A strange event has taken place in Nepal, in which the Maoists have assumed the leadership of the new government with a neo-liberal political and economic program. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, leader of the rightist trend, is now Prime Minister. It is also strange that the Peoples Liberation Army has now handed over its weapons and will be disbanded, generously aided by various international donor agencies and the usual friends of peace. But most strange is the change in the Maoist leadership of Chairman Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai since they entered the peace process.
Prachanda’s strange path
Chairman Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai have gone from heroic revolutionary leaders to rather common high caste Brahmin politicians in expensive suits, watches and ties. They went from speeches about smashing the state and Cultural Revolution to promises about millennium development goals and private finance initiative. What happened?
Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Prachanda Path was the official ideology of the Nepali Maoists, and was to be the union of the Soviet and Chinese models of revolution; the Maoist peoples war with Leninist urban insurrection. Prachanda Path was Maoism synthesised for Nepali conditions; Prachanda Path was said to be a zigzag path, one that goes from left to right to left to right to confuse the enemies and play them off against one another. So, the Maoists would play the royalists against the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie off against the royalists; play India off against China and China off against India, and then to play the UN off against the US. In the party itself, Prachanda would play the left winger Kiran against the right winger Bhattarai, one time supporting Kiran, another time Bhattarai, all the time advancing ahead. Prachanda was thought of as the master strategist, with a secret plan, and in some ways this is true. But Bhattarai is now the Prime Minister, and it is his line the party are following, as they have been since the end of the Peoples War.
The ending of the Peoples War and the entrance into parliamentary politics was justified to the cadre by saying that the struggle had changed form, and that the new struggle would be in the urban centres. This was a change of form from a rural movement towards an urban one, from a secret and hidden leadership to an open leadership in the parliamentary system. The cadre were told that the outward form was electoral struggle, but the internal and true essence was preparation for urban insurrection.
This did indeed seem at the time to be an ingenious tactic, and one that might succeed. And if it had worked, it would have been truly glorious. That is, under the cover of entering into the parliamentary system, the Maoists would bring their troops into the capital and mobilise the Kathmandu proletariat for an urban insurrection. The cadre were told that at an opportune time, the reactionaries would attack and there would be the final conflict between the RNA and the PLA for control of Nepal. The PLA would leave the cantonments, and the YCL (Young Communist League) would take control of the streets in Kathmandu. And, indeed, this was possible; after the peace process when the YCL turned up in Kathmandu, they were organised as a paramilitary force which attracted many young people, their core leadership were ex-PLA, and the popular mood was for revolution.
However, the longer and longer the Maoists stayed in the parliamentary system; the less and less likely this seemed. The leadership said they were taking part in elections as a tactic, confusing their enemies and that their real purpose was to expose the parliamentary system. Unfortunately, it was not the electoral system that was exposed, but the Maoist leaders themselves who were exposed as just another bunch of corrupt opportunist politicians; it was not the enemies of the Maoists who became confused, but their friends and supporters.
The role and importance of the UN has been overlooked by many. From the point of view of the ‘international community’ and the UN itself, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) must be judged a quiet success. The UN oversaw the transformation of the Maoists from a revolutionary party to a civilian party, and oversaw the dismantling of the PLA. The Maoist leadership agreed to the UN DDR program (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration) for the PLA, and this has been almost carried through; the handover of the keys is really only the last symbolic gesture before demobilization of the PLA. International donors will help reintegration by giving a pay out to the PLA soldiers to restart their life as civilians. As for the number of PLA to be integrated into the Nepal Army, it is really just a bargaining chip; it does not really matter much apart from to the soldiers themselves and their families. Some form of integration will take place; that much is agreed upon by all parties, including Kiran and the left wing of the Maoist party.
The UN allowed the implementation of those Maoist demands that did not conflict with the demands of the ‘international community’. These included the abolition of the monarchy and the widening of political participation of previously unrepresented groups, such as Dalits, as well as various social development programs-hospitals schools orphanages etc, generously aided by NGO money. It was indeed strange to see the Maoists get on so well with the UN, not wanting the UN to leave; it was finally the Congress and the UML that asked the UN to leave Nepal. The UN had done their job.
The Maoist leadership justified a lot of this international money coming in by saying ‘we are tricking the imperialists, we are taking the imperialist money but we will use it for revolution’. This excuse seemed plausible for a short time, but unfortunately it is not really possible to fool international donors, such as the World Bank, because they will certainly check how their money is spent. It was not the imperialists that were tricked, but rather the Maoist cadre and supporters. They took much of what the leadership was saying on trust, and did not have the money or resources to check what was happening. The practice of emphasising the personality of the great leader Prachanda made it hard for ordinary cadre and supporters to challenge or question the great leader’s decisions.
