In Nepal, The Saga of Compromise and Struggle Continues

April 26, 2006

Pratyush Chandra

As sniffing K9s of the global hegemony, the corporate media around the globe smelled Maoist activists’ and pamphlets’ presence in the post- April 6 protests as proofs of the Maoist infiltration. The BBC reported on April 24: “There are very real fears that Maoist rebels could well use the opportunity to fill the void and take control of the protests. Maoist activists are already believed to have been present at many of the rallies, and there have been several instances of Maoist campaign pamphlets being distributed among the protesters. The last thing the parties want is for the protests to spin out of control and for the Maoists to move in, a view that is fast gaining currency.”

Such rumour mongering by the corporate media is definitely sufficient to send their own masters to psychotic fits of Global McCarthyism. It can also buy a compromise between the King and the anti-communist section of the Nepali middle class trained during the US’ Cold War aid regime who grabbed the leadership of many moderate democratic parties after the 1990 arrangement. However, it means nothing to the local population. They know that the Maoists were the only force facilitating their politicisation to the degree that they could sustain mass strikes for so many days.

Of course, the 7+1 alliance was a great jolt to the vastness of “popular exclusion” that the Nepalese polity and its sponsors have till now maintained by utilising the weapon of “divide and rule”. And we saw literally a new version of Samudra Manthan (churning of the seas) and the whole Nepal was drowned in the resulting tide. The General Strike in Nepal that continued to gain momentum since April 6 demolished the floodgates already tattered in the course of Maoists’ continuous assaults for a decade. These gates erected during the six decades of continuous betrayals forged and financed by the complex international network that combines the global, regional and local ruling classes had trapped and ‘subalternised’ the confidence and consciousness of the Nepalese downtrodden.

Today the gates are nowhere. Throughout Nepal curfews and “shoot-on-sight” orders have been enforced and defied. “Emotionally charged sea of the masses in the streets manifests that the liberation forever from the feudal monarchy, which has been betraying since the past 250 years in general and 56 years in particular, is the earnest and deep aspiration of the Nepalese people” (Prachanda’s Statement, April 22).

Justin Huggler aptly captured the scenario for Independent (UK) on April 22 after King Gyanendra did his first bid to buy off the leadership by offering the protesting parties the Prime-Ministership. “Looking tense before the camera, King Gyanendra said: ‘We are committed to multi-party democracy and a constitutional monarchy. Executive power of the kingdom of Nepal, which was in our safekeeping, shall from this day be returned to the people.'” On the other side of the political fence: “‘Death to the monarchy!’ they chanted as they marched. And as they walked, the people of Kathmandu lined the streets to cheer them on. This was a nation on the march. Several police lines fell back before them. Soldiers guarding the airport grinned and gave them signs of support.”

After the King’s second bid on April 24 once again the million-dollar question remains “whether the announcement will be welcomed as readily on the street, where hundreds of thousands of Nepalis have called for the monarchy to be abolished” (Huggler in Independent, April 25), despite the fact that the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has accepted the King’s offer to reinstate the Parliament, dissolved in 2002 on the recommendation of one of the leaders in the SPA. Guardian (April 25) reports, “There is a danger that crowds may take to the streets in defiance of the political leadership. Yesterday, speakers at rallies in the capital’s suburbs repeatedly said they would not be “tricked” by the king.”

What we witness in Nepal today is a unique dialectic of spontaneity and organization in full operation that characterises any great movement. “The masses are in reality their own leaders, dialectically creating their own development process” and the ‘leaders’ are forced to or willingly “make themselves merely the mouthpiece of the will and striving of the enlightened masses, merely the agents of the objective laws of the class movement”. (Rosa Luxemburg) At least one section of the political leadership is conscious of this dialectic, when it says: “[T]his movement has not now remained to be a movement only of either seven political parties or the CPN (Maoist) or civil society or any particular group but as a united movement of all the real democratic forces, who have been repeatedly deceived by the feudal autocratic monarchy since 1949.” (Prachanda & Baburam Bhattarai’s statement, April 17, 2006)

By rejecting the present compromise the Maoists show their respect to the Nepalese downtrodden who fought valiantly for the basic demand to form the constituent assembly – the institution that will give them at least a say in the process of ‘democratisation’ curtailing its patrician character and may serve as the foundation of the new democratic Nepal. Even though the wavering petty bourgeois parliamentary leaders afraid of the radicalised masses unilaterally withdrew their support and rejoiced on the restoration of their privileges, let us hope the Maoist rejection and the grassroots unity across various political formations built in the yearlong united people’s struggle will keep them sober.

A commenter on International Nepal Solidarity Network’s website ( thus reacted to the news of the King’s announcement:

“In protests, for a moment, people from all classes were present… They will once again split into the political camps, who best represent their class interests. The only ‘people’ who will continue to be on the streets are those who were already there on the streets and fields before the protests – who will continue to fight to survive. The ‘protests’ have at least given them a rough map of the political scene of Nepal, and heightened their confidence and consciousness.”

However, we must admit that the recent protests marked a new phase in the Nepalese struggle for democracy and self-determination. From now onwards nothing remains consecrated in Nepal, beyond popular scrutiny and criticism. Every section of the society is politically charged. We see democracy in action in the streets of Nepal.

Tariq Ali rightly puts (Guardian, April 25): “What the uprising in Nepal reveals is that while democracy is being hollowed out in the west, it means more than regular elections to many people in the other continents”. It means the people’s right to root out their own poverty, the democratic control of the Nepalese human and natural resources, ending the caste, national and gender privileges and discriminations… It means to have a Constitution that secures all these fundamental rights, and for that they demand a constituent assembly.

Versions: Counterpunch, Countercurrents, INSN, ZMag

Pure-and-Simple Revolutions in Nepal and Venezuela


For a decade or so, the media has been talking about new color and flower revolutions with colorful revolutionaries like “orange” ones in Ukraine. But, after so many sponsored, colored and sanitized revolutions, as additions in the market of “a series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, politics without politics the other deprived of its otherness” (1), once again we are witnessing pure-and-simple revolutions and revolutionaries, in Latin America and Asia (and of course, there are many in the streets of Paris, and among the immigrants in the US, too). Nepal and Venezuela are two hot centers of pure-and-simple revolutions.

The parallel between the Nepalese and the Venezuelan movements that I draw rests upon some of their basic commonalities. There might be people for whom such comparisons would be outrageous–how can one compare the sophisticated experiments in Latin America with a violent and uncompromising movement of Nepal? Although it is not my purpose here to make the Nepalese movement palatable, but this parallel allows me to expose some of its basic facets.

1. “The Object and the subject of power”

Broadly, I attempt to understand the Nepalese experience as part of the global struggle for democracy, self-determination and socialism. As I see, both the Maoist movement in Nepal and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela (along with other Latin American movements), evolve as continuous critiques of capitalism and its political forms, especially formal bourgeois democracy, from the perspective of the downtrodden classes and communities in the respective countries. The element of negativity defines the basic unity between them.

In the Americas, there are many “sui generis” laboratories of revolution, where people in their daily practice of “humanist and cooperative logic” transform themselves colliding at every step “with the capitalist logic of profit” and their own exploited existence.(2) In this daily experience they find their own power and political expression. “Rather than putting the Venezuelan people asleep in order to enslave by making the act of voting ‘into the beginning and end of democracy,’ Chávez wrote in 1993 that ‘sovereign people must transform itself into the object and the subject of power. This option is not negotiable for revolutionaries.'”(3)

On the other side of the global south, who understands better than the Nepalese, the farce of voting as “the beginning and end of democracy”? They also know the various ways in which this farce could be enacted. Each time their grassroots consciousness become a decisive challenge to the status quo, a newer version of this farce has been enacted in Nepal to distract them, co-opt a few representatives, de-popularize policy-making and dissipate whatever energy is left in the streets.

Even the day, which is celebrated as the “Democracy Day”, was the day when Indians re-instated the Shah Dynasty on the throne with an arrangement with the Nepali Congress to preempt the radicalization of the uprising in the countryside. Eight years after that, when the unrest on the unfulfilled promises seemed simmering again, elections were held in 1959. B.P. Koirala won on the plank of providing ‘land to the tiller’. But in December 1960, King Mahendra banned all parties for dividing the country and found, on the basis of researches probably done in the US’ universities, that the parliamentary system, being a foreign creation, was not much in “step with the history and traditions of the country”. The homegrown panchayat ‘democracy’ institutionalized the indigenous Hindu hierarchy as a political system with the King on its top as the reincarnation of Vishnu. Destroying commons, unprecedented commercialization, uprooting the people and growing unemployment radicalized the youth and forced the rural poor to self-organize in the 1970s; and the political elite–the royalty, with the democrats’ assent–needed to stage another ‘democratic’ farce–a referendum on the panchayat system, with far more ballots than registered votes. Finally, right at the time when global imperialism was full of expectations for its hegemonic stability in the late 1980s with the crumbling of East Europe, a new compromise in Nepal was reached in 1990 to preempt the organized revolutionary tide that seemed certain.(4)

The history of Modern Nepal is the history of the crisis of democracy, as a system of “elite decision and public ratification” (5). The exploited and downtrodden Nepalis have time and again refused to accept this opiate of voting as “the beginning and end of democracy” and took the burden of exercising democracy in the streets and in their daily lives. The Nepali ruling classes and their international sponsors in their desperation have tried many exotic forms of putting them to sleep in order to control them, but have repeatedly failed. The Maoist uprising is the longest and most systematic (in official terms, brutal) attempt by the Nepalese landless, poor peasantry and the proletarians to transform themselves “into the object and the subject of power”. And thus they refused to be duped.

2. “New Democracy”

As far as the details of what the movements in Nepal and Latin America posit and the way they posit are concerned, there are definitely many differences. But then, as Lebowitz tells us,

“We all start from different places in terms of levels of economic development— and, that clearly affects how much of our initial activity (if we are dependent upon our own resources) must be devoted to the future. How different, too, are the situations of societies depending on the strength of their domestic capitalist classes and oligarchies, their degree of domination by global capitalist forces and the extent to which they are able to draw upon the support and solidarity of other societies which have set out on a socialist path. Further, the historical actors who start us on the way may be quite different in each case. Here, a highly-organized working class majority (as in the recipe books of previous centuries), there a peasant army, a vanguard party, a national-liberation bloc (electoral or armed), army rebels, an anti-poverty alliance and variations too numerous to name or yet to emerge— we would be pedantic fools if we insisted that there is only one way to start the social revolution.”(6)

The Maoist movement might seem as a critique of global capitalism from outside the political economic mainstream–the ‘marginal majority’ of the peasantry and the landless. But the ‘outside’ is not equal to something autonomous from global capitalism. In fact, on the contrary, in the stage of imperialism, capitalism flourishes by preserving its diverse stages and even ‘pre-capitalism’ simultaneously–backwardness and advancement together. The persistence of the agrarian ‘outsiders’, as in Nepal, contributes in stabilizing the global rule of capital by providing a stable and informal reserve of potential proletarians to be drawn as scums and blacklegs whenever needed, guardsmen for international security and imperialist agencies, and peripheries for expansion of the late capitalist economies like those of India and China. It is in this regard that I find the “instability” in Nepal, the rise in the democratic aspirations of the Nepalese people and their struggle for advancement and development as a definite crisis for the politics of imperialism, for global capitalism in South Asia.

