Print Edition - 2015-03-01  |  Free the Words

From the revolution

  • Aditya Adhikari’s book presents the Maoists with an opportunity to revisit their old commitments, which have yet to be fulfilled
- Atul K Thakur
From the revolution

Feb 28, 2015-

Nepal’s democratic transition is painful and seemingly enduring. The administrative edifices of the nation have suffered immensely in the wake of promises made and broken in the last two and half decades—by both the mainstream political parties and the comparatively new entrants, the Maoists. The worrying trend of looking romantically at political processes has yet to be over, even as the Nepali mass is bereft of actual democratic rights and an essential democratic scripture, the constitution.

Still, the quest to firmly ground democracy is notionally very much alive. This reflects the spread of a typical South Asian style of democratic experimentation, with an underlying characteristic of not bridging crucial gaps. Thus, democratic processes in South Asian stay far from complete.

Formidable forces

More than any other phenomenon, Nepal’s homegrown Maoists have influenced the current of its modern history. The next big phenomenon was, of course, the abrupt end of the monarchy. Well-known journalist and a keen watcher of Nepal’s Maoist movement, Aditya Adhikari’s groundbreaking book The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of Nepal’s Maoist Revolution presents a vivid picture of these radical movements and their impacts on contemporary Nepal.

Once in the limelight, the extraordinary rise of Nepal’s Maoists didn’t surface properly outside of the confines of reportage. Adhikari’s book has the support of scholarship and ground research—to generate sufficient interest among readers to look back on the last two decades, which have impacted the lives of ordinary Nepalis like never before.

The Nepali Maoists launched their armed rebellion from the hills in 1996. With feeble ideological ground and meager resources, they were not in a position to act in an overt manner. The initial five years of the insurgency were of high intensity for them, through regular violence and control of the village economy—very much in line with Maoism’s foundational doctrines.

Till 2001, the people en masse were still not in favour of abolishing the monarchy. A sentimental bond for king Birendra, who had shown faith in re-establishing democracy in the land and admitting that the “Maoists were own people and they needed to be dealt with more through dialogue the force”, was intact. Chances of reconciliation too remained favourable. But the very suspicious royal massacre in the same year led to the complete wipe out of the family of the serving king, fuelling instability in Nepal. An unpopular royal descendent, Gyanendra, spent no time staking his claim and in the process, ensured the end to over two hundred years of the royal Shah dynasty. In the next phase, between 2001 and 2008, the gains of the Maoists reached new heights, rising to power with their aggressive socio-economic agenda.

Adhikari has gone over in detail the nuances that have made it possible to reach the level of privilege the Maoists are now enjoying, irrespective of their internal and external vision. His book, therefore, is a vital source for understanding how the original ideology was adopted and reinterpreted as per the local condition. The book offers rich detail from the author’s own diary, anecdotal accounts, and interviews with top Maoist leaders and common cadres. The rise of leaders like Prachanda, Baburam Bhattarai, Mohan Baidya (now estranged from the UCPN (Maoist) and running a highly reactionary faction), and others were in sync with the need of the time—so, the focus shifted from the bullet to the ballot. This brought about a decisive turnout of acceptability for the same Maoists, who were not seen through such friendly eyes just a few years back. Democratic upheavals made space for a mature polity in Nepal’s democratic breeding grounds, but alas, real effects failed to reach the lowest levels.

Success and failure

As of now, the Maoists are still in a formidable position and technically, it is a good sign. Nevertheless, radicals in revisionist folds are inflicted with intra-party feuds and devious directional leanings. Thus, the country is still running through the experimentations of constructive democratisation, rather now putting a stable system to work.

The Maoists in Nepal have had many successes but their failures too are many. Among these easily visible failures, one is their following in the footprints of old political parties like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. The Maoists were endowed with an edge to aggressively pursue programmes for socio-economic empowerment of the nation. But nothing happened in concrete terms and Nepal still doesn’t have a sizable middle-class population.

It is a pathetic state of affairs, especially since the country has an alarmingly asymmetric mismatch in resources and it still maintains the same pool of hyper elites and paupers. The masses now inhabit more inhuman conditions outside of their country, where they have few opportunities and little respect. The Maoists have betrayed the mandate that led them to power. At least now, they should make efforts in that direction, rather than courting controversy by compromising on their integrity. Adhikari has written a stunningly brilliant book, which hopefully will be read by the comrades—to revisit their own struggle and old commitments, which have yet to be fulfilled.

Thakur is a New Delhi-based journalist and writer

Published: 01-03-2015 08:56

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