There is another justification that has been coming from the leadership regarding the integration of the PLA into the Nepal Army. This justification suggests that the PLA integrated into the Nepal Army will subvert the army with their superior ideology, winning the ordinary soldier over to the cause of revolution, and thus suggesting that there are still plans for the coming urban insurrection. These types of justifications from the Maoist leadership are simply too hard to believe, there have been too many of them, all incapable of being verified and all in the end proved false. The leaders of the Nepal Army are surely not that stupid to be tricked. Just as the PLA does not consider itself defeated, neither does the Nepal Army. Prachanda tried to sack the army chief when he was Prime Minister and he was forced to resign. The Nepal army is much bigger than the PLA, well equipped, funded and trained by Britain, US, and India; the leadership of the Nepal Army is controlled by the same people who were previously known as ‘royalists’, the big money in Nepal. The real power in Nepal has not really changed, despite the changes in government.
This was the final zigzag of Prachanda Path, as Prachanda turned from being the leader of the proletariat to being a ‘paid representative of capital’, his public persona changing from revolutionary leader to a man of peace and great statesman speaking at the UN general assembly in New York, meeting Bush in the White House etc. This is what has been truly strange, to see how easy it was for Prachanda and Bhattarai to use the communist language to the communists, and the capitalist language to the capitalists, to both making promises and pretending to be in their camp. But whose interests do they serve, truly?
During the Peoples War, most of the Maoist political leadership were not in Nepal, but in India. After 9/11, tough new policies were passed internationally to finish off groups on the ‘US terrorist list’. In Sri Lanka the LTTE were finished off in an extremely brutal fashion; there was the likelihood of a similarly brutal war in Nepal. The Indian government arrested several Maoist central committee members, including Com. Baidya and Com. Gajurel, the leaders of the left wing of the Maoist party. It seemed likely that Prachanda would be arrested soon, probably to face a similar fate to Chairman Gonzalo in Peru. The decision to end the Peoples War must have been made at this time, by Prachanda and Bhattarai, and a compromise was agreed upon. The strength of the Maoists and their depth of support among the people, as well as the mass movement (janandolan) led to a compromise on both sides. The revolution would end, the Maoist leadership would join the political establishment, and the monarchy abolished.
The PLA, however, were never defeated. The Maoists controlled a good deal of the country, and they had mass support in their base areas, where things such as the abolition of the caste system, the abolition of feudal barbarities around marriage; the abolition of the various forms of serfdom, the building and running of schools and hospitals, the giving of land taken from rich landowners to landless peasants, communal villages etc. had taken place. There was much that was achieved and much that could have been extraordinary. These things have more or less ended, and the base areas are swamped with NGO funded projects. We may say that the revolution was not destroyed by real bullets so much as by sugar coated bullets.
The party slogan and vision during the Peoples War was Nepal as a ‘base area for the world revolution’. During the elections, the slogan became ‘turning Nepal into Switzerland’. Again, not a bad idea in itself, Nepal reformed along Singaporean lines, but not a communist one. Likewise, the policies of the new Bhattarai led government are not bad as such, and may well create jobs and develop the country but they are simply neoliberal policies dressed up in socialist sounding rhetoric.
Unlike Prachanda, Dr. Bhattarai was always quite honest; he is an honest reformist. His honesty must be commended and is rare in the communist movement. When he spoke of ‘leaving communism to our grandchildren’- he meant it. He is also speaking honestly when he says that: ‘Even if some leaders and cadre may oppose or some splinter groups may move out, even then it won’t make much impact on the political line followed by the party’. The left wing of the party has been consistently outplayed and marginalised, and has been unable to challenge or present a viable alternative to Dr. Bhattarai’s line. The most they can do is split off and form a new party, and cause a little commotion.
Dr. Bhattarai probably does have popular support of most Nepalese at the moment, as most are sick of the bickering of the political parties and their failure to reach a consensus, write the constitution and provide jobs. Most Nepalese do not want a return to war, and Dr. Bhattarai is a man of peace.
Dr. Bhattarai is also telling the truth when he speaks of a ‘historical compromise’; the extent and terms of the compromise will no doubt become clearer in time. The Nepali revolution has been over for a long time. The Nepali revolution ended not in defeat, not in victory, but simply as compromise