One might object to the above perception by saying that the Maoists have defined the goal of their struggle as “new democratic”, not socialist. Moreover, a new democratic revolution, classically, intends to complete the ‘national’ transformation towards capitalism. But it is important to note the factors that left this transformation incomplete, and for whose elimination we need a revolution. Even for Mao who defined “new democracy” in the Chinese context, the most formidable hurdle in such a transformation in a “semi-colonial” society was clearly global capitalism that had reached the stage of imperialism (“the invasion of foreign capitalism and the gradual growth of capitalist elements”). Moreover, for him, “any revolution in a colony or semi-colony that is directed against imperialism, i.e., against the international bourgeoisie or international capitalism is no longer a revolution of the old type led by the bourgeoisie with the aim of establishing a capitalist society and a state under bourgeois dictatorship.” The ‘new democratic revolution’ “serves the purpose of clearing a still wider path for the development of socialism. In the course of its progress, there may be a number of further sub-stages, because of changes on the enemy’s side and within the ranks of our allies, but the fundamental character of the revolution remains unchanged”, i.e. it is “part of the world revolution”, which “no longer refers to the old world revolution, for the old bourgeois world revolution has long been a thing of the past, it refers to the new world revolution, the socialist world revolution”(7).

So the immediacies of the ‘new democratic revolution’ constituting the “sub-stages” are determined by the task of intensifying the class struggle, which is the only road towards the “development of socialism”. Imperialism or global capitalism with its ‘national’ hegemonic nodes peripheralizes and retards economic development at various locations to stabilize those hegemonies. Any democratic assertion from below in any form in these peripheries is an assault on imperialism and its political arrangements. Venezuelan and Nepalese movements are united in this regard.

Further, after Soviet Union and China succumbed to the political economic exigencies of international capitalist competition and the politics of “peaceful coexistence”, there was a temporary crisis for the world revolutionary challenge to capitalism. With the vestiges of official socialism swept aside, the global challenge to imperialism, the “highest” stage of capitalism, is once again visible, and only naive journalistic exercises, which fiddle with apparent dissimilarities and descriptions, will find the linkage between the Venezuelan and Nepalese movements uncanny. Even the police state of global capital is far more aware of the underlying unity challenging its hegemony, forcing it to mention the “demagogue” Chavez, the “anti-American dictator” Castro and the “vicious” Maoists together in its National Security Strategy 2006.

The dissimilarities between these movements are rooted in diverse “concrete situations” in which the revolutionaries find themselves. Obviously, as Michael Lebowitz time and again reminds us, “socialism doesn’t drop from the sky”. Venezuela with its tremendous oil assets and relatively higher level of systematic industrialization and proletarianization, along with its (counter-)hegemonic relationship with other Latin American countries bestow on the revolutionaries tasks very distinct from those in the backward, aid-driven economy of Nepal. But none of these ‘concrete’ local conditions can undermine the basic unity and complementary character of these movements in challenging the “concrete whole” of global capitalism. In fact, what makes the Venezuelan and Nepalese experiences stand out among the plethora of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization movements is the definiteness of their goals–the political-economic self-determination, to create a situation where the laboring majority would toil to satisfy their “own need for development”. As the Latin American working classes have evolved co-management and asambleas barriales to reclaim their collectivity and its fruit, the Nepalis for their self-liberation will need to first destroy the shield of the whole hierarchy of the officialdom and its privileges fed and armed by foreign aid and ensure a complete agrarian transformation to reclaim their resources and labor from global capital and its local agencies.

3. The Inside-Outside Dialectic

However, there is an interesting political economic dialectic that operates in Nepal and Venezuela making these movements mirror images of one another. Both are engaged in the process of transcending the dichotomy between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ that global capitalism creates for its own expansion. The Maoists are doing so by forging an alliance with the forces that are struggling ‘within’–the trade unions, other working class organizations and petty bourgeois parties/fronts, while the Bolivarians are trying to establish a democratic space beyond the institutionalized framework of bourgeois democracy that subsumes every participatory initiative into its competitive dungeon.

As mentioned earlier, the loci of Venezuela and Nepal in global political economy are highly dissimilar, even opposite. Venezuela as a fully capitalist economy challenges capitalism from within; hence the Bolivarian movement for a complete social transformation needs to build and sustain apparatuses and institutions outside the established political and economic paradigms. Co-management and barrios formed on the participatory principles are the expressions of this ‘convex’ need of the movement. As Massimo de Angelis rightly puts, “The “outside” created by struggles is an outside that emerges from within, a social space created by virtue of creating relational patterns that are other than and incompatible with the relational practices of capital”(8).

In Nepal, on the other hand, the six decade-long Nepalese democratic movement achieved its partial victory in 1990, with the accommodation of the “democrats” in the power structure, which eventually frustrated the movement’s vigor, alienating its committed vanguards and grassroots–institutionalizing “popular exclusion”, without the semblance of “popular inclusion” that bourgeois parliamentarism or representative democracy provides for self-legitimacy. Herein lies the root of the internal instability that has marred the political arrangement of 1990 and the secret of twelve Prime Ministers in thirteen years. In fact, parliamentarism became Monarchy’s instrument of legitimacy.

It was this ‘illegitimate’ arrangement that provided a ready opportunity for an independent political mobilization of the ‘excluded majority’–mobilization and dispersal of the movement ‘outside’/beyond a few urban centers. The cry for democracy ­ for “self-determination” ­ reached hitherto untouched zones of the society, giving birth to the “dual power”. Evidently, it aggravated the crisis in the established hierarchy (broadened by the 1990 arrangement), which sustained itself and the hegemony of its international sponsors by such exclusion–sustaining Nepal’s peripheral character, as a ‘reserve’ for capitalist expansion and accumulation. The Maoists assaulted right at the middle of the passage, through which the “included minority” leeched upon the ‘excluded’. The consequent internal mutation choked the parasitic political economic hierarchy. The 1990 arrangement was critically shattered in 2005.

A decade long success of the Maoist movement today has reoriented the aspirations of the Nepalese petty-bourgeoisie forcing the “democratic” parties to form an alliance with the revolutionaries against “the autocratic monarchy”. The 12-point agreement between the Maoists and seven parliamentary parties last year, along with the unilateral ceasefire by the revolutionaries marked the beginning of a critical phase in the Nepalese democratic struggle, in the struggle for self-determination. This agreement creates the possibility for an open ‘competitive’ struggle (as a manifestation of the deeper class struggle) between democracy as a mere form or mode of decision-making and democracy as practice or “a way of people developing in struggle and emerging as a class for itself through a process of self-transformation” (9). In other words, it potentially opens the road for a confrontation between the practice of formal democracy and “insurgent” popular democratic “practice” based on the collective needs and aspirations of the landless, proletarians and the poor peasantry that the Maoists have helped in developing and sustaining in their decade long armed struggle.

In other words, the “outside” is increasingly reclaiming the “inside”–i.e., the Nepalese movement is ‘concaving’ in, seemingly in contrast to the Venezuelan experience. It is in this dialectic of inside/outside that these movements realize the complete transformation of the respective societies. Only by transcending this dichotomous binary can a society comprehensively move “beyond capital”.

4. “Sukumbasis” as the protagonists

For many years now, the aid and remittance economies have fed the mainstream political economic institutions in Nepal. They nurtured a polity based on the ‘cut and commission regime’, which in turn facilitated these businesses of foreign aid and legal-illegal human trafficking. They survive on the toil of millions of exploited and oppressed Nepalis working abroad and for the agencies usurping the indigenous commons and resources. Internal and international migration has been a persistent feature of Nepal motivated by immense agrarian inequality, reinforced further by the commercialization of the local societies through foreign aid. Industries that were established in the country have been heavily dependent on foreign capital, especially from India, and do not generate sufficient employment because of their capital intensity. Of course, ‘alternative’ industries in service sector like tourism have definitely flourished, but only the local population knows what it means to work in this sector heavily based on informal labor with no security and degenerating exploitation of human beings, not just their labor. Hence, circular migration across the borders, even beyond the seas, with falling back on land is a viable option before the Nepali.

Regarding the rural scene, a prominent Nepali political economist, Nanda R Shrestha says, “Overall, near-landlessness remains prevalent as a permanent fixture of the Nepali agrarian economy” and outmigration–especially, circular migration to India–has been an important survival strategy, that helps sustain “the hill economy in general and the hill near-landless in particular”(10). However, since the 1970s there has been a remarkable degree of self-organization among the landless peasants (Sukumbasis), which has been evident in their organized land encroachments and spontaneous settlements, time and again crushed by the Shah Regime. It is beyond the class capacity of the petty-bourgeoisie and the legalist-opportunist politics of petty-bourgeois radicals and democrats, who generally represent the landed gentry and are ever ready to compromise on any concession from the royalty, to give a radical turn to this ‘new’ peasant spontaneity.

However, “the rage simmering under every poor peasant’s feet is finally being ignited by a cadre of unwavering Maoists. Irrespective of political persuasion, few can deny that this is a fire that can no longer be smothered by the state and its armed forces no matter how much larger and better-equipped these forces are in relations to any force that the Maoists can muster with its limited resources. What looms heavy over Nepal’s political horizon, therefore, is the unyielding question of who the masses will side with–with the forces of fractured democracy, with the ever-sinister hands of the absolutely dysfunctional royalty, or with the uncharted territory of the Maoist vision. Maoists derive their power from the people.”(11)

It is evident that the agrarian question which confronts Nepal today and provides the basis for the Maoist upsurge, once again, puts the Nepalese movement in line with the great “new peasant movements” (as James Petras describes them) in Latin America and Africa that decisively threaten ‘third world’ dependency and the global capitalist hegemony. In this regard, it is worth noting that as global capitalism develops, ‘unresolved’ agrarian question becomes more and more that of labour, less of capital. As Henry Bernstein tells us, “the many popular struggles over land today are driven by experiences of the fragmentation of labour (including losses of relatively stable wage employment in manufacturing and mining, as well as agriculture), by contestations of class inequality, and by collective demands and actions for better conditions of living (‘survival’, stability of livelihood, economic security), and of which the most dramatic instances are land invasions and occupations. There is now a revival and restatement of the significance of struggles over land to the social dynamics and class politics of the ‘South’ during the current period of globalization and neo-liberalism.” Referring to James Petras’ work on Latin America and Paris Yeros’ work on Zimbabwe, Bernstein concludes, “Contemporary land struggles are significantly different from the (‘classic’) peasant movements of the past, and are much more rooted in the semi-proletarian condition: that of ‘a workforce in motion, within rural areas, across the rural­urban divide, and beyond international boundaries’.”(12)

5. “Human beings in all their determinateness”

One may have doubts about the “participatory” element in the Maoist movement. But this doubt comes from a sterile presupposition and deification of trans-historical pluralism and democracy. It is important to keep in mind the class composition of every movement that shapes the character of ‘democracy’ and ‘participation’ in it. The experiences of the peasant movements and struggles show that democracy from below in a rural setting will come with all its ‘violence’, ‘primitiveness’ and ‘distortions’, devoid of the preconceived urban sophistications. What is important is the raised political consciousness of the Nepalese landless, poor peasantry and proletarians, and their active willingness to decide and build their own future. However, the tension between the participatory element and its institutionalized alienation in the process of consolidating movemental gains, which create status quoist interests, is always there, as also with the Venezuelan experience.

