The Present Turmoil in Nepal

a three day strike began in Nepal on 18 May 2004, called by the CPN(M), popularly known as Maoists. Security forces received “Shoot to kill” orders from the King at the sight of anything suspicious. On 20 May, the last day of the strike, according to unverifiable Government sources, some 29 Maoists were killed when the army attacked by a helicopter, and some 5 Army-men were also killed in separate incidents. With this, the uprising has reportedly claimed 9,500 lives till date.

At the same time, five agitating political parties including CPN(UML) and both the factions of Nepali Congress too were conducting their “anti-regression” programme. Stating that their “anti-regression” programme would be limited to sit-in-protest, party leaders insisted that their programme would be peaceful and disciplined, and no rally would be organised during Maoist bandh. But despite this, the five-party agitation, which has completed 50 days, and still continues, has been subjected to lathi charge, tear gas shells and water cannons by the police. During this period, on the other hand, 212 policemen have suffered injuries, 113 vehicles were damaged and around 11,000 people have been arrested, but released later.

On the one hand, 13 February 2004 marked the 8th anniversary of “People’s War” launched by CPN(M) in 1996, which is now being waged by a large revolutionary army, and which has set up ‘People’s committees’ to act as new local governments in around 20 out of the 75 districts of Nepal. Following the massacre of King Birendra along with his family, the new King Gyanendra has stepped up military attack against the Maoists. It is not that there were no efforts at negotiations. Sher Bahadur Deuba, appointed by King Gyanendra, tried to reach at a settlement in 2001. But since the government rejected the main demands of CPN(M), civil war once again started on 23 November 2001. In response Gyandendra imposed emergency and the army killed more than 5000 people. Finally on 4 October 2002 the King grabbed all executive power dismissing the then PM Sher Bahadur Deuba. Following 9/11, the king saw the possibility of openly enlisting US and UK support as a part of US ‘war on terrorism’. UK provided $ 40 million aid for Nepal, US sent a dozen military experts who surveyed different parts of Nepal in order to map out operational plans for the Nepalese army. The US have provided ‘development grants’ labelled ‘insurgency relevant’ of up to $38 million a year and concluded a five-year ‘anti-terrorist’ agreement with Nepal. Recently, the US has put CPN(M) on its list of "terrorist" groups, explicitly stating its Communist and anti-US orientation as proof of its being "terrorist"! India also stepped in to provide support for the Nepalese regime, providing military hardware and helicopters, and moving its army closer to the Nepalese border, as well as stepping up repression of Nepalese dissidents living in India, arresting Nepalese journalists suspected to be Maoists, and extraditing them without trial.

The king appointed a handpicked Prime Minister and in February 2003 reached at a ceasefire agreement. But he refused to call an all-party round table meeting and introduce constitutional reforms. Meanwhile, the army kept on carrying operations against the Maoists. Therefore, on 1 September the Maoists declared the ceasefire null and void.

Soon Nepal’s major political parties started opposing this usurpation of executive powers by the monarchy while closing the avenues of all constitutional parliamentary options. About 6,000 demonstrators poured onto the streets on 8 September 2003 shouting “Down with the king’s regression!” and 1,000 of them were detained. On 10 September, 3,000 political activists of the 5 party alliance including CPN(UML) leaders and Ex-PM Girija Prasad Koirala were detained while leading a demonstration against King Gyanendra in defiance of a ban on public meetings. They were shouting “Gyanendra quit Nepal” and “We want democracy”.

In a press statement issued on 10 January, 2004, CPN(UML) pointed out that “If the present scale of violence and counter violence is left to continue, our country is most likely to become a failed state. There is no possibility of either party in the conflict gaining an immediate victory. Instead, if the war of its kind continues, the nation may come under the threat of foreign aggression”. So a national consensus must be reached for a proper solution of the problem. They clarified that “Our approach is to preserve and develop the achievements of the 1990 People’s Movement and undertake a comprehensive amendment and reform in the 1990 Constitution to that regard.”

