Terai riots in Nepal a warning for the left

Thursday, 08 February 2007
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While the Nepalese Maoists and other left forces are involved in talks over a Constituent Assembly and have accepted to put down their arms in exchange for seats in parliament, social unrest is brewing in the country as the recent Terai riots clearly demonstrate. Not having taken power when it was there for the taking, the Nepalese Maoists are leaving room to reactionary forces to manoeuvre behind the scenes.

Over the recent period Nepal has undergone a huge transformation. In less than a year we have seen the Maoists move from their guerrilla bases in the hills to Parliament. This of course was possible thanks to the mass movement of April 2006 (Lokantra Ardolan) that forced the ruling class to make concessions. What is amazing is how quickly and easily the Maoists dropped their guns and replaced them with briefcases.

This month marks the 11th aniversary of the People's War, the guerrilla struggle that was meant to liberate Nepal from feudalism, capitalism and imperialism. However, the Maoists had always been very careful in how they posed the tempo of this process. They always held the position that Nepal needed a period of parliamentary democracy and a Republic.

This is in line with the "two-stage" theory that the struggle in countries like Nepal cannot pass immediately to the socialist tasks. First there is need for a democratic revolution, i.e. a bourgeois revolution and only later, after a period of capitalist development, can the socialist tasks be posed. The present position of the Nepalese Maoists was therefore always a possibility, even when they were at the height of their guerrilla struggle.

The outcome of the negotiations with the Seven Party Alliance (the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified and five other minor leftists groups that oppossed the king at the time of the abolition of the Parliament) could be seen as a "success" for the Maoists who now have 30% of the seats in Parliament. But if we recall that at one point they could have taken power and swept away all the rotten bourgeois politicians, then this "success" would be seen in a somewhat different light.

The CPN(M) and the CPN(UML) now have the majority and the alliance of all leftist/communist forces has the absolute majority in Parliament. In spite of this predominant position of the Left, the debate on the Constitution is being led by the Nepali Congress. Thus the left forces are leaving the initiative to the political representatives of the bourgeoisie.

An interesting feature of the current state of affairs is that the pro-monarchy forces have been reduced to a small minority of seats (around 15%). Taking into account the fact that at the moment the Nepali Congress has a pro-Republican position, the current balance of forces in Parliament is tilted very much in favour of those who want the abolition of the monarchy. The abolition of the monarchy would be a huge step forward for the Nepalese masses. But by itself it would not solve the fundamental problems facing the masses.

The bourgeois politicians would be prepared to support a Republic as long as this does not imply taking any serious decisions about questions like land reform and so on. An intersting comment appeared in The Himalayan Times on February 3: "Nepali Congress (NC) general secretary Ram Chandra Poudel said the NC has been delaying its decision to go for a republic as the act of locking up weapons has not been completed." This means that even on this basic democratic demand, the bourgeois politicians are playing for time and using it to force the Maoists to give up their arms completely, thus shifting the balance forces back towards the present ruling elite.

So long as the Maoists hold on to some of their arms they remain a threat. By posing this demand, the Nepali Congress are hoping to drag out the process. It could drag on for a couple of years, enough time to undermine the social base of the Maoists, or at least time to try it. It is the old game of keeping the masses waiting while the politicians play out the parliamentary game. In the meantime the masses will start to become impatient and may even lose hope. The ultimate aim is to whittle away the social base of the Maoists, a base which has been built up so painstakingly over many years.

This painful process could have been avoided if the Maoists had taken the initiative during the April movement. Power was there for the taking, but because of their mistaken perspectives they did not take it. Now, who is going to solve the pressing problems of the masses? This is the burning question.