It is well recognized that a fundamental contribution of the Maoist movement has been to inculcate the issue of self-determination at every level of the Nepalese society. Even the most vehement critiques of the Maoists recognize that it is the contribution of these “economic determinists” that the issues of socio-cultural oppression based on identities, gender, nationalities, castes have found definite political expressions. As one analyst complains, the Maoists “were quick to identify” the ethnic discontent in the Nepalese society and tried “to ride it to their purpose, taking advantage of the supposed correlation between ethnicity and poverty”.(13) Another notes that the Maoist movement “has also set precedents for alternative experiences, practices and discourses on gender equality”.(14)

Dalit intellectuals, from the communities that are lowest in the caste hierarchy, find, “Insurgents have raised the economic, social and political issues of Dalits as well as the issues of women, indigenous people and others”. Further, in “people’s war”, “Maoists refocused on social intervention in their stronghold areas. Maoists have initiated a campaign called ‘caste integration and people’s awareness campaign’ in order to overcome hesitation of non-Dalits in breaking age-old practices of untouchability. In the Maoist heartland in Rolpa district, the untouchability and caste discrimination has been reduced. They have declared ‘caste free villages’. They have strictly made villagers not to practice caste discrimination. The Bista System (in which occupational Dalit castes receive grain annually for the services they provide to non-Dalit households), considering it an economical exploitation as well as a way of maintaining feudal relations of domination and subordination, has been transformed into daily remuneration for labor, which is now the norm in the Maoist base areas”.(15)

Since its inception, the Maoist movement in Nepal understood the fact that, “While no one liberates himself by his own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others.”(16) The Maoists facilitated the creation of a definite space for solidaristic praxis where these autonomous ethnic, gender and community-level struggles for self-determination could coordinate their liberatory praxes. The active participation of the oppressed identities in “people’s war” has armed their identity assertion, their aspiration for self-dignity and freedom against a brutally oppressive Hindu hierarchy. In its turn, the ‘reflective participation’ of these entities has strengthened the support base of the Maoist movement.

However, this identity of the oppressed and exploited in diverse social relations with a class movement derives from the basic fact that this class of proletarians and semi-proletarians are “human beings in all their determinateness”. Hence their complete liberation requires liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation. The unity between dalit, women, national and other liberation movements is the laboring majority’s self-assertion as human beings. It means that they are fully aware of the secret through which the global capitalist class, directly or indirectly, maintains its power, i.e., by the ‘parcelisation’ of their ‘selves’ according to sex, age, race and nationality, among other aspects.(17)

In “participatory” experiences of both countries–Nepal and Venezuela, despite differences in the levels of sophistication (due to the differences in the “levels of economic development”), the element of force or “coercion” is important. In the case of Venezuela, it is provided by the ‘transitional’ State, while in Nepal, it is the ‘provisional’ state, constituted by the Maoists, that stands in the background of those experiences. However, arbitrariness is the price of the provisional and the insurgent nature of the ‘force’ in Nepal. But post-2001 developments demonstrate that the Maoists are fully aware of this problem, and their internal debates and readiness to form an alliance with other ‘forces’ are indicative of their efforts to transcend it. It will be interesting to see if their resistance against the local representatives of the extraordinarily dense and widespread imperialist network of relationships and connections will bear any immediate success. Or, will global hegemonies and their agencies succeed in buying a compromise and betrayal that the Nepalese people have seen so many times in their struggles for self-determination?

Pratyush Chandra can be reached at:


(1) Slavoj Zizek (2004), A Cup of Decaf Reality.

(2) In the laboratory of a revolution: Interview with Marta Harnecker, Venezuela Analysis, Sep 22, 2005.

(3) Michael Lebowitz (2006), BUILD IT NOW: SOCIALISM FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, Monthly Review Press, forthcoming

(4) For an interpretation of the political history of Nepal, see my short articles–‘Pre-1990 “Democratic” Experiments in Nepal and The Evolving Pattern’ (August 2005) and ‘The 12-point Agreement and the Future of Democracy in Nepal’ (December 2005)

(5) Noam Chomsky (1987), ON POWER AND IDEOLOGY: THE MANAGUA LECTURES, South End Press

(6) Michael Lebowitz (2006), op cit

(7) Mao tse-Tung (1940), ‘On New Democracy’, Selected Works Vol. 2, Peking

(8) De Angelis, Massimo (2006), ‘Enclosures, Commons and the “Outside”‘, University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society Colloquium on the Economy, Society and Nature, Durban

(9) Completing Marx’s Project: Interview with Michael Lebowitz, Weekly Worker 608, January 19 2006.

(10) Nanda R. Shrestha (2001), THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LAND, LANDLESSNESS AND MIGRATION IN NEPAL, Nirala, New Delhi. (New edition of ‘Landlessness and Migration in Nepal’, West View Press, 1990)

(11) Ibid.

(12) Henry Bernstein (2004), ”Changing Before Our Very Eyes’: Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today’, Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 4 Nos. 1 & 2.

(13) Deepak Thapa (2001), ‘Day of the Maoist’, Himal South Asian, Vol 14 No 5.

(14) Mandira Sharma & Dinesh Prasain (2004), ‘Gender Dimensions of the People’s War: Some Reflections on the Experience of Rural Women’, in Michael Hutt (ed) HIMALAYAN PEOPLE’S WAR: NEPAL’S MAOIST REBELLION, Indiana University Press.

(15) Tej Sunar (2006), ‘Fighting Caste Discrimination in the Context of Conflict in Nepal’, DNF.

(16) Paulo Freire (1993), PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED, Continuum Books, New York.

(17) Michael Lebowitz (2003), BEYOND CAPITAL: MARX’S POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE WORKING CLASS, 2nd Edition, Palgrave.

And Now, Nepalis say- Ya Basta!!!


Pratyush Chandra

“But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We are the inheritors of the true builders of our nation. The dispossessed, we are millions, and we thereby call upon our brothers and sisters to join this struggle as the only path, so that we will not die of hunger due to the insatiable ambition of a … dictatorship led by a clique of traitors who represent the most conservative and sell-out groups…For hundreds of years we have been asking for and believing in promises that were never kept. We were always told to be patient and to wait for better times. They told us to be prudent, that the future would be different. But we see now that this isn’t true. Everything is the same or worse now than when our grandparents and parents lived. Our people are still dying from hunger and curable diseases, and live with ignorance, illiteracy and lack of culture. And we realize that if we don’t fight, our children can expect the same. And it is not fair. Necessity brought us together, and we said “Enough!” We no longer have the time or the will to wait for others to solve our problems.”

How honestly these words represent the Nepalese people’s struggle for freedom and democracy, for self-determination. But the people who uttered these words lived very far from Nepal, and perhaps the majority of them knew nothing about the Nepalese people and their struggle. These were the words of the Zapatistas declaring war against the Mexican state from Lacandona Jungle (December 31 1993). They expressed the sentiments of not only the Mexican Indians but of everyone who are waging the “struggle that is necessary to meet the demands that never have been met by [the] State [in their region]: work, land, shelter, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace”.

On April 9, the 4-day general strike in Nepal was supposed to end, but it continued. An activist said, “The Nepali people want the king to abdicate and he needs to go. There is no other option, otherwise the country will continue to see riots and demonstrations.”

Guardian further reports, “On the border with India, hundreds of demonstrators stormed government buildings to declare Nepal’s Chitwan district the kingdom’s “first republic”. Troops later drove them out. It has also been reported that students in smaller towns have taken to the streets with the slogan “death to Gyanendra”.”

The New York Times quotes the editor of the Nepali Times who wrote, “As we write this on Sunday noon, public anger is boiling over…This is a surprising uprising: even without the parties, neighborhoods have got together to set up road barricades, stoning police and pouring out into the streets to defy curfews. Each day that passes, the pro-democracy chariot is picking up momentum.”

This saying strangely connects once again the struggles on the two corners of the globe with each other. Well-known Marxist Harry Cleaver noted in 1994 in his Introduction to ‘Zapatistas! Documents of the New Mexican Revolution’, “Today, the social equivalent of an earthquake is rumbling through Mexican society. Every day brings reports of people moving to action. Campesinos [villagers] and Indigenous peoples completely independent of the EZLN [Zapatista Army of National Liberation] are taking up its battle cries and occupying municipal government buildings, blockading banks, seizing lands and demanding “Libertad.” Students and workers are being inspired not just to “support the campesinos” but to launch their own strikes throughout the Mexican social factory.”

A prominent pro-democracy and peace activist, Mathura P Shrestha (a retired professor and former Secretary of Health, aged 72), arrested for endangering the security and sovereignty of the country poses Lokatantra (full democracy) against formal democracy in his interview to Lucia de Vries, “Lokatantra is the rule of the people. Nepal was democratic until four hundred years ago. People didn’t vote but they talked until a consensus was reached. Only the powerful voted… What I am researching now is how the dictatorship of the proletariat can be transformed into the rule of the proletariat. If a constituent assembly is properly elected we can establish the rule of the people. I do not think ceremonial monarchy goes together with lokatantra…”

But the US State Department still chants, “The United States calls upon the King to restore democracy immediately and to begin a dialogue with Nepal’s constitutional political parties. It is time the King recognizes that this is the best way to deal with the Maoist insurgency and to return peace and prosperity to Nepal.” It refuses to acknowledge that insurgency is general, just backed by the Maoists and democrats. India too refuses to listen to the unrest in Nepal and demonstrations of solidarity in its own streets.

But, again stealing words from Cleaver, “[L]earning to listen is not always easy, even today. To clear the way, we have to learn to cut through the “noise” of official discourse, to recognize and avoid debates over how to “solve” the crisis within the old frameworks. We have to learn to decode the official jargon, to cut through the euphemisms that cloak the “business as usual”.”

