Print Edition - 2014-11-19  |  Oped

Call of revolution

  • It is important to bring about national transformation through small political processes, not big revolutions
- Jagannath Adhikari
Call of revolution

Nov 18, 2014-In the midst of the controversy over the process of constitution making, we have once again started to hear the word ‘revolution’ from political leaders, especially from those who feel that the situation is not favourable for them or their political parties. This is especially so from the ‘left’ parties. The history of communist parties in Nepal will clearly show that there is a tendency to portray oneself as more revolutionary than others. This has clearly been done to attract people from the lower classes but on the contrary, it has often led to splits within the parties. This tendency seems to persist even now.

Of Prachanda and Biplab

Two recent examples are relevant here. In one case, UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda went to Rolpa, once the Maoist heartland, to gain the sympathy from the people that he had fought for by risking his life. He proclaimed that another ‘revolution’ was necessary, even though this new one could be different from an armed conflict or a ‘people’s war’, like the one his party waged from 1996 to 2006. Prachanda might have done this to increase his stake in present politics, especially in the state restructuring process. First, by highlighting his role in bringing about a political change from monarchy to republicanism and, second, by the threat that he could bring about another political revolution.

In all likelihood, Prachanda said what he did to mainly fulfill his own ambitions and as a response to the other major political parties not accepting his 10-state federal model. In the context that he (and his party) is also flexible on coming down in terms of the number of states, his anger is not aimed at improving the ‘condition of the people’ as, for this purpose, it does not matter much whether Nepal has seven, eight, or ten states.

In another case, Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplab’ from the CPN-Maoist party has vowed to once again take up armed struggle to bring about revolutionary change as his senior party leaders, namely Chairman Mohan Baidya, were ‘less revolutionary’. When Prachanda and Baidya first split in June 2012, there was also a blame game that one is more revolutionary than the other.

The French example

We often hear from these political leaders that there can be no development and the marginal classes cannot be empowered unless the country goes through a revolution like the French Revolution. These revolutions are also brought up to downplay the human toll of the ‘people’s war’. It is surely a fact that Nepal’s loss of 17,000 lives in this ‘war’ looks less devastating if we compare it with the half a million deaths in the French Revolution. But, at the same time, it is absurd to compare the glory of revolutions in terms of how many people were killed. Nevertheless, leaders have been using the language of revolution because it is still attractive to a large mass of people who are desperate to improve their living conditions, especially for their children.

The French Revolution happened because of the circumstances of its time about 300 years ago. But, to argue that such revolutions are inevitable in Nepal now, simply because they happened in the course of building a nation, is unwise. Even though there are positive benefits of such revolutions, the costs are immensely high. The violence, oppression, and cycles of revenge in the French Revolution led to the loss of many innocent lives. Even writers like Charles Dickens, who wrote A tale of two cities, based on the French Revolution, were ambivalent about such movements.

However, Dickens did see the French Revolution as a great symbol of transformation and resurrection. His personal background and the difficulties he faced in his early life made him sympathetic to such a revolution, which was aimed at liberating peasants. On the other hand, he was horrified by the cycles of revenge and the perpetuation of violence and cruelty. This eventually made the peasants suffer more, he argued. He then suggested that the cycle of cruelty that ensues once violent means are employed for a revolution make the very revolution antithetical to the ends it seeks. After the French Revolution, many other European countries took the note of its lessons and undertook transformative processes that avoided potentially great tragedies.

Other avenues

At home, we have also experienced many negative impacts of the armed conflicts initiated by the ‘people’s war’, which still haunt many families, as they have either lost their loved ones or have family members in difficult physical and mental conditions. Given that there has not been much transformation in terms of improving lives, people have also begun to question the utility of that decade-long armed conflict.

Nepal’s current conditions are not like that of France 300 years ago, even though there are similar problems in the exploitation of the poor. On the other hand, unlike France then, Nepal has opened the doors since the 1990s, and more so since 2006, to other ways of protest or collective political resistance, which, in fact, has led to many other successful movements, including the Kamaiya freedom movement of 1999-2001. About 300 years ago, these opportunities for collective political action were not available in France and so, the French Revolution could have been a necessity. Therefore, the most important aspect in the political life of a country is to open up to the possibility for national transformation through political processes.

In the coming constitution, it is thus important to open all possible gates to make transformative change as required, according to the need of the time and the desire of the people. We know that a ‘perfect’ constitution that satisfies the interests of all is impossible. If such perfection were possible, it would mean the end of the political process. Therefore, in case of contentious issues like state structuring, it is important to find out what is agreeable now to most stakeholders through negotiations, with options to change it following due process in the future.

Adhikari is a social scientist. His recent book is ‘Under the Shadow of the Red Flag: Travels During Nepal’s Armed Conflict’ (Martin Chautari)

Published: 19-11-2014 09:20

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