The Terai unrest

In the next period the 83 Maoist Members of Parliament will be meeting to debate the future interim Constitution. But exploitation, landlordism and national oppression are still widespread. This explains the recent unrest, the rioting among the Terai minority. The Terai rioting, in which over 20 people were killed and hundreds were injured, started in Lahan on January 19, and hundreds of government offices and other buildings were vandalized. The whole area was paralysed by these events that crippled the life of Morang, Sunsari, Siraha, Saptari, Rautahat, Dhanusa, Bara, Parsa and Sarlahi districts. The stoppage was called by the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. The violent demonstrations highlight the real danger of ethnic conflict leading even possibly to the break up of Nepal.

The Terai are one of the many ethnic groups that make up Nepal who fear they may not be represented in the future setup and are demanding fair and proportional representation based on their real numbers within the overall population. In reality even the Nepalese press sees their demands as logical. Those demands are:

"Firstly, for electoral purposes, the twenty districts of the Terai should be delinked from the hills. (...) Secondly, the Madhesi agitation has put forward the demand of one seat in the Parliament for one lakh population. (...) Thirdly, the Madhesis are demanding a federal system of governance, which coincides with the demand of all the other sections of society, including various ethnic groups. Ultimately, Nepal has to evolve its own kind of governance with significant authority at the grassroots level (i.e. at the level of Village Development Committees and municipalities). Moreover, it has to define the centre and cantonal or prefectural relationship as developed in countries like Switzerland or elsewhere in Europe (http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?nid=99562).

The demand for fair representation in parliament, in and of itself poses no real threat to the Nepalese elite. In a recent article that appeared in the Gorkhapatra, we read the following:

"Because the demands of the Terai people are genuine, the government and the eight mainstream parties have been sympathetic to their cause and concern. As a prompt response to the demands of the Terai people, the eight parties have decided to adopt a federal system of governance, which is one of the major demands of the Terai people. This provision would be included in the constitution, and the country will have a federal structure after the election to the constituent assembly. Similarly, other concerns and causes of the Terai people would also be addressed in accordance with the spirit of inclusive democracy. The political parties in the government have positively responded to the demands of the Terai people. Now the organisers of the agitation need to withdraw the agitation and help maintain peace, goodwill and harmony in the country, as the future of the country lies on these." (February 1, 2007)

The press has been blaming "infiltrators" who have used the concerns of the Terai people to cause unrest and havoc and to destabilise the political system. The leaders of the Maoists say the infiltrators are "reactionary and royalists". This may well be true, but such a degree of violent protest can only erupt if there are serious underlying social and economic problems affecting the local people. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum have come into conflict with the Maoists. In fact the protests started when the Maoists killed one of their members in a shoot-out.

According to Nepal News, "the Maoists have blamed [the] seven parties' inefficiency and indecision for Terai unrest. They have said this ineffectiveness had given space to the regressive elements to play." (www.nepalnews.com, 7 february). But what else can we expect from this amalgam of parties?

The hand of the Palace

The leaders of the Maoists should be asking themselves some serious questions. Why is it that forces they consider to be reactionary and royalist can play such a role? This is a clear example of how the justified concerns of a people can be used for reactionary purposes. Had the Maoists taken power when it was there to be taken, they could have started to solve the pressing problems of the masses. By entering the bourgeois parliamenary game they are asking the masses to wait while constitutional reform is discussed. The problem is the masses cannot wait very long. That opens up a dangerous situation.

Clearly behind the demand for democratic rights, the forces of reaction are preparing their comeback. Because the Maoists and left forces within the SPA allowed the monarchy and its lackeys to survive, they are now on the move. "Thirty families have been displaced by alleged 'royalist vigilantes' who looted and set houses ablaze during demonstrations here by the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF). The alleged royalists, who infiltrated the protest rallies of the MPRF four days ago in Chandranigahpur, vandalized local houses before being faced with retaliation from the locals. However, they managed to loot 13 houses in Dumariya VDC-2 Bastipur and torch six of them."

Of course India has not stopped playing the role of local imperialist power and still has a hand in Nepal, both in the government through the influence over Koirala (the new President) as well as the royalist forces. "India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dismissed on Saturday charges made by Nepal's Maoists that the BJP and its sister organization Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (a Hindu fundamentalist group) were behind the violence in the Terai". (The Kathmandu Post, Feb 3). The BJP denies that, obviously, but it is too much of a coincidence not to have some truth in it.

