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Nepal’s Crisis: Resistance and the Lies of the Rulers

As I watched on May 28th, thousands of people surrounded the Constituent Assembly building to burn effigies of Prime Minister M.K. Nepal, a man who has repeatedly blocked the restructuring of Nepal’s society that was agreed upon in the 2006 Peace Accords. A young man standing right near me would lift the burning effigy high into to air on a pole so that all could see, and people would respond with loud, determined cheers. It is hard to convey just how hated this man is, even by many in his own party who have threatened to split. These events characterized the sentiments of a people determined to win against a foreign dominated government.

Resistance to an Unelected Regime

Going into May, Nepal’s Maoist movement put forward a series of demands, particularly the resignation of Prime Minister M.K. Nepal. He represents a corrupt party called the Unified Marxist Leninists (UML), a status quo party with Indian backing, Marxist only in name. This man, who lost two elections and came to power through a coup d’etat, has seen to it at every turn that the peaceful restructuring of Nepal’s society would be impossible. He has stood in the way of the peace process by blocking the restructuring of the Nepal Army, denying federal autonomy to Nepal’s oppressed nationalities, and ensuring the protection of India’s interests in Nepal.

The Maoists and their supporters prepared for the possibility of insurrection, “a final conflict” as the Maoists put it, if those demands were not met and if the conditions for revolution were there. Nepal was shaken as nearly a million people took to the streets in the capital city alone, and the economy came to a grinding halt during the following general strike. Demonstrators moved with incredible discipline and organization, systematically shutting down the city, even in celebratory ways.

At a certain point, the general strike was called off for reasons which are not yet clear, even on the ground here in Nepal. One Maoist mid-level cadre explained that this move was because insurrection would not have been possible at this moment, and that “more time is needed to prepare.” Other speculation has appeared in the mainstream press about debates within the Maoist party, but none of it has been substantiated.

All day and into the night of May 28th, large demonstrations surrounded the Constituent Assembly building. This would be the last day of the Constituent Assembly, an elected body that was created to fundamentally transform Nepali society and write a new constitution. It would be dissolved if the Maoists did not vote for its extension. The Maoists were clear: they would only extend this body if the unelected Prime Minister stepped down.

On my way to the rallies, my Taxi driver (a Maoist supporter, as most of the taxi drivers here seem to support the Maoists) told me “I am tired of this Prime Minister and trying to talk to him. These people never listen, and I think he is a traitor to Nepal and should be hanged.” He was relieved that some people from the U.S. like myself want to tell the story of this struggle.

The streets outside the Constituent Assembly filled with many different people from all kinds of organizations. Some pro-Maoist indigenous and Buddhist organizations were there, displaying indigenous flags modified with red stars. They distributed pamphlets decrying M.K. Nepal as a puppet of India and proclaiming, “Buddha was born in Nepal, not India!” They even had a large cardboard cutout of Buddha with a sign underneath it “NOT FROM INDIA” which got some chuckles.

The Young Communist League was present, and helped coordinate the demonstrations with striking discipline. Groups of them stood at the gates militantly chanting, while others sat down and locked arms at the gates of the Constituent Assembly building.

On the inside, Hisila Yami (aka Comrade Parvati, a Maoist leader) organized a demonstration demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister. Maoist women stood up and disrupted the Constituent Assembly hearing with militant chants, refusing to allow the Assembly to proceed.

I interviewed a young Maoist woman outside the Constituent Assembly. She identified as being from the Association of Unemployed People, and told me that “Only communism can provide a solution for unemployed people in Nepal, and we should take this peace process to its logical conclusion. This government is increasing unemployment day by day, and won’t allow the reforms that Baburam Bhattarai tried to make for us when he was the Finance Minister. People should have power in our country, not a Prime Minister who was not elected….if he does not resign, we will fight until the end, the Constituent Assembly should not be extended without his resignation.” Many others also crowded around to share and hear one another’s stories as we waited with great anticipation and anxiety.

