Revolutionary Worker, newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a U.S. Maoist group, Prachanda described his party’s course as one of “establishing base areas in the countryside and aiming to surround the cities” to bring down the monarchy and establish a republic. “We came to understand Mao’s vision that the backward rural areas will be the basin of revolution,” he said, especially the isolated western regions that lack electricity, transportation, and communications facilities.

Prachanda said the goal of the “people’s war” is to “clean our own dirtiness and all our bad habits.” More to the point, he added that “the laborers who work in factories in Kathmandu or other cities have also not totally broken with bad habits” and need “cleansing.” This anti-working-class view is registered in the Maoist strategy of strangling the “corrupt” cities from the countryside.

Despite its alleged support for small farmers, the CPN (M) imposes “collective farming” in areas it controls rather than organizing peasants on a voluntary basis. Prachanda’s prescription for rural toilers was that they will “work together, eat together, sing together, dance together.” Far from seeking to preserve peasant cadres, he noted that the guerrilla army already had “more than 700 martyrs” and said, “We encourage, for our cultural revolution, this kind of sacrifice.” The Nepalese Maoists also claim to champion women’s struggle against oppressive conditions and point to the significant number of female guerrillas. Prachanda’s approach to birth control, however, was typical of Stalinist policies. He said the CPN (M) is “strongly encouraging men and women comrades, couples… not to have a baby for five to seven or ten years, because it will be a big practical problem.”

Its revolutionary rhetoric notwithstanding, the course of the CPN (M) is to form a bloc with the supposedly progressive wings of the capitalist class. In face of the explosion of mass protests, it decided to form an alliance with the bourgeois opposition. In a February interview with BBC, Prachanda left open even the possibility of serving in a new government under a constitutional monarchy ratified by a constitutional assembly.

In a December 2002 interview in the Washington Times, second-ranking party leader Baburam Bhattarai said the CPN (M) had “resolved to discard some of the negative and harmful experiences of the international communist movement—particularly those of the Stalin era.” He said this meant rejection of “one-party dictatorship.” Prachanda told the BBC his party now favors “multi-party competition.” In June 2005 the party issued a “self-criticism” when guerrillas bombed a bus killing nearly 40 civilians. In international politics, the CPN (M) agitates against “Indian expansionism,” playing on popular resentment against the Indian government’s influence in Nepal. On the other hand, it has said it would welcome good relations with Washington and continued foreign aid and loans.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home