On April 8, “the rallies occurred on the 16th anniversary of Nepal’s first pro-democracy movement, when the present king’s brother and predecessor, Birendra, accepted demands for parliamentary elections. Political activists say the king needs to “understand the public”. (Guardian) Officially three people died in Nepal in police firings, and Nepalese Home Minister vows, “We will get stricter now to preserve law and order and keep the situation normal”(BBC), as the general strike becomes indefinite.

The Nepalese Royalty’s pig-headedness has proved at least to the Nepalese people, what Baburam Bhattarai said in his reply to the International Crisis Group in 2003, “Laat ko bhoot baat le mandaina” (the devil of force won’t listen to persuasion).

And, today the Nepali says in her own way: YA BASTA! Enough is enough!!! A protester told Reuters news agency, “We are not afraid of bullets, we have to get democracy at any cost and we will get it.” (BBC)

[For latest news and views on Nepal, visit International Nepal Solidarity Network‘s website]

Ceasefire and Democracy in Nepal – the Global Semantics

The Maoists in Nepal have once again demonstrated exemplary resilience by declaring a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire on April 3, as proof of their commitment to their understanding with the “democrats”. They ceased all military actions in the Kathmandu Valley considering “the requests from the seven-party alliance and from the civic societies”…

Today, the defiant resistance by Castro’s Cuba, the possible comeback of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the resolution of the Nepalese ‘problem’ with an active Maoist participation re-establish the link between the present “Post-Cold War” revolutionary democratic movements and the revolutionary movements of the past…


Nepal & Venezuela

Pratyush Chandra


Any serious and honest survey of the Maoist movement in Nepal can convey the truth that its main agenda has been to establish the essential democratic institutions that will allow a devolvement of political economic power to the masses. The Maoists can challengingly claim that in every negotiation they have indulged, with the King and the parliamentary forces, they have asked for an unconditional constituent assembly, during whose election different political forces can go with their respective choice of political structure and ask for the people’s mandate. And, of course, they have demanded a subservience of the national army to the democratic government. Only a democratically elected constituent assembly having representatives from the exploited and oppressed majority has the capacity to provide a democratic constitution. Otherwise a constitution is bound to be an eclectic compromise between the already empowered vested interests, as it has happened many times in Nepal, and in many other ‘democratic’ countries. On the other hand, which modern nation can openly deny the ‘professionalisation’ of the armed forces, their ability to harm the democratic interests incapacitated and their subservience to those interests?

The Maoists have time and again emphasised their sufficiently theorised commitment to multi-party republican democracy and to ‘political competition’ that it represents. They know that the fight for their maximal goal, for socialism and communism has to be long drawn, taking into consideration “the balance in the class struggle and international situation”. But as Prachanda simultaneously stresses, this position “is a policy, not tactics”.(1) Does this stress diminish the revolutionary agenda of the Maoists? Not at all. When Mao called for putting politics in command and guns under this command, he meant the readiness of the revolutionary forces to change according to the exigencies of class struggle and revolution. What the Maoists are struggling for is the establishment of the basic political structure that will release the energy of the Nepalese exploited and oppressed masses towards an intensified class struggle, creating conditions for an unhindered process of self-organisation of the working class.

In this regard, well-known Indian Marxist Randhir Singh’s assessment of the place of the Nepalese movement among the post-Cold War revolutionary movements is quite apt: “Latin America is in fact emerging as a particularly important zone of class struggle against international capital. Just as, far away, on another continent, Nepal exemplifies that, odds notwithstanding, people will continue fighting for life beyond the established capitalist or feudal social orders. In this revived revolutionary process, the Chavez-led Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela apart, the Communist Party (Maoist)-led movement in Nepal – popularly known as People’s War – is undoubtedly the most significant popular struggle for freedom and democracy in the world today.”(2)

This comparison between Latin American experiences and Nepal’s Maoist movement is quite meaningful. Both aim towards political exercises unprecedented in the world revolutionary movement. In Latin America (Venezuela, Argentina and others) and Nepal, we are literally witnessing, what Marx hypothesized, “the whole superincumbent strata of official society [of global capitalism] being sprung into the air”.(3)

In Venezuela (and Latin America, in general), the complexity of the revolutionary transformation is engendered by the lingering of the capitalist state machinery and hegemony, on the one hand, and on the other, the contradiction of bourgeois democracy, which has put revolutionary forces at its helm. In this situation, there exists a tremendous pressure within the capitalist state and society o de-radicalise the social forces behind the upheaval by accommodating their leadership. The strength of the revolutionary forces, on the other hand, will be determined by their ability to challenge the lingering hegemony and the danger of their own accommodation by facilitating the task of building and sustaining alternative radical democratic organisations (“self-government of the producers”), while subordinating the state to them. “Only insofar as the state is converted from an organ standing above society into one completely subordinate to it’ can the working class ‘succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew’.”(4) Asambleas Barriales (neighbourhood assemblies) in Argentina and the practice of co-management (a partnership between the workers of an enterprise and society) in Venezuela seek to transcend the officialised practice of statist socialism and ‘sectionalist’ self-management by establishing an incipient ‘social’ control over production.

Modern capitalism relies mainly on representative democracy as the political system to reproduce the general conditions of capitalist accumulation. Therefore, “the crucial problem for the people in charge of affairs is to be able to get on with the business in hand, without undue interference from below, yet at the same time to provide sufficient opportunities for political participation to place the legitimacy of the system beyond serious question… Parliamentarism makes this possible: for it simultaneously enshrines the principle of popular inclusion and that of popular exclusion.” It ‘de-popularises’ policy-making and limits the impact of class contradiction at the workplace and market place upon the conduct of affairs.(5)

Hence, the practice of “participative and protagonistic democracy in society as a whole, the idea of people communally deciding on their needs and communally deciding on their productive activity” is definitely a grave crisis for global capitalism. This practice shoos all ‘metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties’ that characterise market relations (presenting the capitalist reality in distorted manner), dividing the collective worker into various identities (consumers, citizens, unemployed, formal and informal sector workers) and devise competition among them. It reclaims the right of determining one’s own destiny, to realise the “creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society”, as envisaged in the Bolivarian constitution of Venezuela.(6)

In Nepal, on the other hand, regular betrayals of the democratic movement by Monarchy and democrats have time and again scuttled the potential emergence of even the minimum semblance of popular democracy. Therefore, the movement was restricted to petty bourgeoisie, who were heavily fed by international aid and its ‘cut and commission’ regime. Whenever the movement seemed to integrate with the struggle for the basic needs of the poor peasantry, landless and proletarians, a compromise was forged curbing the radical potential of the movement.

The success of the Maoists lies in the fact that they integrated the remotest corner of the Nepalese society with the mainstream struggle for popular democracy. They exposed the class content of the formal democratic exercises undertaken in the 1990s. They demonstrated how the formal democratic institutions that emerged in Nepal with the arrangement between the royalty, landlords and the upper crust of petty bourgeoisie along with global imperialism were designed to integrate the neo-hegemonic interests, the local agencies of commercialisation, dependency and primitive accumulation.

In this regard, we must not forget that the armed struggle was the major catalyst in the achievements of the Maoist movement. Firstly, it was a veritable boost to self-confidence and self-defence of the oppressed and exploited in Nepal. Secondly, it allowed sustaining politicisation and democratic practice of the downtrodden undiluted by the hegemonic coercive and consensual influences. The virtual emergence of dual power could become possible only if it had its own defence mechanism. The decade long people’s war and radical land reforms undertaken in the countryside with alternative incipient democratic institutions have radicalised the Nepalese society. It halted the continuous drainage of the Nepalese natural and human resources for economic profit, leisure and security of the external hegemonic forces, buffered by the Nepalese landlords, merchants and corporates under the leadership of the royalty. Time and again all these forces combined to scuttle the democratic aspirations of the Nepalese society in the name of maintaining stability, however allowing a “controlled transformation of the economy to suit the imperialist calculus”.(7) The Maoist upsurge liberated the potentialities in the Nepalese polity and economy.

The recent alliance between the Maoist and other democratic forces in Nepal can be seen, on the one hand, as winning back of the “middle forces” (using Mao’s phrase) and on the other, it signifies a nationwide unity among the exploited and oppressed sections of the society. Further, it marks the willingness to challenge the formal ‘democracy from above’ by the incipient ‘democracy from below’, to allow a “political competition” between them. It is in this respect we can understand the Maoist movement as part of the global struggle for freedom, democracy and socialism. We will have to wait and see, what specificities the Nepalese struggle would acquire. Or, will it be another saga of historic betrayal forged by the imperialist forces and the local ruling coalition?

Seeing the way global imperialism has been once again hyperactive with its ideologies and armies, one can only rely upon the working classes of the world to defend these movements for social transformation with their “fraternal concurrence”. They must realise their “duty to master themselves the mysteries of international politics; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them, if necessary, by all means in their power; when unable to prevent, to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws or morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations. The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes.”(8)


(1) Interview with Prachanda, The Hindu (excerpts published on February 8, 9 and 10, 2006)

(2) Randhir Singh (2005), Foreword in Baburam Bhattarai, Monarchy Vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal, Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, New Delhi, pp.vii.

(3) Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels (1848), The Manifesto of the Communist Party (Chapter 1).

(4) Michael Lebowitz (2003), Beyond Capital (2nd Edition), Palgrave, pp.196

(5) Ralph Miliband (1982), Capitalist Democracy in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.38

(6) Michael Lebowitz (2005), Constructing Co-Management in Venezuela: Contradictions along the Path.

(7) Baburam Bhattarai (2003), The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis, Adroit Publishers, Delhi, pp.46

(8) Karl Marx (1864), Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association.

Recent Developments in Nepal: Problems and Prospects

Pratyush Chandra


Nepal is in a state of continuous flux. On February 1, Gyanendra celebrated the first anniversary of his “royal coup”, while democratic forces denounced it with ever greater strength and unity among themselves. Since the beginning of this year, there has been a tremendous expression and repression of democratic voices; arrests, police vandalism, demonstrations, strikes and street fights have become a daily routine; elections to local bodies turned out to be farcical (“hollow”, as the US Department of State prefers to call them), because of the boycott by the democratic parties reinforced by a general strike imposed by the Maoists… What exact shape this fluidity will take is still unclear, however one can trace the pattern.

The Naked King and the Imperial Dilemma

The Maoists withdrew their unilateral 3+1 month ceasefire on January 2 this year. Since then we have seen curfews, elections, boycotts and a general strike, which provided us the opportunity to assess the relative strength of monarchy and the democratic forces. The King tried to block rallies and demonstrations, but his brutality could not match the tide of the democratic aspirations of the Nepalese people. Immediately, the strength of the opposition forces too was tested. The King planned an institutionalised demonstration of his strength with the Panchayat (local bodies) elections. The popular defiance reinforced by a general strike called by the only concrete people’s power existing in Nepal fizzled out the charm of the royal fanfare, and there he found himself naked before the whole world – this way they knew him and he knew himself!!!

