Growing Significance of Maoism in Modern Nepal

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by Dr. Chandra Prakash Singh 29 November 2019

The root cause of the birth of the Maoist movement in Nepal was the extreme inequality in income and political power. In February 1996, indeed the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) Moist launched the people’s war as the then government ignored their 40-point demands. Unfortunately, the government chose to suppress the Maoists instead of fulfilling any of those demands or finding a negotiated settlement. It only helped in spreading support for the Maoist across the country. In 1996 they launched the people’s war. Against general predictions, the Maoist insurgency sustained its guerrilla war for ten long years and succeeded in influencing the entire country by 2006. This was clearly the end of the 240 year old Shah dynasty’s power in Nepal. The new wave of ideology brought a significant amount of change in the socio-political and cultural conditions that existed in this part of the globe that ultimately resulted in the recrudescence of Maoist insurgency in Nepal and its ultimate success in capturing power, tumbling the antiquated ruling monarchy.

Social and ideological  inputs

Basically Nepal is a very diverse country in terms of caste/ethnicity, language, culture and geographic regions.  The present state came into being as a result of the conquest by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the King of Gorkha some 250 years before. The territory that it comprises today has been historically settled by different caste and ethnic groups. Though king Prithvi Narayan Shah described the newly founded kingdom as a garden of different caste and communities it never evolved into a polity that provided equitable space for all the communities. Whether it was the Shah king or the Rana Prime Minister, each tried to homogenize it along the Hindu tradition, culture and Khas language, which is now characterized as the Nepali language. The power elite were confined to a few privileged families of Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar. Others, including the women remained marginalized. Women in particular are in a state of double and triple discrimination. The pattern of development in Nepal could not remain unaffected from it. The ‘centrality of Kathmandu’ was the most distinguishable pattern of the development over centuries.  For long, the country adopted a highly centralized and unitary polity governed from Kathmandu, the capital city. Nepali language, Hindu cultural ethos, monarchical supremacy and Brahmin-Chhetri-Newar elitism overwhelmingly prevailed in overall national affairs. Therefore, restructuring the Nepali state understandably with provisions for socio-economic and political equality became the banner headings of Maoist insurgency.

          At the outset it seems important to mention that the  history of communist movement in Nepal began with the establishment of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN)  in 1949. They actively contributed to Nepal’s 1951 democratic movement but only to be in a limbo for years. They participated in the 1959 general election and were able to send only four members to the108 members parliament. After the 1960 royal coup d’etat, it again had to function underground or in exile. Soon after the 1960 royal coup, sharp ideological differences surfaced in this party. The CPN split into many factions during the 30 years of Panchayat regime while functioning underground. At the time the 1990 people’s movement,  about a dozen different communist groups were in existence.

Story of success

The Maoist insurgency began and grew dramatically because of the inequality and injustice in Nepali society, states Lawoti, “The opening up of the polity in 1990 increased the awareness of inequalities, as the oppressed people articulated their problems, frustrations, and aspirations. The lack of reforms, however, alienated the marginalized people as it showed that the state and the ruling elite were insensitive to the demand.”  When the Maoists rose up in rebellion in 1996, therefore, a very large segment of the population immediately supported them.

            Further, when we take a step back from politics and explore the struggle in the countryside, we see that one long-standing problem faced by peasants throughout Nepal has been funding their agricultural ventures. This factor, too, had impacted the rise and growth of Maoist insurgency. Actually, one contradiction the peasants face is with small agricultural banks. They have to pay high interest on loans, and many times the bank ends up taking their land away and they become landless. To solve this problem, the Maoists told the peasants not to pay the banks for their loans. They attacked banks and destroyed all the loans documents, so the peasants were freed from their loans. A second contradiction is between peasants and landlords. The Maoists dealt with this by implementing a policy of land to the tiller. Land was seized and distributed to the peasants. The third contradiction faced by the peasants is with individual usurers, who give loans with high interest. This problem was solved by destroying documents for these loans. There were other contradictions as well.

Decisive unification and struggle

In fact,Maoists were excluded during the drafting and adopting of the 1990 Constitution. From the very inception of the so-called “democracy” of the 1990s, the popular interests of Nepalese citizens were not priorities of Nepal’s government. It should be noted that the Maoists were ready and willing to work with the monarchy toward ideas such as a Constituent Assembly, which went completely ignored by the interim cabinet that approved drafts and revisions of the Constitution.

          In1990, the CPN underwent polarisation and unifications. The 1991 election result showed CPN (UML) and the United People’s Front (UPF),  a legal front of the CPN Unity Centre as the two strong communist parties, which were on the opposition bench in parliament. The first won 69and the latter 9 seats respectively in 205-seats parliament. Conflicts between the ruling Nepali Congress and the UPF increased as their demands for underprivileged sections of the society were ignored. In addition, the UPF experienced suppressions in their constituencies. For them, their presupposition that the parliament was not a right place to solve the people’s problem was proving correct. Therefore, they boycotted the second general election in 1994 and initiated a new party : the CPN Maoist.

Clear messages of  Maoism

In February 1996,  the CPN Maoist, launched the people’s war as the then government ignored their 40-point demands. The Maoists’ 40-ponit demands were related to three themes : nationalism, democratic rights and people’s living. The first nine demands were related to nationalism, including the removal of all unequal treaties with India : the end of the monopoly of foreign capital in Nepal’s industry, trade and economic sector, etc. The next seventeen demands were related to democratic rights of the people, which included the rights to draft a new constitution by the people’s elected representatives; curtailing of all the special rights and privileges of the King and his family; bringing of the army, police and administration under the people’s control; declaring Nepal a secular state; giving equal property rights to daughters and sons; end of all kinds of exploitation and prejudice based on caste; autonomy to ethnic nationalities, end of the status of Dalits as untouchables; equal status to all languages; arrangement of education up to high school level in the children’s mother tongue; guarantee of free speech and free press. The remaining demands were related to people’s living, such as tillers’ rights over land, guarantee of work and welfare allowance to jobless people, free and scientific medical service and  education to all, etc.   

The Maoist insurgency has amply demonstrated that the underprivileged in Nepal can mobilize Nepal cannot anymore afford to ignore other problems that could incite additional types of violent conflicts. The continuation of pervasive ethnic/caste discrimination and inequality and the growing awareness about them could turn violent if the state and dominant group ignore the problems. The state and society have to eliminate discrimination along ethnic / caste lines and include the different sociocultural groups in the governance of the country. There is a need to initiate radical reform in the state structures towards achieving a more equitable and just society and inclusive democracy. The state should address century old social problems like injustice, inequalities and discriminations. Without abolishing these inhumane pathogenic characteristics of Nepalese society, thinking of a democratic Nepal is meaningless. As the first step to end the old order, the state has to implement a sustainable economic agenda that addresses widespread poverty and massive unemployment, severely skewed resource distribution patterns and centrally controlled planning and a resource allocation system of development. Though an interim parliament is certainly a good beginning, strengthening of democracy depends on the sufficient flexibility and willingness of leaders to work together. 

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