A Revolution of the Proletariats
Hotel Thamel in downtown Kathmandu is not really a star rated hotel, but quite comfortable and friendly. As I checked in the hotel the young Nepali attendant, Dibyah, barely sixteen years old, assured me that he would take care of me during my stay in the Hotel. He likes Bangladeshis. Nepalese are very friendly and generous especially towards Bangladeshis. In my last thirty years of globetrotting I have not found any country and its people as friendly and warm towards the people of Bangladesh as Nepal and its people. My first visit to Nepal was in 1986 when I went to Nepal to attend an International Conference, hosted by the Administrative Staff College of Nepal (ASCN). I was staying at the ASCN guesthouse. ASCN had a running water problem and my caretaker, Madhav fetched water for me all the four days that I spent in ASCN, and prepared vegetarian food as I did not like the conference food which I found too spicy.
It was the early autumn of 2007 and the general election in Nepal was still on the anvil. I asked Dibyah who would win the coming election. Without any hesitation Dibyah replied, the Nepalese Congress was the favourite. But what about Maoists led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, 54 popularly known as 'Prachanda' (the fierce one), who was in the jungles for ten years, fighting the King's army in a protracted guerrilla warfare, armed to the teeth with semi automatic weapons and the ideals of the Chinese revolutionary Comrade Mao? Prachanda renounced violence and agreed to a peace deal brokered by India and United Nations in November 2006 and returned to the normal mainstream politics, promising peaceful co-existenc. Dibyah and many like him in Kathmandu agreed Prachanda and his Maoists did not have a chance of winning the next election, at best they might come up third, behind the Nepalese Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) or UML Having been in the jungle for ten years they lacked the experience of election politics and the needed country wide organisational set up to run a successful election.
Now the election, being over in Nepal the world has come to acknowledge the unbelievable reality. The Communist Part of Nepal (Maoist) under Prachanda has not only won the election it has just swept all other parties away emerging as the single largest party in the first elected Constituent Assembly of Nepal bagging 217 seats in the new 601 member constituent assembly. Their nearest rival the centrist Nepali Congress, has just managed to scramble 107, with the UML winning 101 seats. The royalists, who has been around for since the early days of the monarchy have just been routed, perhaps for good. The new government is due to appoint a further 26 members.
The results of the Nepalese election have not only surprised the world but even the magnitude of own performance seems to have stunned the Maoist leadership, the local and international media and the political pundits. As the Maoists do not have the absolute majority they are expected to form a coalition government, probably with taking UML with them. All parties are bound by the interim constitution and their own election manifestos to work together till a new constitution is drafted.
The victors had a better strategy than their rivals. They nominated more candidates from the traditionally ignored backward sections of society-women, Dalits, ethnic minorities and the Madhesis of southern Nepal. The other two main parties-the Nepali Congress and left of the centre UML nominated the same old faces the Nepalese have been accustomed to seeing since they first went to the polls in 1991 following a pro-democracy movement. For almost two decades, people have watched their representatives become mired in corruption while the country plunged into a bloody civil war.
Nepal has been a kingdom for the last 240 years, founded by Prithvi Narayan Shah. It is the only 'Hindu Kingdom' in the world and successors of King Prithivi Narayan Shah ruled Nepal by turn for the entire period. Nepal is considered the most impoverished nation in South Asia and its socio-economic conditions are dominated by high-caste feudal landowners, Hindu fundamentalists and people close to the Royal family.
On my way to Nagarkot, a beautiful mountain resort, I stopped at a settlement and while having a cup of tea in a dusty road-side tea stall I asked my driver why most of the houses did not have proper doors or windows. 'We do not need any. There is nothing to steal in the houses,' he replies. I can see his point. Nepal is a classic example where five percent of the country's fortunate 'elites' controls ninety five percent of country's wealth and resources. A perfect staging ground for a revolution of the proletariat and that is exactly what has happened in Nepal under Maoist Prachanda's leadership. The only exception is that the finishing of the revolution did not happen through the gun but by more peaceful means, a democratic election, participated by the people.
