Nepal: the Kingdom is hanging by a thread

Thursday, 15 December 2005
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The ceasefire declared by the Maoist leaders back in September has been extended. There is now an attempt to reach a deal with a wing of the ruling class to oust the King. A section of the ruling elite seems disposed to such a turn. Even imperialism is giving its consent. China is still backing the king but could easily swing the other way as long as “stability” is maintained. In all this what benefits are there for the urban poor and rural masses?

In September 2005, the Maoist guerrillas announced a three-month unilateral ceasefire. This was the first time that a ceasefire has been declared without any negotiations with the government. The Royalist coup in February exposed the illegitimacy of the entire political set-up in Nepal. It seems that the ceasefire was a hint aimed at the “democratic” parties that an alliance was possible. The events that have unfolded since the ceasefire demonstrate that.

Talks and contacts between the seven parties and the Maoists and also between the Nepalese groups and their Indian allies show that there is a clear willingness to get to some agreement to remove the king and call for a Constituent Assembly before the elections in February.

Months of “peace”

Already in September the Maoists left it clear that they wanted a deal with those they once used to call traitors and enemies. Prachanda, the leader of the Maoist movement, declared that through the ceasefire he wanted, “To create an environment at both the national and international level for a forward-looking political way out, to inspire the seven political parties to come in cooperation by clarifying their immediate slogan, to reinforce the movement of civil society, to increase political intervention upon the old state and to consolidate [the] party's relation with the broad masses by honouring their sentiments and aspirations etc., are the main motivating reasons behind the declaration of cease-fire” (People’s March, September 6).

Basically the Maoist leadership are sticking to the old Stalinist theory of the two stages: first a democratic Republic (and at this stage they only talk about a Constituent Assembly) and tomorrow, some time in the future, the socialist transformation. According to their thinking, the international context is not ripe for a “People’s Republic, so they are happy with a nice little democracy in the form of a Parliamentary Republic”, or something along those lines.

The problem with this is that in Nepal there is no scope for developing a stable democratic regime. The history of the whole of the twentieth century shows that. The Nepalese ruling elite is extremely corrupt and bound hands and feet to imperialism. They are incapable of meeting the democratic aspirations of the masses.

In spite of this, the Maoist leaders believe that a new regime will help to develop the country and overcome the semi-feudal conditions that some of the provinces are submerged in. In fact, this is more or less what the Maoists have done in the territories they control: abolition of the caste system, the building of basic infrastructures run by the community (roads, schools, basic surgeries, etc). They have reached a point where their “liberated” areas need to connect and work with the urban areas. They can do this in either of two ways: lead a socialist revolution in the urban areas or attempt to come back into “legality” on a bourgeois basis. It seems clear which of these two options they see as the most likely.

On their part the CPN-UML (Communist Party Unified Marxist Leninist) have been mobilising their forces against the king, forming an alliance with the Nepali Congress and strengthening their links with the Indian Communist Parties and the Indian government. All this is only a recipe for disaster. In fact India has withdrawn its support for the king and has more or less openly helped to establish an alliance between the seven parties and the Maoists. Ironically the only reliable ally of the king at this moment is China, but this support is also very shaky. China’s only concern is to maintain stability, so if a joint government of the illegal parties can guarantee this, China can easily swap sides. The Chinese pro-capitalist bureaucracy has in fact been immersed in realpolitik for decades.

The talks between the Maoists, the CPN-UML and other forces held in India, ended with a 12-point resolution to oust the King and establish a democratic regime. In mid November the Maoists were repeating the same line they had put forward three months earlier. Prachanda said: “We are fully committed to bring the armed conflict to an end and establish permanent peace after ending the autocratic monarchy” (quoted in The Guardian, November 24).

In a desperate attempt to cling to power, the King announced local elections for February 2006 and Parliamentary elections for 2007, but these seem to be very far away and the isolation of the regime continues. If the monarchy loses all its allies (i.e. China)   which is a concrete possibility if the Western imperialists and India manage to keep the Maoist guerrillas in check and the seven party Alliance is led by the pro-capitalist Nepali Congress   then the King cannot last much longer. All this indicates that Nepal is heading towards a pact where the Maoists are going to be brought into the fold. They will be called on to guarantee this process.

