Monday, April 21, 2008

The beginning of a real revolution

As speculated in these columns some time ago, the impending collapse of the Nepali monarchy now seems a surety. The Nepali people, frustrated by years of a non-performing semi-feudal order, disenchanted with a polity that refused to stand up against the monarchy and could not manage to transfer sovereignty to the people, elected the Communist Party of Nepal(Maoist) in large numbers enough to control a substantial number in a new Constituent Assembly.

The CPN(Maoist) was an a-systemic party, a rebel outfit and an insurgent organisation not very long ago. They had formulated their ‘people’s war’ line based out of the fact that the mainstream polity was not willing to address the basic problem that bothered ‘democratic’ Nepal since 1990, the subordination of the standing army to the royalty instead of the elected representatives in parliament. The CPN(Maoist) used the strategy adopted by the Chinese revolution led by Mao Tse Tung to formulate a path of insurrection that would gain them power in semi-feudal Nepal.

This path was to capture the countryside and encircle the urban areas and gradually smash the state apparatus and gain power overthrowing the existing order. Even though they achieved the former, they were not able to defeat the Royal Nepalese Army convincingly enough to get to power. They were held in check as the mainstream polity still had a relevance and power in the urban areas and also because of the fact that international opinion was widely against them. It was very clear that the path of armed confrontation to capture power had led to a deadlock not just strategically or logistically but also it had gained only so much support from the people. Ergo, the Maoists called for a ceasefire and acknowledged mistakes committed by them during the ‘war phase’ where civilians were also killed in the crossfire and due to some anarchic handling. They even dropped the parallel institutions of governance in the areas they controlled.

The new war was now to be waged to capture the people’s minds and especially of those who were supporting the mainstream political parties, the CPN(UML) and the Nepali Congress (NC). This was bound to be a difficult task, but it was made easier because of the acts of the monarch, Gyanendra. By proclaiming emergency, suspending parliament, usurping all power for himself and trying to set Nepal back to the days of the ‘panchayati’ system, Gyanendra only brought the entire political spectrum against him. This in addition to the fact that he was viewed with wide scorn and anger because of the events that led to the earlier monarch, Birendra and his family’s death, ensured that there was popular mobilisation behind the entire political spectrum.

This opened a vista for the Maoists to gain a foothold in areas not controlled by them. By tying up with the mainstream political parties after a prolonged internal discussion, which led to the acceptance of a multiparty democracy, the Maoists gradually came aboard into the stream of legitimacy. The monarch’s obtuse steps in restoring autocracy alienated him not only from the masses, but made it untenable for even the international community to support him, despite the ‘Maoist bogey’ that he used to garner all powers for himself. Thus Nepal’s powerful neighbour, India, distanced itself from the monarch and lent support to the restoration of democracy.

At this precise time, the Maoists took the lead in arguing for a new constituent assembly that would throw the remnants of monarchy and identified the primary contradiction correctly to the general polity: the fact that the Nepal Army was under the thrall of the monarchy and not the elected political powers. Flowing from this was the logic that it was necessary to transfer the sovereign in entirety to the public and that would entail the creation of a republic that will be governed by a new constitution, itself a product of the deliberations of the representatives of the people themselves. Armed with this strong thesis for change, the Maoists were able to convince the entire political spectrum to unite for a new constituent assembly. These parties together launched a civilian protest for the restoration of democracy and were aided in this by representatives of civil society too.

Buckling under the pressure of the entire mainstream polity as well as the loss of international support because of a series of egregious steps, the monarch had to restore democracy yet again. This time, the government formed was in the nature of a national unity apparatus with all major political parties participating based on a common understanding. A leading role was played by representatives from the Indian polity too in forging this common understanding. The Maoists were now very much coagulated into the ‘liberal democratic setting’ and were even offered positions in government. They pledged simultaneously to keep their militias under lock with UN supervision and agreed to an interim constitution.

Inherent as it is with ‘noisy democracy’, the Maoists had to come down from several positions for example to provide guaranteed representation to all hitherto neglected sections and minorities in Nepal, including those of the plains region (the Terai) in Nepal while getting the interim constitution passed. This resulted in a widespread protest and alienation in the Terai region, which was also stoked by forces close to the monarch and saboteurs in the international community apprehensive of the growing clout of the Maoists. Over a year and a half, many little turmoils characterised the eight party alliance-led government; elections to the constituent assembly were postponed twice and the Maoists themselves were bogged down by the Terai issue and the complications created because of being part in a multi-class/party-based government.

They responded by retaining their powers of threat and persuasion by refusing to rule out a return to the ‘people’s war’ phase and ratcheted up their opposition to all forms of monarchy (constitutional or otherwise). Despite being part of government, they engaged in constant mobilisation and interaction with the masses through a strong network of activists who branched into the remotest part of Nepal and kept making headlines with their demands and arguments. The policy of containment played by other parties (the UML and the NC) did play out initially, but in the end, the Nepali people proved that they need genuine and radical change from the state of affairs that was commanded by the mainstream political parties since 1990.

In essence, this has resulted in the major victory for the hitherto a-systemic communist party of the Maoists in the recently concluded constituent assembly elections. The people have given them a resounding mandate expecting them to harness Nepal’s potential in natural resources for inclusive welfare and to honour political representation for vast teeming masses who were left out in the days of autocracy and controlled democracy. A herculean task still remains for the Maoists as the embers of anger in the Terai have not yet been contained as also the fact that there are seemingly insurmountable challenges to overcome in a predominantly poor and underdeveloped Nepal. They would still have to utilise their popular alliance with the entire political spectrum in formulating the new institutions, which would bring about the process of change and development. The real revolution for them has just begun.

Article written for The Post

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