The US and India wailed. Not for the fate of the Nepalese royalty, but for being forced into an impossible situation, to make an impossible choice. Their inability to convince the King of his “illegitimate” games and their consequences has been stark. They are afraid of making any clear choice, since the two clear choices available before them will bring crisis to the global imperial regime.

They know that supporting monarchy, on the one hand, will de-legitimise the post-Cold War ideology of ‘democracy propagation’, which they cannot afford to do just for Nepal and South Asia. On the other hand, at least for India, which is presently the newest member in the US-led imperialist consortium, this choice is devastating as the unpredictable nature of the Nepalese monarchy is not at all beneficial for its political economic interests.

But a clear-cut support to republican democracy too is equally untenable for them, if not more. Because of the level of political consciousness among the oppressed and exploited masses of Nepal, any free leverage to them will sweep away the Nepalese dependence. Further, the imperialists are aware of the limited capacity, reach and influence of the ‘democratic’ political elites in Nepal. These elites are under constant pressure from their own mass base, which has been in direct interaction with the revolutionary forces in the country. This fact considerably reduces the manoeuvring capacities of the Nepalese parliamentary forces in comparison to the elites in other democracies. Hence, the global imperial strategy is stuck.

The Ceasefire, 12-point Agreement and Democracy from Below

The political elites in Nepal have traditionally been nurtured through global aid politics in its aided pedagogical institutions. Aid has been a major post-World War II instrument of finance capital geared towards “creating an extraordinarily dense and widespread network of relationships and connections which subordinates not only the small and medium, but also the very small capitalists and small masters” (1). In the 1990s, through a quasi-democratic exercise, the Nepalese neo-rich and petty bourgeois clienteles and contractors could choose their own delegates for official negotiations with the global corporate regime.

The petty bourgeois democrats’ relationship with the institution of monarchy has always been of awe and reverence, but it instantly led to hatred whenever they tried to get near it. They were forced to feel their own smallness before the arrogant royalty and its indifference. Throughout the history of post-1990 Nepal, and more intensively after Gyanendra’s enthronement, various sections of democrats competed for the royal affection finding themselves more and more isolated and divided. The February coup of 2005 marked a decisive break in this relationship.

The faithful lower-rank leadership directly dealing with the grassroots of the democratic parties were already disillusioned by the opportunism of the upper-rank party bureaucracies. The coup consolidated this disillusionment. These democratic aspirations of the radicalised sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the urban proletarians opened the dialogic avenue with the ongoing-armed class struggle in the countryside and beyond Kathmandu.

The Maoists, on the other hand, have always been resilient to these dialogues. In fact, deaf ears to their own innumerable calls for democratic unity have not discouraged them. They have understood through their experience what Mao told, while criticising Stalin: “the main blow of the revolution should be directed at the chief enemy and to isolate him, whereas with the middle forces, a policy of both uniting with them and struggling against them should be adopted, so that they are at least neutralized; and as circumstances permit, efforts should be made to shift them from their position of neutrality to one of alliance with us in order to facilitate the development of the revolution.” (2)

In return to these genuine calls the Maoists as a proof for their commitment announced a unilateral ceasefire for three months. This ceasefire along with pressure from their own mass base forced the democratic parties and their leaders to seal a historic alliance with the Maoists – the 12-point agreement. And the Maoists extended their ceasefire for another month.

Imperialist Forces Operating in Tandem

This ceasefire humbled all the poles of global imperialism, who faced a danger to their own credibility if they continued supporting the royalty in all its arrogant, repressive and intransigent gymnastics. However, the US and India remained persistent in their efforts to call for the isolation of the Maoists and thought that the King eventually would come to his mind. They kept on advising him and the parliamentary forces to re-establish the harmony between the “constitutional forces”. As indicated earlier, this persistence came from their need to have a full grip over the Nepalese political economy. This control is dependent upon their ability to moderate the royal and status quoist intransigence with the help of various nodes in the commercialised and monetised political economy of Nepal, while negating the ‘anarchy’ of the latter by the overseeing authority of the royalty. Of course, the February coup and later, the alliance between the Maoists and 7-parliamentary parties posed a definite crisis in this regard, but the imperialist forces have been consistently trying to rebuild a situation amenable for themselves. And in this task, they have shown remarkable mutual coordination, both in deeds and words. The striking similarity between the American and Indian messages in this regard is unprecedented.

For example, on the end of the ceasefire none of these two countries asked why this ceasefire remained unilateral. Instead, for Indians its normal expiry was “an unfortunate decision” and they passed their moral judgement on the Maoists’ “path of violence and terror”(3). Similarly, the US too moralised saying that it has “consistently called upon the Maoists to abandon violence and rejoin the political mainstream. The end of the ceasefire at this time is unhelpful and contrary to that goal. There can be no excuse for the resumption of violence” (4).

Again, on January 19, 2006 after the royal crackdown over democratic leaders, the US called for “a dialogue between the King and the parties and a return to democracy” in order to effectively “address the Maoist insurgency in Nepal”, without taking note of the fact that the parties are already in agreement with the Maoists (5). Similarly, the UK asked the King “urgently to release those arrested, and to find ways to resume dialogue with the political parties.”(6) And India regretted that its “wish to see the constitutional forces in Nepal working together to achieve peace and stability in the country” remains unfulfilled.(7) Taking into consideration their mutual understanding in other international affairs, it is definite that these imperial states are pronouncing all these decisions and opinions in tandem. Even the press releases of one seem to be mere paraphrasing of others’.

The Danger

The humiliation of the King in his own Panchayat elections is a big blow to his self-confidence, and the confidence of the interventionist forces in him and their own capacity to manoeuvre. The US is forced to admit that the elections “represented a hollow attempt to legitimize his power”. But we will have to wait in order to see the full implications of these results.

The moral boost to republican sentiments is evident. The imperialists are anxious, but they know that they are incapable of undertaking any aggressive activist step in this regard. Their game plan has to be subtle and nuanced, but the pattern is quite evident. The US in the same post-elections message blamed “Maoist intimidation and killing of candidates during the campaign” for the failure of the elections, and refused to note the unanimity between the parliamentary forces and the Maoists on the illegitimacy of the elections. It once again insisted on the need to have a dialogue between the King and the “political parties” in order to “effectively deal with the threat posed by the Maoists” (8). How will this dialogue happen when the “parties” and the Maoists are already in alliance? Where is this hope for a royalty-parties alliance against the “Maoist threat” coming from? And herein lies the danger.

The success of the Maoists’ General Strike is bound to make the inconsistent upper crust of the petty bourgeois leadership epileptic because of the immense fluidity and uncertainty of the aftermath. If this is not complemented by more intensive consolidation on the part of the radicalised masses and their consistent leadership, it will lead to horse-trading between the inconsistent democrats and the King mediated by the imperialists, especially India and the US. US Ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty in his recent speech clearly indicated this. He called upon the Democrats and the King to be ready for “hard compromise, tough give and take”. In return, the United States “would look eagerly for ways to assist a new Nepal government that respects and supports democracy, human rights, and freedom. This also could include renewing assistance for the Royal Nepalese Army.” (9)

The Maoists are aware of this danger, as Prachanda informed in one of his recent interviews: “We have gotten an indication, through the UN people or other international agencies, that they [government] are trying to propose in a roundabout way a conditional constituent assembly. Obviously, the Maoists will “reject it outright because “conditional” means “compromise”” (10), but as the intensity of the movement increases, the leaders who have tasted proximity to the royalty and enjoyed it while in government are used to such compromises. They are bound to vacillate. In such a situation the only resort will be closing the ranks at the bottom level on the basis of the rapport which the Maoists and other radical democratic forces have built between the rural and urban working classes, peasantry and petty bourgeoisie across party lines. Only a vigilant and conscious check and assault from below on such tendencies will guarantee a political transformation that goes at least an inch beyond the replay of democratic farce in the name of attaining peace among the “constitutional forces”.


1. V.I. Lenin (1916-17), Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

2. Mao Tse-tung (1956), “Stalin’s place in history” (1956), Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. 7.

3. “In response to a question on the withdrawal of ceasefire by the Maoists in Nepal”, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (January 2, 2006)

4. “Nepal: Maoists End Cease-fire”, US Department of State (January 3, 2006)

5. “Nepal: Arrests of Opposition Leaders”, US Department of State (January 19, 2006)

6. “Foreign Office Minister condemns political arrests in Nepal” (January 19, 2006), UK Foreign Office

7. “In response to a question on developments in Nepal”, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (January 19, 2006)

8. “Nepal Municipal Elections Lack Public Support”, US Department of State (February 8, 2006)

9. James F Moriarty, “Nepal’s Political Crisis: A Look Back, A Look Forward

10. “Interview with Prachanda”, The Kathmandu Post (posted on February 7, 2006)

What the US Ambassador Taught Nepalis


Recently, the United States has been anxiously trying to pre-empt every possible uncomfortable situation in South Asia. Its ambassadors are actively intervening in internal political debates in South Asian countries. Of course, it is nothing new for the US, but in order to understand specific implications of this activism in specific contexts, the peeping tom has to be caught red-handed at the site of the crime and interrogated. The ambassador in India was recently in the dock for threatening Indians to behave well on the Iran issue. Now it is the turn of the ambassador in Nepal, James F. Moriarty. However, for our convenience, Moriarty has been too explicit in his conduct.

For the complete article:

The 12-point Agreement and the Future of Democracy in Nepal

Pratyush Chandra


Four Phases of the Democratic Movement in Nepal

The present-day Nepalese democratic movement has perhaps entered its fourth phase now. The first ended with its partial victory in 1990, with the accommodation of the “democrats” in the power structure, which eventually frustrated the movement’s vigour, alienating its committed vanguards and grassroots. It was also at that moment that the Nepalese “long march” started to re-base the people’s movement among the people – peasantry, working class and other downtrodden sections – and look for the occasion to rise again as a contra-power rather than being glued to the old power structure, becoming its agency for manipulating ‘demos’ to preserve the ‘cracy’. This second phase saw mobilisation and dispersal of the movement beyond a few urban centres. The cry for democracy – for “self-determination” – reached hitherto untouched zones of the society. It is not strange that Mao’s model of strategy-formulation – of re-building the democratic movement from below in peasant societies like those in Nepal formed the guidelines for the revolutionaries there. This phase ended with the announcement of the ‘people’s war’ beaconing a new phase, of the rise of dual power.