This “democratic alliance” in agreement with the Maoists is politely asking the UN to help out. But it is also collaborating not only with the Indian government   the godfather of the whole affair   but also with American and European imperialism. The US have not been too enthusiastic about accepting the Maoist guerrillas as part of the deal, but they have little option now as the King seems to be on his way out. In fact the latest on the diplomatic front has been a clear indication to the seven party alliance that is the road that should now be taken. On Tuesday the ambassadors of the United States and Britain to Nepal said their respective countries are likely to back any Nepali political parties-guerrillas understanding to bring the guerrillas into the political mainstream, if the latter surrender their weapons. (Nepalnews.com, November 22).

The King is a maverick who has no sense of reality after killing his own family to get into power and he has thrown the entire country into disarray. The ruling elite in Nepal (or at least a section of it) has realised that this crazy element is incapable of stopping the guerrillas. Therefore they are using a much cleverer tactic. They are trying to use their political parties (the Nepali Congress and all its splinter groups, that do not represent anyone but have a voice in the seven party Alliance) to get the Maoists to adopt a more “moderate” stance and join the already moderate CPN-UML. In fact as the declared period of the ceasefire drew to a close and the seven parties agreed the 12 points to establish a new regime, and as the international situation has become more difficult for the King, the guerrillas have announced that the ceasefire is to be extended until early 2006.

The King is under a lot of pressure, but the masses in Nepal see the spectacle of their beloved leader busy solving the problems of the country by spending huge wealth on his own personal enjoyment. They can read in the news items such as the following statement by a political analyst: “The king is today on safari taking one of two of the country's jets with him. The trip has cost impoverished Nepal $2.5m [£1.5m]. This sort of thing cannot be overlooked... Before the politicians could only offer people democracy, now they can offer them peace as well. This could spell the end for the king.” (The Guardian, November 24) This reflects the sheer madness of a man on his way out.

The real meaning of the pact

On November 22 the CPN (Maoists) announced that they had entered into an alliance with the democratic forces for the “establishment of total democracy by abolishing the autocratic monarchy” (Nepalnews.com, November 22). The Maoist statement says: "The country is in need of a positive solution to the armed conflict and permanent peace. We [Maoists] are fully committed to bring the armed conflict to an end and establish permanent peace after ending the autocratic monarchy and hold elections to the Constituent Assembly as a process of establishing total democracy”.

The problems are found when one reads the small print. The Maoist guerrillas   some commentators reckon they are around 10,000 fighters   are going to be under the control of the new Nepalese Army, that is to be placed under a UN mandate. The Maoists have thus made a 180-degree turn from their classical “surround-the-cities” line to an agreement with the imperialists of the world. A mandate rubber stamped by the Security Council of the UN may be to the satisfaction of the imperialist powers. It may be acceptable to both the Maoist and bourgeois elements within the country. But what does all this hold for the poor masses, many of whom have struggled for years? The masses will see no real improvement in their lives.

Throughout these talks and deals one important elements was missing, the voice of the masses. The Maoist leaders should know better. But this is the road they have chosen to go down. In their thinking, if they can achieve the overthrow of the regime in a bloodless coup, in alliance with the bourgeois parties and the CPN-UML, who in turn are seeking the support in the Indian imperialists, what need do they have of a mass movement of the poor peasants in alliance with the urban?

The Maoists seem to have abandoned their “traditional” demands for a Democratic People’s Republic and seem to be content with establishing a Constituent Assembly. For Marxists the forms of government are important but they cannot become a fetish. The monarchy has a strong tradition in Nepal, but if the king continues to pose a threat to the very survival of the system, a section of the ruling elite could easily move over to the idea of a Republic, and they would do this under the banner of the Constituent Assembly. Thus the demands of the Maoists as they stand now could end up playing into the hands of the Nepalese ruling class.

Again, Maoist realpolitik means that removal of the monarchy becomes an end in itself, no matter who you ally with. This is a very risky policy indeed. What the Maoist leaders do not understand is that one cannot use the peasantry and the urban working class as if they were a tap, which can be turned on and off according to their own political aims. A genuine Marxist leadership would evaluate whether the mood among the masses was ripe for an uprising. They would lead the workers in the cities by declaring a general strike and they would combine this with the guerrilla forces to take power. They would explain the need to break with the bourgeois elements.

Unfortunately Prachanda and his comrades are doing exactly the opposite. After having built up a powerful force in the countryside they now seem prepared to bow to the wishes of the ruling elite, abandon their previous positions and fuse their forces into some form of “democratic” bourgeois regime. This will do nothing to solve the problems of the masses. They risk dismantling all that has been achieved in these years of struggle. This has nothing to do with the policies of Bolshevism.

The next period will show which way the process will finally go, whether some kind of compromise can hold, or whether the intolerable living conditions of the masses will push them beyond the present stance of the Maoist leadership.

December 2005

 


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