Their key demands were (a) “The present nominated government should be dismissed and an all-party government should be formed with the Prime Minister appointed on the basis of understanding and recommendation of all political parties represented in the dissolved parliament and should move towards maintaining the House of Representatives”; (2) “The environment for dialogue should be created declaring a cease-fire both by the government and the Maoists.” All-party government should develop a “comprehensive forward-looking package” and on the basis of that package “the all-party government should hold dialogue with the Maoists”; (c) “After conciliation with the Maoists, the all-party government should convene a roundtable conference” and (d) “For the implementation of the program agreed upon in the roundtable conference, there should be an agreement in relation to the issue of constitution as to whether to go for the amendment of the Constitution or to opt for a new constitution. Whatever the agreement, the process should move ahead to get fresh people’s mandate organizing the election for the House of Representatives”. Most importantly, CPN(UML) suggested that “The United Nations should be invited to help undertake elections for the House of Representatives … During the election period, the security arrangements should be made as per the established principles, norms and process of the United Nations.” Obviously, these suggestions were rejected.

Interestingly, India had expressed its opposition to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan’s offer to help Nepal negotiate a peaceful settlement with its Maoist insurgents as early as on 1 August 2003. The offer came in the form of a statement from the spokesman for Annan on commenting on the stalled peace process with the Maoists in Nepal. “How can anyone be neutral between a state which is trying to maintain law and order and those taking up arms against it?” the Indian officials asked.

The latest phase of five party agitation began in April 2004 and on 15 April, National Democracy Day, some 5000 demonstrators staged an anti-monarchy protest in Kathmandu, shouting slogans like “Down with regression”, “We need no autocratic monarch”. A 5-day strike was to start on 21 April, but it was called off. 15 days after that, the Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned following continued protests. He was appointed as Prime Minster 11 months back after Lokendra Bahadur Chand, another appointee to the post, had resigned.

The resignation further boosted the morale of the agitators and the five parties called a two day strike on 11-12 May, 2004 which was highly successful. On 14 May CPN(UML) leader Bamdev Gatam warned of a “possible uprising in police and army” if the king does not take immediate steps to resolve the current political deadlock in the country. Ramachandra Paudel said that “King was losing its supporters as government employees had started to take to the streets since two days.” Several rallies were taken out on 14 May and they all merged into a 10,000-big mass rally that was taken out from Ratna Park.

However Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, General Secretary of CPN(M), held that the sudden removal of Thapa government was a tacit ploy to break the subtly growing working alliance between the parliamentary parties and the revolutionaries. “This event is aimed at bringing about a rift between the two”, he said. What he meant to say was that if the parliamentary parties strike a deal with the King to get back to power, it will be suicidal. “Unless the causes for the continuing civil war were not properly addressed, peace can’t be restored in the country”, he said. However, the king’s move does not indicate that he is prepared to restore parliament, nor did he invite the five political parties for talks.

One negative factor of the civil war in Nepal is that the situation in this backward country is further deteriorating on social sectors as well, apart from law and order. It was evident by the deaths by diarrhoea of 24 children in Jajarkot. Not even a treatment team could be sent there from the administration. In many districts, government appointed officials are not going to take charge because of the Maoist threat. Since 14 May, suspension of transport services has caused tremendous hardship to both the passengers and the business community. Essential commodities like fuel, vegetables and dairy products are becoming scarce in the Valley. The prices of vegetables and fruits have shot up dramatically. Transporters said that they were compelled to take such a drastic step as many of their cargo carriers were burnt down and the government even failed to provide compensation.

After Surya Bahadur Thapa’s resignation, veteran political leaders of Nepali Congress have started anticipating it would be their turn to be invited to become the next prime minister. CPN(UML) too is staking its claim. However the five-party alliance has stuck to its stand of not meeting Gyanendra separately. But Prachanda has once again called upon the five political parties and the civil society to take initiatives for holding an all-party dialogue. According to him, “Since a political way-out to the present crisis is impossible through selection of a Prime Minister and formation of a new government, our party stresses the need for a dialogue among the king, parties and the civil society under UN facilitation”. It is clear that the Maoists are also looking for ways to break the stalemate with the palace and to get the UN to mediate in initiating a dialogue is a way out. It remains to be hoped that the present sustained agitation by all Nepal's pro-democracy forces achieves a significant breakthrough as the historic 1990 movement did.