The Economist, usually a voice of capitalist "common sense" explains, "the peace process in Nepal passed important landmarks this month as former Maoist rebels joined an interim parliament and started putting their guns into storage. Yet even as a final settlement to that insurgency remains distant, the country is faced with another cause of violence: ethnic strife in its southern plains next to India, a region known as the Terai. The two conflicts are connected. Ten years of Maoist insurgency have made many Nepalis more assertive and convinced some of the merits of political violence. Also, the peace process will involve a constitutional assembly, for which elections are due in June. The ethnic group known as Madhesis, who dominate the Terai, fear they will be cheated". (The Economist, Jan 25). The king will always find and use any argument to keep himself close to power and undermine the Maoists.

The Government is not willing to use the army to tackle the conflict, as it is not a reliable force. It has too many royalist elements within it, and the Maoists fighters are in the cantonments. The use of the Maoists guerrillas will only strengthen the position of the CPN-M, so this is not likely to be the action of Koirala. The king is clearly behind this because this is a win-win situation. The real crime is that this is the logical outcome of allowing him to stay in his seat when the possibility of abolition of the monarchy is real. The history of class struggle does not know of schematic patterns, as the Maoists theory envisages.

This is only creating more contradictions within the "communist camp". There have been two splits so far in the many communist organisations, and it is likely that this may continue in the run up to the Constituent Assembly.

The Economist warns: "by sowing communal tension, the palace may hope to postpone the election. Consistent accounts place royal agents in the Terai stirring things up, as well as in India, appealing to religious fanatics by linking the future of Hinduism, Madhesis and the royal family. Hridesh Tripathi, a cabinet minister who leads a Terai-based party, says it is to be expected that the palace ‘will use all forms of conspiracy'. The Madhesis' grievances give the plotters some fertile ground." (The Economist, Jan 25).

The tactics used by the feudal elements, the king and a section of the imperialists is similar to the tactics that the imperialists and oligarchs use in Bolivia: find an issue to mobilise against the Maoists - or Morales in Bolivia - and create unrest to weaken their social base. Once it is weak enough, they will pass on to the offensive.

Communists in Nepal should be aware of what is happening elsewhere in the world. Everywhere the imperialists and their local stooges adopt the same tactics. The Nepalese communists are dealing with a beast that does not want to leave the scene of history peacefully and will do anything possible to stay in power. The more time is wasted the more dangerous the beast becomes.

The Communist forces should abandon any illusion that the interests of the masses can be defended by playing out the game of constitutional reform together with such forces as the Nepali Congress. All genuine communists should come together and work to create a real alternative to capitalism. This would include the abolition of the monarchy. But in and of itself this would not be enough.

The question of the land must be resolved by expropriating the feudal landlords. In the cities the question of the ownership of the means of production must also be posed and the imperialist domination of the country must be tackled. It is not the time to reach compromises with the imperialists. This will only reinforce the king. Even if the Maoists and other communists were to win the elections to the Constituent Assembly they would still have to work with the royalist bureaucracy and try to "manage" capitalism. This would mean a slow and painful process where the Communists would be forced to adopt the economic policies of the ruling elite and their imperialist backers. In this process the aim of reaction would be to discredit the Communists in the eyes of the masses and then later strike a mortal blow against them.

The Nepalese communists need to take stock of the situation and reappraise their fundamental analysis of the situation. At the root of the present mess is their theory of revolution by stages. There is no room for a "democratic bourgeois stage" in Nepal. The ruling elite are prepared to concede a period of bourgeois democracy only as a means of holding on to real power, economic power. By leaving the levers of economic power in the hands of the bourgeois they are preparing a terrible defeat in the long run.

The future of the Nepalese revolution is at stake. It is time to change course.


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