- Himalayan People’s War: Nepal’s Maoist Rebellion
Ever since its formation as a nation-state over two centuries ago with the unification of numerous fragmented fiefdoms, the political landscape of Nepal has been wrought with perpetual battles over the appropriate locus of monarchy and civilians active in governance. While most of this period witnessed the despotic rule of the Rana family, thereby snubbing the role of the monarchy, the reticence of monarchs has occasionally aroused tremendous public stirring. On one hand, the public dislikes the monarchy when it is too active, and, on the other, active monarchy becomes counterproductive to those in charge of military, bureaucratic, or governmental affairs. The result has been a tremendous backlash on the social, economic, and political development of the country.
In 1960 Nepal’s brief exposure to a multiparty democracy, which came about by ousting the Ranas from their century-old power grips, was systematically dismantled. After thirty years, a massive agitation caused a liberal-leaning monarch to reinstate the multiparty democracy by ending the partyless Panchayat system under experimentation with a powerful bureaucracy and governments composed of handpicked people. While this protected the political rights of people with thriving media, democratically elected governments of the 1990s met with bewilderment, as they could not deliver the economic and social reform expected by the masses. Paradoxically, the notion of liberal democracy’s being institutionalized in Nepal provided a fertile ground for the strategic reconfiguration of some communist parties not able to make a dent with their clandestine operation toward overthrowing the direct rule of the king and establishing a communist republic. Although many leaders chose to operate in secrecy, the growing dissatisfaction over the performance of the government to deliver a much-needed reform especially in rural areas provided a powerful impetus to radical causes. In 1996 the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN; Maoist) declared the “people’s war,” envisioning a republican state with ethnic territorialism. While the government, politicians, and the royal palace initially viewed the people’s war as having a limited impact on the functioning of the government and the everyday lives of the people, it has now ascended into a formidable political power, claiming proximity to its victory.
No doubt, the parliamentary political parties, including many communist factions, had claimed and still claim to have obtained the true mandate from the public, as substantiated by election results. The CPN (United Marxist-Leninist), for example, established itself to be the second-largest nationally recognized political party. At the same time, however, the scope and strength of the people’s war appeared to constantly grow. By now the future of multiparty democracy reinstated in 1990 appears to be in jeopardy, as the people’s war has lodged the entire electoral process, thus rendering election for both parliament and local governments long overdue. Further, many have taken the royal decision on 1 February 2005, to activate direct ruling with a unilaterally formed royalist government, to be a turning point marking the functional return of the country to the partyless Panchayat autocracy. While the future will tell whether the current unfolding of events is consistent with the repeatedly verbalized commitment of the king to the constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy, this is partly an outcome shaped by the ongoing people’s war that started out in 1996 with limited impact.
Revolving around the socioeconomic and geopolitical issues of Nepal, Himalayan People’s War, edited by Michael Hutt, offers a thorough treatment of the people’s war by looking at it from multiple trajectories. The Maoist rebellion, entering its ninth year, had already taken over twelve thousand lives of fighters and ordinary citizens as of May 2005, thus creating the most critical political crisis in this otherwise peaceful country. Prior to the publication of this serious research work, despite much media attention, the Maoist rebellion had not drawn much scholarly work to which those seeking to understand the economic, political, and social dynamics involved could turn. By including a collection of essays presented at a conference at...