The history of the third phase is well accounted in two recent collections – of the reports by Li Onesto (1), and of Baburam Bhattarai’s writings (2). They provide graphic descriptions of the fast-changing Nepalese polity embedded in the ever-dynamic post-cold war international political economy. Bhattarai’s works, especially, reflect the Maoist revolutionaries’ ability to dialectically cope up with the unfolding of the multivariate reality that always reveals itself in a piecemeal manner, never in totality. A historicist may find the Maoist strategies and tactics as frequently shifting. This is true for most of the political analysts – journalistic or serious. They are, however, ignorant of the pains of a revolutionary movement that bases itself on a continuous critique of international capitalism, its subordinate political economic structures and their diverse manifestations in deeds rather than simply in words. The movement itself is the epitome of this multi-level critique.

The Maoist’s ability to establish and flourish as the counter-power against the local state formation nurtured by global imperialism has perhaps heralded the fourth phase in the new democratic transformation in Nepal. The consistency and strength of the Nepalese revolutionaries, have rendered a fatal blow to the corporatist-monarchist-landlordist alliance with petty-bourgeois parliamentarism. In a way, this alliance was sponsored and nourished by imperialists to gain a decisive control over the region. India’s decision not to renew the 1978 treaties on trade and transit rights in 1989, leading to a major strangulation of the Nepalese economy, enforced this ‘nationalist’ compromise in 1990. It allowed the imperialists to check the arbitrariness of absolutism and radicalisation of the democratic movement, and gear up the local political economic arrangements in their own favour. However, the energy that was released in this process could not be fully confined in this official arrangement. On the contrary, as mentioned earlier, it allowed the radicals a freehand to reorient the democracy movement towards the oppressed masses independent of wavering petty bourgeois democrats, afraid of any drastic structural transformation. A decade long success of this grassroots movement today seems to have reoriented the aspirations of the Nepalese petty-bourgeoisie too forcing the “democratic” parties to form an alliance with the revolutionaries against “the autocratic monarchy”. The 12-point agreement between the Maoists and seven parliamentary parties, along with the unilateral ceasefire by the revolutionaries, perhaps, marks the beginning of the new, fourth phase in the Nepalese democratic struggle, in the Nepalese struggle for self-determination.

The 12-Point Agreement and The Success of People’s War

The text of the agreement shows the willingness of the democrats – both parliamentarian and revolutionary – to rethink their respective strategy to save the coordination achieved so far. Although it is hard to prognosticate all the implications of this agreement, the contradictory aspirations are clearly reflected in the text. The unwillingness of the moderates to go beyond constitutional monarchy is reflected in the criticism of “autocratic monarchy”, instead of monarchy itself. On the other hand, the agreement talks about absolute democracy, too. Only time will determine where this Cartesian unification of spirits of ‘democracy’ will lead. However, the major breakthroughs are the refiguring of the issue of “constituent assembly” on the agenda for the ‘unified’ people’s movement, with that of sweeping away the ‘royalty’ of the Nepalese armed forces (however, the latter is not clearly spelt out) (3). Independent statements from the revolutionary leaders indicate that they are willing to rethink their stand on “constitutional monarchy”, if a constituent assembly is formed.

The post-agreement political scenario may perhaps seem quite unclear, but it will be wrong to make a mechanical interpretation of it. Some “radical” outsiders want to think that the Maoists are using the agreement simply as a tactic, as such compromises go against the spirit of revolution. However, one must realise the truth of Mao’s pronouncement that the complete victory of revolution will take hundreds of years, and a revolutionary force needs to be prepared for all eventualities in “the process of continuous revolution and counter-revolution”, and it cannot rely on formulas. The Nepalese revolutionaries’ understanding on “relationship between the Party, Army, State and the People” is significantly based on the basic idea of “the rights of self-determination of the masses” (4). Throughout the history of people’s war, they have built on coordinating with various ‘autonomous’ movements even if they have not frequently been conscious of it. There have been occasions where they have faltered, but have readily rechecked themselves. Hence, identifying only the militarist aspect of people’s war in Nepal is reducing its history, experience and logic to nought, to mere formulas derived from “teachings” and “preaching”, themselves generalisations of past experiences. It amounts to making people’s war and sacrifices goals in themselves, against their function to unleash the people’s “creativity and energy, making them the new rulers with more responsibilities” (5).

The documents of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) along with Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai’s remarks on the situation in both their statements and interviews reveal their distinct “pessimism of intellect, optimism of will” regarding the Nepalese situation. Bhattarai in his recent interview clearly stated the constraints in which the Maoists are operating:

“We are not attempting a final military victory right now, but are working for a negotiated political settlement either directly for a democratic republic or for the election to a constituent assembly. That is basically for two reasons. First, given the vacillation of a large section of the urban and rural middle classes toward revolutionary change, we find it prudent to go through the substage of a democratic republic. Second, due to the sensitive geopolitical setting of the country sandwiched between the two huge states of India and China, and both hostile to a revolutionary change we feel constrained to settle for a compromise solution acceptable to all.”(6)

The ability of the Nepalese revolutionaries to transcend any metaphysical idealisation of particular practice distinguishes them from other revolutionary movements and insurgency, and brings them closer to the temperament of Mao and his comrades, despite the vast difference in the national and international scenario in which they are operating. Whatever be the future results, which are not dependent on the Nepalese revolutionaries but, as noted by Bhattarai, on the amalgam of international and national factors, they have created a crisis of legitimation for the monarchy, alienated its middle class support-base gathered during its alliance with parliamentary forces, and brought the exploited and oppressed labouring classes to the centre-stage. It is clear that any future political arrangement will have to deal with the alternative participatory institutions and popular aspirations that they have helped in generating during the decade of people’s war.

Global Imperialism and Democracy in Nepal

The international interventionist forces are afraid of the evolving pattern out of the present fluidity in the Nepalese situation. India, especially, is deeply worried. It came to its senses immediately after its ambitious and phoney embargo in the aftermath of the “February coup”, after having been chastised by its own corporatist interests in Nepal. Although it says it has still not restarted supplying arms to Nepal, it admits of providing military training to the Nepalese army. In fact, it is desperately using all tactics to keep the monarchy in the scene. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran during his visit to Nepal explicitly stated on December 13 that the “constitutional forces [monarchy and political parties] should be working together… This is our view” (7).

Recently, China has been supplying arms to the Nepalese monarchy. One may suspect that there might be evolving an understanding between India and China, in this regard, to complement each other. Since the former is constrained by the domestic left forces who are against re-supplying arms to Nepal, however allowing it to train the RNA personnel, China can take over the complementary role. Both countries are not comfortable with the elimination of the institution of monarchy, and, as Shyam Saran puts, “to the extent that our objectives are the same, it is better for us to work together” (8).

Other imperialist interests – the UK and US are largely involved through India. On the other hand, the EU’s desire to become an independent pole of international relations (despite its militarist irresolution) motivated it to applaud the revolutionaries’ unilateral ceasefire and the 12-point agreement, and to call upon Gyanendra to reciprocate the ceasefire.

In this context of consensus and division among the imperialist forces globally, the democratic tasks in Nepal become furthermore complicated. This context proves decisive at least with regard to the mobilisation of the wavering democrats. The extent of the success of the democratic movement depends on the counter-balancing of this imperialist opinion and interventionism by the internal cohesion among working classes, semi-proletarians and petty bourgeoisie. This cohesion seems to have evolved to some extent, but it needs to be sustained and promoted consistently. Another factor that can help in disarming the imperialist support to monarchy is the anti-imperialist mobilisation in the interventionist countries, especially India.


(1) Li Onesto, Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal, Pluto Press, 2005

(2) Baburam Bhattarai, Monarchy Vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal, Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, New Delhi, 2005

(3) Parties, Maoists announce 12-pt agreement, Kathmandu Post, November 22 2005

(4) Present Situation and Our Historical Task, Adopted by Central Committee Meeting of CPN (Maoist) in June 2003
(5) Parvati, People’s Power in Nepal, Monthly Review, Vol 56 No 6, November 2005

(6) Maoists eye multiparty democracy, Interview with Baburam Bhattarai, Washington Times, July 30 2005

(7) Media Interaction by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran in Kathmandu, Nepal on December 13 2005, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India

(8) Ibid

Pre-1990 ‘Democratic’ Experiments in Nepal


Pratyush Chandra


“Democracy refers to a system of governance in which the elite elements based in the business community control the state by virtue of their dominance of the private society, while the population observes quietly. So understood, democracy is a system of elite decision and public ratification. Correspondingly, popular involvement in the formation of public policy is considered a serious threat. It is not a step towards democracy; rather, it constitutes a ‘crisis of democracy’ that must be overcome.”(1)

Recently, political developments in Nepal have started getting considerable attention throughout the globe. The past negligence has been partly due to reading of the Nepalese situation as inherent in the so-called global process of democratisation triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even the stark instability of the Nepalese democracy did not attract attention as it was thought to be a general characteristic of what was happening in all the newly ‘democratised’ nations, and was considered to be a birth pang. But it is commonly forgotten that this birth pang of democracy in Nepal is tremendously long drawn. In this short survey of pre-1990 ‘democratic’ experiments in Nepal, I wish to indicate a recurring pattern of ‘royal regression’ (2) accompanying these experiments, which seeks to de-legitimise the democratic aspirations of the people of Nepal, and all in the name of democracy. It shows that what followed after 1990 was scarcely different. Every time there is an increased people’s assertion from below, emergency measures are taken to overcome the ‘crisis of democracy’. Unlike advanced bourgeois democracies, which have created numerous self-sustaining mechanisms of dealing with such crises by reducing militant opposition to debates and lobby groups, the democratic farce in Nepal is quite evident at the wake of continuous refusal of the downtrodden classes to be reduced in that manner. Hence, Nepal faces a perpetual ‘crisis of democracy’.

