Saturday, December 20, 2008

Talk I did for a Melbourne DSP Meeting. The first half is the same as the historical background i already have up here, but its a little more fleshed out and upto date.

ill also use this to apologise for not writing much stuff recently as well. been flat knacker



As all of you know this year I have been following the events that have been unfolding in Nepal. Most of you would have heard me rant and rave about Nepal at least a couple of times, and tonight won’t be the last time. What has happened and is happening in Nepal has very real and very big implications for India, South Asia and the World.
Nepal, for those who don’t know, is a small, landlocked nation in the Himalayas wedged between China and India. It is an incredibly poor and underdeveloped nation, 30% of people live in extreme poverty. It has a horrendous childhood mortality rate, on par with Iraq and the West Bank. 80% of the population is employed by agriculture. Most of the country is only accessible by foot or by air, there are few roads, and naturally health care and education is very limited in quality and availability, especially in the wake of the civil war. The literacy rate is 48% and drops as low as 35% in women. Nepal is an incredibly impoverished nation.
The modern nation of Nepal came into being when in 1768 the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding areas was conquered by the royal Shah Dynasty and foundered the Kingdom of the Gorkhas. Nepal continued to grow through military conquest throughout the late 18th century. This was also the time where another power in the region was rapidly growing, being the British East India Company. These two powers inevitably came into conflict, and the result was the 1814-16 Gorkha War, where the Nepalese were soundly defeated by the technologically superior British. In 1816 the Segauli Treaty between the British and the Nepalese monarchy came into affect, in which Nepal had to forfeit large portions of land, especially along the agricultural areas known as the Terai.
From this point on Nepal has been a semi-colonial "protectorate" of foreign Imperialists, with the Monarchy playing the role as the local ruler in the interests of foreign powers, historically out of London. After the 1816 war and embarrassment, the Royal court degenerated into factionalism and instability, which came to a head in 1846 when there was an overthrow of the Shahs. While the Shah monarchy remained in place it lost all but ceremonial power to the rival Rana families. This arrangement continued for roughly the next hundred years.
In the 1940’s a democratic movement built up, heavily influenced by the Indian Democracy and Independence movement of the same time. The Nepalese monarchy had adopted a policy of isolation and was largely successful in keeping foreign influences from entering Nepal. However they were not successful in stopping Nepalese from a relatively privileged background escaping into and embracing these outside influences. In 1947 the Nepali Congress (NC) party was formed and they launched an armed uprising in 1950. At the same time, the ceremonial Shah family saw this as their opportunity to regain their power and influence, and they monarch and his family fled their "palace prison" to India. This uprising called for an election to a constituent assembly to write a new democratic constitution, but this was not to happen. In 1951 an agreement, known as the “Delhi Compromise” was forged between the Nepali Congress, the Shah Monarchy and the ruling Rana's to create an interim government, to rule until an election to a constituent assembly could be organized. The Rana's were too discredited from their brutal rule to return, but over the next few years the King used his reinstated powers to slowly weaken the democratic forces, and the NC never really pushed for an election. In 1959 the King issued a new constitution which left all power with the monarchy, and almost none in parliament, and announced elections to this new impotent parliament later that year. While the NC won the elections easily, the first Royal parliament would last only a limited time, when in 1962 the King dissolved the parliament and replaced it with a “party less” system called “panchayat”, which would govern Nepal in the interests of the royals for the next three decades.
In the late 1980's a period of regroupment occurred within the Nepalese left, and the democratic movement was able to put aside differences. This resulted in the United Left Front, a union of most of leftist parties of Nepal and the ability for the United Left Front to work with the Nepali congress for the democratic Cause. 1990 the democratic movement rose again in the form of “Jana Andolan”, which translates as “the people’s movement”. Nepal erupted. All aspects of society came out on the streets and the king was forced by this movement, to relinquish power again to a constitutional monarchy, with multiparty democracy. The United Left Front went onto forge the CPN(UML)
Again there were calls for a constituent assembly, the removal of the King from power and a truly democratic Nepal. Because there was no strong principled revolutionary leftist forces the demands of the peoples movement went unanswered. A range of reforms including land reform and poverty alleviation programs were never introduced, the king was retained as head of state. This new "democracy" descended into bureaucratic and stable infighting and was completely useless.
The CPN (Maoist) came out of a regroupment during this period, but outside of the United Left Front. Several Maoists groups came together during this upsurge, and formed the Maoist party, however during the Jana Andolan were still too small and insignificant to capitalize on the upsurge and keep the movement going.
Originally the new Maoist party participated in Electoral politics. In the 1991 the electoral arm of the Maoists was the third biggest party in the parliament. They used their position in parliament as a propaganda tool while the party began preparations to launch the “Peoples War”.
