Nepal: No rah-rah revolution

Something refreshingly old-fashioned has taken place in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal: a genuine revolution.

From April 6 (until Monday, when King Gyanendra finally gave in to the people’s demands), Nepal was paralysed by a general strike called by the political parties and backed by Maoist guerrillas. Hundreds of thousands were out on the streets—several were shot dead and more than 200 wounded. A curfew was in force and the army had been given shoot-to-kill orders.

But the people had lost their fear and it was this that made them invincible.
The lawyers, journalists, students and the poor demonstrating in Kathmandu knew that if they were massacred, the armed guerrillas who control 80% of the countryside would take the country.

This was not one of those carefully orchestrated “orange” affairs so loved by the “international community” with its mass-produced placards, rah-rah gals and giant PR firms to aid media coverage. Nor did the turbulence have anything to do with religion. What was taking place in Nepal was different: it was the culmination of decades of social, cultural and economic oppression.

This is an old story. Nepal’s upper-caste Hindu rulers have institutionalised ancient customs to preserve their own privileges. Only last year was the custom of locking menstruating women in cowsheds declared illegal.

The Nepalese monarchy, established more than two centuries ago, held the country in an iron grip, usually by entering into alliances with dominant powers—Britain, the United States and, lately, India—and keeping them supplied with cheap mercenaries. It was a two-way trade and ever since the declaration of the “war on terror”, the corrupt and brutal royal apparatus had been supplied with weaponry by its friends: 20 000 M-16 rifles from Washington, 20 000 rifles from Delhi and 100 helicopters from London. Meanwhile, half the country’s 28-million people had no access to electricity or running water, let alone healthcare and education, according to the United Nations.

In 2005, King Gyanendra suspended all civil liberties and outlawed politics. To deal with a problem that was essentially structural, but which, in the global context of neoliberalism, could not be solved through state intervention, he decided on mass repression: physical attacks on the poor, concerted attempts to stamp out dissident political organisations and blanket social repression. The chronicle of shootings, beatings, imprisonments, purges and provocations is staggering. The sheer ferocity of his assault took the tiny middle class by surprise and isolated the politicians.

What the uprising in Nepal reveals is that while democracy is being hollowed out in the West, it means more than regular elections to many people on the other continents. The Nepalese want a republic and an end to the systemic poverty that breeds violence and, to achieve these moderate demands, they made a revolution.

Tariq Ali is an editor of New Left Review

Rebels declare ceasefire

Nepal’s communist rebels on Thursday declared a three-month halt in attacks, lifting a key burden on the new government poised to take control after weeks of bloody protest forced the king to reinstate Parliament, Sapa reports.

The elusive leader of the Hima-layan country’s Maoist rebels, Prachanda, said in a statement that his group’s fighters would refrain from any assaults on government targets for three months to give the country a chance for peace.

The announcement came a day before the reinstated Parliament was scheduled to reconvene in Kathmandu. It is expected to elect a new prime minister and initiate the process for electing a special assembly that will write a new Constitution.

Until early this week the country had been rocked by weeks of bloody anti-monarchy protests, organised by the opposition coalition of Nepal’s seven main political parties and backed by the rebels, to force King Gyanendra to relinquish control over the government.

Security forces firing on protesters killed 15 people before the king announced late on Monday that he would meet a key demand of the parties by reinstating Parliament on Friday and effectively handing power back to elected politicians.

The parties welcomed the move, but the rebels initially rejected the overture as a ruse by the king to hold on to his crown and warned the parties that their acceptance of the deal was a betrayal of previous agreements between the rebels and political parties.

Both of them want to rewrite the Constitution to limit the role of the monarchy—or eliminate it altogether.

By Wednesday, however, the rebels had softened their position, lifting a weeks-long blockade of key highways, and Thursday’s announcement clearly reflected a willingness by the rebels to give the country’s politicians a chance to set up a constitutional convention.

The parties welcomed the rebel ceasefire. “This will help bring the Maoists to the negotiating table for peace talks that could end the violent conflict,” said Gopalman Shrestha of the Nepali Congress Democratic party.

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