Episode 1: 1951 Democratic Revolution

Nepal’s flirtation with democracy has been continuous since the fall of Ranas in 1951. The Democracy Day that is commemorated every year on Feb 18 was in fact the day in the year 1951 when King Tribhuvan was reinstated with the help of India. It was the day that marked the transfer of absolute power from the dynasty of Prime Ministers to that of the Kings. It so happened that after the withdrawal of the British from the Indian soil, the Ranas of Nepal, the unique dynasty of Prime Ministers found themselves without any support in the subcontinent and faced an energised force of insurgents, whose leadership was trained in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Sensing the insecurity of the Ranas, King Tribhuvan found it opportune to gather India’s support to buy off the lost glory of the Shahs, the dynasty of the Kings. The Indian rulers (still struggling to outmanoeuvre the Communist revolt against Nizam, the democratic revolt against Hindu royalty and landlordism in Kashmir) were too ready for such a deal, as they were alarmed by growing radicalism among insurgency with the birth of the Nepalese Communist Party (in the year of the great Chinese Revolution) and evolving socialistic tenor of a section within the Congress. Hence, this “Delhi Compromise established the palace as paramount over a basically unchanged state machinery and class regime and subordinated the Ranas to the palace within a cabinet consisting of a combination of the old rulers and the compliant leadership from among the insurgents (the insurgent leadership was nearly all from landholding families of the old regime as well).”(3)

Nothing changed except the promise for a constituent assembly, which remains unfulfilled to this day. And of course, neighbouring the theatre of a continuous revolution, China, Nepal could be sold off as a strategic location to check the spread of socialism in the subcontinent. The American aid came showering in – “this began the creation of a whole class of commission agents and contractors who took their tithe of the foreign aid… [Further] Indian advisors arrived to expand India’s corrupt and unwieldy colonial bureaucracy to Nepal, which set about in turn to extending its control over local communities to undermine their autonomy, dispossess them of their natural and biological resources, and generally destroy their social and ecological viability and productive base.”(4)

Episode 2: The First Congress Government and the Coup

Nepalese people waited 6 years to see a constitution drafted by the royalty in 1957 and in 1959 they experienced the miasmic electoralist democracy, but to be vanished soon. Shrewd as he was, King Trubhuvan’s son Mahendra knew the meaning of a democratic government in Nepal – howsoever weak – a rise in democratic aspirations. The Congress Government under B.P. Koirala swept the first elections in Nepal on the platform that included abolishing Birta land tenure system (under which individuals were granted land on an inheritable and tax-exempt basis by the king), on the motto that “As long as land was not in the hands of the tiller…industrial development was infeasible”. It was not important whether the state machinery was equipped and consistent enough to undertake such a step, since the rise in democratic aspirations in an agrarian society is enough to disturb the patrimonial state apparatuses and superstructure that sustain the agrarian relations nurturing the absolutist state. Mahendra found his natural allies among shivering landlords. He had every means to undermine the first democratic experiment. As Nepali kings always know that power flows from the barrel of a gun, they never relinquish their control over armed forces and other coercive state apparatuses. But Mahendra needed an appropriate moment to draw the curtain on this first democratic drama. This moment came right away – India was beginning to engage itself in border conflicts with China and could not afford to see troubles right on its nose despite its democratic rhetoric, and the US aid was always ready to maintain the status quo for its own interest in the Cold War. For internal legitimacy, violent riots against the Koirala government were staged especially “in Bajhang, a feudal rajya in the midwestern Hill region with some degree of local autonomy, and in Gorkha, the ancestral home of the Shah dynasty (Mahendra’s forefathers)”.(5) In a night time palace coup d’etat in December 1960 the parliament was dissolved, its members were arrested, and subsequently all parties were outlawed for introducing divisions in the country.

Subsequently, the Constitution of December 1962 installed a system, which formalised the ‘cut and commission’ hierarchy in the society perpetuated through foreign aid along with stabilising the landlordist interests and absolute monarchy. “In the Royal Proclamation promulgating the new Constitution, King Mahendra inferred that the parliamentary system, being a foreign creation, was not as much in “step with the history and traditions of the country” as the panchayat system.”(6) Land reforms too were introduced imposing land ceilings. However, they allowed parcellization of “family plots in the names of brothers, sons, household servants, retainers, and even dogs to make it seem that no one individual owned all the land”(7).

Episode 3: Referendum

In 1970s with increasing commercialisation of the economy and society in Nepal, new ‘modern’ interests and economic relations arose. On the one hand, the statisation of the commons – forest and pasture lands – led to a privileged access to these lands allowing land monopolisation in the hands of the people close to power and bureaucracy. Rural poverty increased. This led to the ‘illegality’ and incrimination of land ‘encroachment’ by the rural poor resulting into rural tensions, which were frequently channelled into regional conflicts and some times into open class struggles. On the other hand, growing commercialisation led to an increased urbanisation and diversification of economic activities in urban centres. There was a tremendous growth in informal non-production sector especially with tourism and road linkages between different locations within Nepal and with India. There was an unprecedented increase in urban unemployment and especially educated unemployment, which led to the radicalisation of campuses and radical organising. Jhapali Khand of the Nepalese Communist Party along with other radical groups (in the All Nepal Communist Coordination Committee) reorganised under CPN(ML) systematically developed its organisations among rural and urban working classes. It was at this juncture, when ML had launched its student movement in 1979, that the ruling class under King Birendra agreed with the Congress leadership to hold another democratic drama – a referendum on the panchayat system. “Military and bureaucratic control of the ballot boxes along with violent intimidation of the voters under the then Prime Minister Suraya Bahadur Thapa allowed the pro-panchayat forces to swing the election by adding far more ballots than there were registered voters to quash the referendum”.(8)


The next episode of the ‘democracy’ drama in Nepal began in 1990. However, one might say that things after 1990 are different, but are they so? The backbone of the royal regression and aggression has always been the control over coercive state apparatuses, and of course, the non-implementation of land reforms, capable of destroying the rentier control over the rural economy. Further, why do the ruling classes of Nepal remain wary of forming a democratic constituent assembly? Seeing the levels of polarisation in the Nepalese society and political consciousness of the rural and urban poor, the Congress and the parliamentary left, which has been able to get accommodation within the evolving power structure, too have muted their opinions on the constituent assembly. The only purpose that all these democratic experiments in Nepal have fulfilled is time-to-time refurbishing of power structure by accommodating newer elements in the ruling class, while consistently marginalizing the working classes. Further, the royal ‘regression’ or takeover, on the one hand, asserts the hegemony of the rent-oriented classes and big corporates and on the other hand, demonstrates the weakness of the petty bourgeois political formations which have consistently been utilised for the competitive and corporatist interests of various sections of the ruling class, which includes the articulated interests of the multinational capital, irrespective of its origin.


(1) Noam Chomsky, “On Power and Ideology”, 1987

(2) Baburam Bhattarai, ‘Royal Regression and the Question of a Democratic Republic in Nepal’, Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), April 9 2005

(3) Stephen Lawrence Mikesell (1999), “Class, State and Struggle in Nepal: Writings 1989-1995”, Manohar, Delhi, pp 94

(4) Ibid.

(5) Nanda R. Shrestha (2001), “The Political Economy of Land, Landlessness and Migration in Nepal”, Nirala, Delhi, pp 156

(6) Frederick H. Gaige (1975), “Regionalism and National Unity in Nepal”, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp 137

(7) See (3), pp 97

(8) See (3), pp 100

State, Economy & Class Struggle in Nepal

Pratyush Chandra


1. Monarchy & Democracy in Nepal – Myth & Reality

The foremost reason that is cited in support of monarchy in Nepal is to ensure politico-economic stability. Inherent in this thesis is a criticism of the Nepali society that democracy by itself cannot sustain stability there. Parliamentary democracy that enlivens various local interest groups has to be tempered and controlled by an overseeing authority that can police them. Both the monarchists and ‘legal’ democrats in the country uphold this bias against the Nepali ‘demos’. The latter perhaps will counter this assessment by saying that they support constitutional monarchy, as in Britain, where monarchy is simply allegoric. But, this is not what was established in Nepal with their agreement in the 1990s – the arrangement to which they agreed keeps monarchy as the final authority. Given the internal class dynamics in Nepal and international scenario, is their any reason to hope for a successful reformist road to Nepali democracy, even in the pattern of constitutional monarchies in some European countries?

The comparison of Britain and Nepal is not only hilarious but mischievous too. A sense of being equal to the royal whites placates many hearts in Nepal. After all, many times in the 19th and 20th Centuries the Nepali royalty struggled to be treated equally. In the world of big powers, where Nepal is evidently powerless and on the receiving end, it gives some Nepalis an easy sense of national pride, history and identity. Understandably, it gives them a heart in this heartless world of competition and race. A handful of Nepali middle class immigrants and children of Nepali high and low nobility in Europe and the US may get a source of emotional and even material sustenance through the exotic image of a Hindu Nepal.

Britain in the 16th-19th centuries as the pioneer of world capitalism was going through tremendous internal transformations as a result of fierce struggle for hegemony between the rentier interests and profiteers – between landlords, merchants and industrialists. It was this struggle that determined the fate of monarchy in Britain. The situation in Nepal is obviously nowhere near Britain. Definitely like in Britain, in Nepal too the rentier interests are the most consistent support bases for monarchy. But the comparison has to stop here. These rentier interests are not complemented and countered by the forces rising from trade and industry within the country as in Britain. The formidable presence of foreign economic interests in the case of Nepal destroys any scope of such internal ‘class’ struggles among the exploiting classes for hegemony. These foreign forces find Nepali rentiers, at least till now, better equipped to regulate the superstructure to sustain their interests on the Nepali soil.

The class base sustaining monarchy in Nepal is that of the financial ‘capital’/moneylenders/landlords, ‘corporate’ interests in many joint ventures with Indian and other foreign capitalists, the mercantile establishments and the upper crust of civil servants and armed forces. The mass base for monarchy is constituted by sections of rich and middle peasantry, petty bourgeoisie and urban intellectuals who waver according to the strength of the working class struggles and their own class-conscious elements. Most of the ‘legal democratic’ forces at grassroots’ level represent this mass base. However, the post-1990s political economic development has developed a ‘democratic’ elite who has consistently interacted with the new institutions and has formidable interest in sustaining them. It is this section that today constitutes the leadership of all the mainstream ‘democratic’ forces in the country. The post-February development this year characteristically attests this fact. Even when the younger generation of democrats occasionally displayed republican sentiment, the leadership almost consistently refrained from attacking the institution of monarchy in their criticism of the monarch. In fact, many of them called for the preservation of the ‘heritage’ of monarchy.

2. Nepali Economy – Problems & Prospects

In order to understand the Nepali situation we must look at its economic contours. In 2003, Nepal’s population was around 24.7 millions, of which around 86% resided in the rural areas, suggesting their dependence on agriculture. The per capita income (PCA) is US $240, which is far below the average PCA in low-income countries ($430) and in South Asia ($460). The share of agriculture in the total Gross Domestic Product has come down from 60.3% in 1983 to 40.6% in 2003. On the other hand, the services sector has increased its share from 26.9% in 1983 to 37.8% in 2003, while the industrial sector too has increased its share in GDP from 12.8% to 21.6%. Even though the increasing share of services and industrial sectors in GDP in comparison to the agriculture sector is a universal trend, it is a peculiar South Asian phenomenon that this is not accompanied with a proportionate shift of the working force from the agriculture sector to the other two sectors. As mentioned above, 86% of the population is directly dependent on agriculture and allied activities, while 80.2% of the labour force is employed in this sector. The services absorb 17% of the labour force, while the industrial sector employs just 2.8%. This situation is aggravated by a tremendous sluggishness in average annual growth (AAG) in the overall productive sectors (agriculture and industrial) and stagnation in services sector. The AAG in agriculture decreased from 3.4 in 1983-93 to 3.3 in 1993-2003 (2.2/2.5 in 2002/03) and in the industrial sector for the same periods it decreased from 9.2 to 4.9 (-2.8/2.3 in 2002/03). In the manufacturing sector, specifically, the AAG declined from 10.1 in 1983-93 to 4.3 in 1993-2003, while it was –10.0 in 2002. On the other hand, in the services sector it remained constant during both decades at 4.9 (-1.7/3.2 in 2002/03).