I met a leader from the Maoist party there at the demonstration, Prataj Prawanta, who described the situation to me:

The situation is very crucial….We have not completely left the People’s War, this is a part of the war. Now, the imperialist and expansionist powers are dominating Nepal, and stopping us from going ahead. But the people are encouraged and want to go ahead. The government always blocks the people’s voice. Today is the last day of the Constituent Assembly…. We are not expecting a solution from them, because they have their agenda, and we have our agenda. We must go ahead with the people’s agenda and complete the People’s War.”

At the last hour, M.K. Nepal, the ruling parties, and the Maoists reached a “three-point agreement.” M.K. Nepal would resign within “five days,” the Constituent Assembly would be extended one year, and the peace process would be carried through. This agreement would soon be betrayed by both the UML and Nepali Congress parties, and M.K. Nepal would not resign.

The People’s Constitution

The next day Baburam Bhattarai, one of the Maoists’ top leaders, announced a draft constitution called the “People’s Constitution.” It is to be interpreted as a draft for debate both within the Maoist party and for the Constituent Assembly. This would be a consciously “bourgeois democratic constitution” in order to tactically center the debates in the Constituent Assembly around the question of who would hold authority over the Nepal army: the revolutionary party that was elected with the overwhelming support of the people, or military dictators with foreign backing?

Specifically, this constitution calls for an elected executive President who would direct the Nepal army. In the past, a military coup d’état led by ex-General Katawal was used to prevent the Maoists from being able to restructure the feudal, Indian-dominated state. A fundamental question in going forward is the Maoist demand of “civilian control of the army.” Further debates are planned within the Maoist movement over how far this constitution should go, and whether or not it will include revolutionary New Democratic land reform and other questions.

I went with a group of radical journalists who spoke to Gopal Chintan., a Maoist lawyer, who had been part of the constitution drafting process. He explained that this constitution would implement a federal republic, bourgeois democratic in nature, but open ended in terms of future transformations and restructuring. While mainly focusing on the “directly elected presidential” administration of the army, it also includes points that “guarantee fundamental economic rights,” “universal free education and healthcare,” “guarantees 33% representation for women at all government levels,” the right of the state to “expropriate property with no compensation,” but without prescribing any specific land reforms at this time. Similarly, it makes no specific verdicts on Indian domination of Nepal, but leaves open ended the question of re-evaluating the current insulting and unequal treaties with India.

This constitution is considered a compromise constitution and a minimum program by the Maoists. Chitham also said, “Now that we have our own draft of the constitution, the big debate will now come up within the Party as regards to what kind of constitution, either through the Constituent Assembly or by having continuing struggles….One issue is still there within the party, there are differences of opinions in regards to the restructuring of the state….”

It is believed by Chitham and others that even this compromise constitution will be completely rejected by the pro-Indian UML and NC political parties. It will be rejected by them because it raises some fundamental questions, but particularly the question of ‘who would the army serve.’

A Great Betrayal

Then, not even twenty-four hours after the three-point agreement, M.K Nepal announced that, actually, he would not resign. Constitutional issues continue to be debated, while M.K. Nepal refuses to resign, and states that he will not resign unless the Maoists dismantle the People’s Liberation Army and the Young Communist League. The Standing Committee of the Maoists has just completed its five-day meeting, with a statement by Prachanda, describing M.K. Nepal’s move as “a great betrayal.” Prachanda said: “Their [the UML and Nepali Congress parties] recent remarks against the three-point deal have proved they are not sincere in accomplishing the historic task of writing a new statute.” The Maoists have been boycotting meetings with the other parties, and planning a new wave of actions.

Things are complex, tumultuous, and it is unclear what will happen. This regime is verging on a complete legitimacy crisis, and outpourings of rebellion or even revolution may lie just around the corner. Much awaits to be seen.

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Las opiniones y conslusiones expresadas en el siguiente artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad del autor y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del CETRI.