Though monarchy in Nepal is 240 years old it never faced any major challenge, from its people or from any political party except the pro-democracy movement of the 1990s, until King Gyanendra succeeded his brother King Birendra who was brutally assassinated in 2001 along with his wife and nine other members of the family by a drunk and lovelorn crown prince, who in turn killed himself. Highly popular amongst the older generation of Nepal, King Birendra's assassination and Gyanendra's hurried accession to the throne was never taken normally by the common people. They always smelt foul play and voiced their opposition to King Gyanendra's rule. The pro-democracy movements of the 1990s yielded multi-party democratic system but failed to produce any stable government. The Maoists, capitalizing on the poverty of people and the deepening social injustice and a dysfunctional political system took to the jungles and fought the government forces, and controlled considerable areas of difficult mountainous terrain of the country. In course of time their support base grew amongst the bottom of the pyramid class. During a decade long insurgency approximately 13000 people lost their live, and there were reports of gross human rights violation by both sides. There were occasional ceasefires, some lasting few weeks some continued for a month or two.
The Maoist's election manifesto included the abolition the monarchy, rewriting the country's constitution, changing Nepal into a federalist state and eradicating social injustice. How far all these will be delivered remains to be seen though there is a widespread belief that the monarchy will just have to fade away or face humiliating eviction from the palace. A time limit of two-and-a-half years has been set to draw up the new constitution. The new constitution would be Nepal's third. It is alleged that the Maoists' enthusiasm for intimidation, robbery, and extortion still prevails. They are accused of moving into exotic lines of smuggling: red sandalwood from India into Tibet, then China, and a kind of fungus called yarchagumba used in Chinese medicine and worth millions of dollars. How much of social reform and delivery of social justice is possible in the near future by the one time armed jungle insurgents remains to be seen. The Maoists were part of the recent seven party coalition government and held three ministerial portfolios-media, environment and planning. They were also accused of corruption by some section of the people. The good news is that people of Nepal are willing to give them time. The immediate challenge for Prachanda would be mending the fences with the Maoist hating Nepalese army. Prachanda has promised his jungle warriors would be integrated with the Nepalese army and the security forces. For ten years the army and the Maoists have fought each other in the jungles. Thousands died on either side. The amalgamation decision will be a bitter pill for the army.
The international reaction of the Maoist victory in Nepal's election is guarded. This is the first time a political party preaching Maoist ideology of 'political power rows out of the barrel of a gun' and fighting the government forces in the jungle captured the state power by a peaceful means and with people's participation just within two years of its joining the mainstream 'bourgeois' politics. Though China, Nepal's next door neighbour and Britain its close ally, welcomed the peaceful holding of election in Nepal, the Maoist successes have already set alarm bells ringing both in Washington, which regards the Maoists as terrorists, and New Delhi, which is grappling with its own Maoist insurgency. The Indian state machinery traditionally works with the Nepali Congress. Gyanendra was a trusted friend of India. For US it will be close to the experience of Hamas winning the Palestinian election in 2006, though Hamas went to election with AK 47 and Kalashnikov rifles under their arms. However both US and India have yet to show their official reaction.
Riding on the crest of victory Prachanda has promised to work with all parties and the neighbours for the greater interest of his country and people. Nepal, strategically wedged between two emerging economic superpowers, China and India, housing the secretariat of SAARC, could play a vital role in the socio-economic and political development of the region. A peaceful Prachanda in Nepal's Parliament could be more useful than a gun wielding Prachanda in the jungles. He needs all the support not only from his neighbours but also from the international community. On his part he has to take up the challenge of transforming Nepal from an impoverished country to a viable nation. He has to prove he is equally competent in running modern state machinery as fighting in the jungle with Chairman Mao's ideology or running a successful election.
Professor Abdul Mannan is a former Vice-chancellor of Chittagong University. Currently he teaches at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008