These facts have several grave implications for the Nepali society. We can enumerate some of them here. Firstly, there is a tremendous rural/urban divide, which provides the topological glimpse of poverty in Nepal – an immense sea of rural poor encircling a few islands of urban affluence. Officially, people living below poverty line amount to 42%. The lowest 20% of population gets 11.5 % of national income whereas the highest 20% gets 44.8%. Taking into consideration the extent of rural inequality and the persistence of semi-feudal forms of exploitation in an increasingly monetised rural setting one can only imagine the state of the poor peasantry, the semi-proletarians and the landless. In 1994, 43.1% of rural household were marginal farmers (less than 0.5 hectares) occupying just 11.3% of the total land, 45.9% were small farmers (0.5-2.0 hectares) owning 46.8% of the total land, and 11% were large farmers (more than 2.0 hectares) owning 41.9% of the total land. Even the World Bank admits that the poverty cannot be reduced in Nepal since “growth has been concentrated primarily in the urban areas and particularly in Kathmandu valley, largely excluding 86 percent of the population who live in rural areas, where per capita agricultural production has grown minimally and the overall level of economic activity has been sluggish”.

Secondly, the disproportion between the share of industrial sector in the GDP and the amount of employment generated there demonstrates that whatever growth we find in this sector is in capital-intensive industries controlled by foreign capital collaborating with a handful of Nepali mercantilist corporates. (A major section of this Nepali big capital is in fact from the Indian business community of Marwaris who migrated a hundred years ago. Since Marwaris are largely endogamous, they have strong familial ties with their Indian counterparts.) In the post-liberalisation phase in the Indian subcontinent, where the Indian big capital overwhelmingly dominates, the employment-generation potentiality of the profit-driven industrial growth is very limited. Whatever employment is generated in the peripheral small scale industries fall in the informal sector, with rampant casualisation, no job security and very low wage. The extent of informalisation in the overall Nepali economy can be gathered from the fact that, even if the “market agricultural workforce” employed in commercialised farming activities is excluded, the informal sector employment, officially, comes to 90.7% of the total labour force. Further, in Nepal unemployment is at 4.89%, which by the head count methodology goes up to 15%, and underemployment is 45% of the total man-days.

Thirdly, the stress on the services sector, especially on tourism, has led to critical consequences. On the one hand, it too has been unable to absorb workforce proportional to its share in GDP, and the labour market in this sector is rampantly informal. Further, the Shangri-la image of Nepal that is sold in this sector, especially in tourism, has degenerating fallouts with a tremendous increase in drug abusage and prostitution. There are people in command who seek to sustain Nepal’s image as South Asia’s Las Vegas or even Bangkok.

Fourthly, the impoverishment in rural and urban areas has resulted in sluggishness in domestic demand for industrial goods, which has further eroded the possibility of an increased industrial growth in Nepal. This fact coupled with the backlash of liberalisation (export-oriented production) has made the industries in Nepal increasingly dependent on external markets – depleting internal resources to feed external demand. This further perpetuates the need for capital-intensity and an import of technologies to compete globally. The World Bank, in 2002, itself provided the glimpse of Nepali dependence while prognosticating slower growth in non-agricultural sectors and a contraction in manufacturing. It speculated that this sluggishness would be due to “(i) drop in domestic demand due to falling agriculture growth that especially affects small industries and services; (ii) decline in export demand as growth in both OECD countries and India has decelerated; (iii) cancellation of export orders caused by trade disruptions and higher insurance costs after the events of September 11th; and (iv) rising costs and uncertainty due to power disruptions, bandhs (general strikes) and direct terrorist attacks by Maoists and other groups on carpet and garment factories and on the liquor business” (these industries are most exploitative, and are heavily dependent on casualised workforce). Hence, there is not much in store for the Nepali industrial sector due to service sector-based (rent-oriented) development strategy and turbulent external market. Moreover, the Indian Multinationals in Nepal have added another dimension to the Nepali economy, they prefer employing Indian labour instead of Nepalis to avoid any investment in human resource development and, of course, class-conscious native proletarians.

3. Finance, Foreign Aid & Politics in Nepal

Interestingly, the fastest growing sub-sectors among services are financial/real estate and community/social services. Moreover, these are the areas that concern the rentier interests (in and out of the State apparatuses) the most. They have been trying everything to make these sub-sectors stable and rewarding. It is the financial sector that is the force behind the neoliberal revolution throughout the world, which motivates the commercialisation of economies and breaks every boundary even if it is meant to attain a degree of self-reliance to be able to compete in the market. While, on the one hand, it helps in the capitalist control over local resources by funding economic activities, on the other hand, it rewards the peripheral agencies who facilitate such acquisitions.

The financial sector in these efforts is complemented by foreign aid driven ‘social sector’, the other sub-sector that has never slackened in Nepal since the initial American efforts under the Truman Doctrine to buy off the Nepali rulers to counter the ‘second world’ influence in South Asia. A foremost radical political economist from Nepal, Nanda R. Shrestha rightly concludes in his “The Political Economy of Land, Landlessness and Migration in Nepal” (Delhi, 2001), “This is what so-called development or foreign aid had achieved: mesmerization of the restless Nepali intellectuals into submission to the reality of consumerism and family sustenance.” It has created a slavish middle class fully trained in protecting and serving the imperialist interests on the Nepali soil. It has created a vast population of “development victims”, too. While enticing the rural producers into commercial ventures without providing them training and peripheral infrastructure, and motivating them to a reckless utilisation of fertilisers, chemicals and genetically transformed seeds for immediate profits regardless of their ecological repercussions, they have made their survival dependent on the ups and downs of the market and on creditors, thus enforcing a form of archaic primitive accumulation and mercantilist exploitation. Once again quoting Shrestha from “In the Name of Development: A Reflection on Nepal” (University Press of America, 1997):

“Development funds have proved to be not only a fantastic boon for the elites, but also a powerful tool of control in their class (power) relations with the poor, an instrument that helps to keep the poor in check while issuing themselves fat checks…To wit, some of the development money has certainly trickled down to a few poor, mainly in the urban-commercial contexts. Consequently, one can find a few poor who have become rich, thus providing good anecdotes of development (capitalist) success. And development advocates are quick to hail such anecdotal rags-to-riches stories to stress their message that the development works. For instance, a poor butcher in Kathmandu has become the owner of a relatively large supermarket-like grocery store which is quite popular among Kathmandu’s elites and Westerners. But what they fail to announce openly is that, for the poor, development is a lottery game and that buried under every success story are scores of tragic stories of development victims. Simply put, poverty remains the stepchild of development, with foreign aid now acting as its sponsor.”

4. Political Changes in Nepal

We provided an overview of the Nepali economy above, and briefly touched upon the various processes in its formation. But underneath these processes one must recognise the semi-conscious designs of hegemonic forces to stabilise their hegemony – their struggle to sustain the roots that gave birth to them. Hence, the people who talk about stability and peace at this juncture must clarify whose stability and peace they want. If they say the forces that came to power in the 1990s must be stabilised to be able to deliver goods, then one must identify who came to power during that time. Did they do anything to curb the continuity and ‘stability’ of the above-mentioned economic processes, which have sustained the rule of the people thriving on foreign aid and squeezing the indigenous productive sectors? The liberal inflow of imperialist capital has been further smoothened. The overstress on attracting aid has become another government enterprise. A finance minister in 1993 while enumerating the Nepali Congress government’s successes added – “there has been a noteworthy increase in the volume of foreign assistance after the formation of the elected government”, even when most of this assistance were in the form of loans, increasing Nepal’s indebtedness. Further, data presented above clearly shows the deepening of dependency of the Nepali economy during 1990s after the ‘democratic takover’, rather than any move to counter it. The contribution of the 1990 ‘revolution’ was simply that it served to bring the neo-rich rural and urban gentry close to the state power, which was earlier monopolised by the royalty and armed forces directly representing the Nepali rentier-corporate class and negotiating with the global capital. In fact, the 1990 ‘revolution’ was a culmination of the Panchayat system and commercialisation of the economy undertaken during that time, which created numerous local facilitating agencies and elites. In their urge to find a sustainable political accommodation, they utilised the general unrest and eventually compromised its revolutionary potential by agreeing to the arrangement that kept the monarch at the helm. It was this intermediate ‘class’ representing neo-rich and petty bourgeois interests in the society that entered the parliament. So, effectively the Panchayat System was repainted as parliamentary democracy, leaving the institution of monarchy to play the same gimmicks of diminishing the vitality of the forces of change by accommodation and repression.

However, this 1990 incident can be called a revolution only in this respect that it was only after it that for the first time in the history of Nepal that the labouring classes – proletarians, landless and poor peasantry – could nationally and independently organise themselves, independent of the wavering petty-bourgeois leadership. The successes of Maoist revolutionaries, despite the news about their recent errors and ‘sectist’ infightings, show that the exploited masses of Nepal can be organised above localism and beyond reformist concessionary movements. What the spontaneous Sukumbasi (landless) movement of 1979 in Tarai lacked, and thus was suppressed brutally and quickly, the Maoists have provided – an organisation with a clear political vision.

When we talk of the working class’ struggle against exploitation in societies like Nepal, which is predominantly an agrarian society with a few enclaves of industrialisation, we need to avoid the schematic ‘pigeon hole’ framework of class analysis. In fact, class boundaries in sociological sense are always fuzzy and their solidification (in a sense, of ‘class solidarity’) depends on the level of class struggle. The level of class struggle in turn depends not only on local production relations, but also on the locus of these production relations in the overall national, regional and global political economy. An agrarian society in South Asia, where agriculture is heavily dependent on seasonal variations, where low technological development and population pressure characterise the whole economy, there is always an organic linkage between the proletarian and rural poor (poor peasants and the landless). This linkage if, on the one hand, depreciates the overall wage-levels and perpetuates casualisation of workforce, on the other hand, it allows a self-organisation of the labouring masses across the rural-urban divide. If on the one hand, villages act as depositories of cheap labour, to be pulled out and pushed forth, whenever capital needs it, on the other hand, these same villages act as the zones of political and economic solidarity among labouring masses. The experience of the Chinese Revolution, the glorious history of Latin American workers and peasant movements and the ongoing struggles in Nepal attest the presence of such potentiality in agrarian societies.

(Note: The data utilised here are taken from various World Bank reports on Nepal and from the studies published by a Nepalese trade union, GEFONT, available on its website,

For an analysis of the February “Coup”: The Royal Coup in Nepal