The Historic Agreement in Nepal and the Immediate Challenge

Pratyush Chandra

Nepal continues to create history. Within a few weeks from now there will be an interim government with the Maoists’ participation to pre-empt any further betrayal to the basic immediate demands of the Nepali people for a constituent assembly and for exercising their right to decide the fate of the moribund monarchy and its institutional shields. Definitely, the political developments in Nepal after the April mobilization have approximated to what the parliamentary parties agreed upon in their understanding with the Maoists.

But as Reuters put (June 19), “The pace of change has been as breathtaking as the Himalayan scenery…This week Nepalis are asking themselves if it is all too good to be true”. Given the tremendous hostility that the global and regional hegemonies display, to the degree that they still label the Maoists terrorists, and opportunism of the parliamentary leadership, which was till recently struggling within itself to gain royal proximity and to become trusted agency for the external powers’ interests, has the situation really arrived for the revolutionaries to put their trust in the vestiges of the ancien régime? However, it is the level of popular vigilance and radicalism that have affected even the grassroots of the parliamentary parties, complementing the revolutionaries’ faith in the Nepali downtrodden, that makes them confident to take such unprecedented risk.

Popular Vigilance

After the restoration of their parliamentary privileges, the Nepali democrats have re-baptized the established institutions with new names and cut the wings of the royalty. Of course, all these do help in building the atmosphere amenable for taking the first step towards the resolution of the “Nepali crisis”, which is the formation of the Constituent Assembly as the body that will have the capacity to establish the basic rules, norms and ‘institutions’ necessary for, what Chairman Prachanda calls, “political competition”.

The local elites and their global sponsors had thought that the April radicalism on the urban streets of Nepal would die down after the restoration of the old parliament. But they were time and again rebuffed when the vigilant Nepali people took to the streets to check and decry every compromise and regression in the air. The Maoist rejection of the April compromise did not allow this radicalism to sleep. Deuba, Koirala and others known for their moderate royalism and elitist anti-Maoist stance in the past are constantly watched, and any statement and action from them that reek of the design to give space to decadent institutions and their representatives are duly criticized by spontaneous showdowns on the streets.

Not a single day has passed since the April agitation without meetings and gatherings where diverse sections of the Nepali people discussed the future regime and contents of the future constitution. Various sections of the marginalized majority of the Nepali society have been coming and demonstrating in Kathmandu for ensuring their representation and the inclusion of their demands and rights in the future political system. This remarkable spirit of self-determination rejects any compromise that is short of what the Nepali people have promised themselves. It is this spirit that destroyed the “Royal Regression” and continues to eliminate any possibility of the Parliamentary Regression, of making the old parliament an end in itself. And the June 16 agreement between the Maoists and the government is the definite result of this Popular defiance.

The Elitist Game Plan

But the Nepali crisis was never just related to the accommodation of the Maoists and establishing institutions for such accommodation. It is most importantly linked with the political economic empowerment of the Nepali downtrodden. Until and unless the radical needs of the Nepali laboring classes – workers and peasantry – that have found expression in the Maoist movement are not dealt with, the crisis is not going to be resolved. And here lies the tension that is clearly visible in the political developments in Nepal.

Just before the recent June agreement the Prime Minister arrived from a very “successful” trip to India. And as expected the parameter of this success in Nepal is how much monetary aid the leader is able to raise. And India as the new recruit in the Imperial Project struggling to obtain a definite share in the continuous re-division of the world has recently been too ready to fulfill such requests. Hence, the success was unprecedented.

In return, Finance Minister Ram S. Mahat sold the newfound peace and sovereignty, for which the Nepali people have been fighting, to “captains of Indian industry” at a function organized by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII): “This is a new era after the establishment of the people’s sovereignty in Nepal. Peace has now been restored after the end of a decade long conflict that had held back the country’s socio-economic advancement… It is in this context that our attention is now focused on increased investment, public and private, domestic and foreign.” An Indian newspaper, The Hindu (June 10) reports, “Referring to the fact that India faced higher labour and operating costs of production, Mr. Mahat said cheap and abundant labour, educated technical workforce and other less expensive inputs provide investors incentives for producing intermediate products for Indian companies in Nepal.”

This economic hyper-activism just before the installation of the interim government is meant to pre-empt any future attempt to radically transform the economic path that the Nepali state and ruling classes have pursued for the last five decades – of economic clientilism and dependency. It seeks to depoliticize the arena of economic policy by overburdening the future political regime with all sorts of economic arrangements that would maintain status quo in the basic political economic structure. The Koirala government has effectively utilized its time to ensure that the basic economic framework is in place which would be difficult to change drastically under any future political transformation. Only after this did it become comfortable with the idea of the dissolution of the parliament and the formation of the interim government with the Maoists.

All this is very aptly complemented by the recent attempt to reduce the “Nepali crisis” and the Democracy Movement to the question of the position of the Nepali royalty and the accommodation of the Maoist “rebels” in the mainstream political system. Clearly, the most formidable way to dilute any radical resolution of this crisis is to simply ignore what it is all about. The recent political discourse of “People’s Movement” and “People’s Power” which sought to de-“classify” the movement, ignore its class constituents and their diverse aspirations, homogenize it under an amorphous category of the “people” was the first attempt in this regard. Moderate royalists, corporate media (foreign and national) and foreign funded NGOs and “civil society” groups led this santization campaign. Foreign interests too found this discourse worthwhile, as it minimizes the damage, by eliminating the clarity of the demands. It effectively evades the Maoist element and puts the Nepali movement in line with the “color revolutions” of Eastern Europe, coloring the corrupt elements of the old regime to provide a “stable”, yet “experienced”, leadership to the new.

Obviously on every front, the Nepali ruling classes are trying hard to de-link the question of democracy from the issue of building the essential institutions for fulfilling the popular needs, giving “land to the tillers”, political and economic self-determination of the diverse downtrodden sections of the Nepali society. They seek to sweep aside the whole question of endogenous development – of accounting the endogenous resources, putting them under democratic control for fulfilling the popular needs.

The Revolutionary Resolution

On the other hand, the popular classes of Nepal – Nepali workers and peasantry – were for the first time mobilized independently during the People’s War, undiluted by the opportunism of the disgruntled sections of the landlord-merchant-moneylending classes and the clientele petty bourgeoisie nurtured as local “nodes” for implementing the social agenda of imperialism. It was in the Maoist movement that for the first time the Nepali landless and near landless, involved in circular national and international migration to meet their ends, found an organized political expression. The rural roots of the Nepali laboring classes even in the secondary and tertiary sectors allowed the popular democratic aspirations unleashed by the Maoist movement to integrate virtually the whole Nepali society behind the New Democracy Movement, despite the claims by other political forces to have achieved democracy in 1990.

Obviously, Prachanda’s concept of “political competition”, which the Maoists in Nepal have developed in one or the other way right from the time they put forward their 40-point demand in 1996, has to be interpreted in this background. They seek an open competition between the “democracy from above” that the 1990 arrangement established and the aspirations for the “democracy from below” that they have inculcated in the daily lives and struggles of the Nepali downtrodden. In standard terms, at the level of economic policy, it is a competition between the growth-oriented and need-oriented frameworks. With the June 16 agreement, the possibility of such competition as the new level of class struggle has become almost certain. But it will be interesting to see how the revolutionaries in the interim government, when established, are able to undo what the Nepali ruling classes have already achieved to make this competition inherently lopsided in their own favor by imposing the basic framework for pre-empting any conclusive assault from below.

(Modified version of the article written for ML International Newsletter (July-August))


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