On February 4th1996, Babburam Bhattarai on the behalf of the CPN(M) presented a list of 40 demands to the prime minister, and announced that unless action was taken that a “Peoples War” the Maoists would launch a people’s war, which they did on February 13. The 40 demands was to become the Maoists manifesto, and centered around the right to healthcare, education, better conditions for rural Nepalese, and end to the caste system and discrimination against women and minorities, and for elections to a constituent assembly to set up a federal democratic republic. Initially, this insurgency was small and localized to the Nations western hills, but was able to slowly gain some level of popular support due to the failure of the government to help the rural poor. Then when the government started trying to crack down on the rebels, or those perceived to be rebel sympathizers, the heavy handed responses further stirred unrest and the Maoist influence grew.
2001 was a momentous year. Firstly the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) held a National Conference, which resulted in the formal adoption of what they term “Pracahanda Path”. I don’t know all the intricacies of what is Maoism but “Prachanda Path” seems to be, not a departure from Maoism, but an elaboration on Maoism. Prachanda Path seems from what I can tell a turn away from dogma and orthodoxy, but the development of a relevant, non-sectarian strategy for the reality of Nepal. While the CPN(M) is definitely a Maoist organization, they definitely maintain a criticism of aspects of Maoism, which was spelled out in “Prachanda Path”. In particular they talk about, at least in the present situation their commitment to a multi-party democratic system, and seem to be very critical of Stalin. At any rate “Prachanda Path” laid the basis for divisions within the international Maoist Movement, which came to a head over the next few years and ended with a split in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, which was the biggest Maoist international.
The second big event in 2001 involved the Royal Family. The Nepali crown prince, while drunk and stoned, shot his parents (the king), his brothers and a large portion of the royal family after an argument, and then shot himself. Naturally this drastically undermined the support and respect for the royal family, and then by association the government. Finally, 2001 saw the terrorist attacks in the US. The Nepali government’s response to this was the jump on the terrorist bandwagon and declare the CPN(M) as a terrorist organization, and then declare a state of emergency which severely curtailed civil rights, the freedom of the press.
The new king, one of the remaining royals Gyanendra, began consolidating power in his own hands. In 2002 he dismissed the Parliament, and directly appointed governments, usually from royalist parties. On February 1st 2005 he dismissed the entire government and took all authority. Gyanendra then used the Royal Nepalese Army, fresh with training and weapons from the United States and the UK, to unleash a wave of violence and destruction against the population deemed to be supporting the Maoists.
At this point the insurgency exploded, and the Maoists, despite massive military presence, were able to expand and fight off the military. By late 2005, the Maoists had effective control of 80% of the nation, and the government had little control outside of Kathmandu the capitol, and a few larger provincial cities (but even these were susceptible to attack).
In late 2005 the Maoists controlling 80% of the nation, decided to blockade the capitol Kathmandu. As the king and government were coming under more pressure, the political groups that were members of the now dissolved parliament formed the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The leaders of the SPA and the CPN(M) opened a dialogue which came to the “12 point agreement”. Within this framework, the CPN(M) committed to multiparty democracy and freedom of speech, while the SPA adopted the Maoists calls for elections to create a new constitution.
Together the SPA and the CPN(M) agitated for a boycott of the 2006 February 8 local elections. A series of waves of arrests of political activist was launched by the royal government, but the SPA/CPN(M) effort was successful with less than 20% participation in the polls.
This led to “Jana Andolan II” or the second people’s movement. Inspired by this, the SPA, in conjunction with the CPN(M) called what was initially intended to be a 4 day strike from April 5-9 2006, which brought the nation to a halt. On April 8, the government ordered a curfew, with orders that protesters to be shot on sight. On April 9, the SPA announced that the strike would continue indefinitely. Prachanda threatened to personally enter Kathmandu and lead the protests. The government responded by again trying to enforce its curfew. On April 21, after 14 days of massive street protests (involving as many as 500,000 people at any one time just in Kathmandu) the king relinquished power back to the SPA, and asked the SPA to designate a new Prime Minister.
Some political commentators refer to the 2006 movement as the “democracy movement” and only the events 1990 as “the people’s movement”, but I think it’s important to see this as the same struggle. 1990 and 2006 was the same struggle, it’s the same demands, the only difference being that in 2006, unlike in 1990, there was a strong and principled force (the Maoists) that was determined enough to see the changes through.
Jana Andolan 2 was the real transition of power. While the King was only officially removed this year, after the Jana Andolan 2 he was stripped from all power and it really was just a matter of time. Jana Andolan 2 ended Nepal as the world knew it. It wiped the slate clean and took everything back to square one. The Struggle since 2006 and the Jana Andolan 2 has been on what the new Nepal will look like.
Prior to the elections this year CPN(Maoist) did not initially join the interim government. The SPA went back on its previous promises and did not immediately call for elections to a new constitutional assembly, but said that elections should simply be held for the previously existing parliament, and a parliamentary committee would draft a new constitution. The Maoists insisted on a new body to constitute a new republican state but under Maoist pressure, the SPA was forced to give into these demands. This caused the elections to the Constituent Assembly to be delayed.
A second delay was caused by arguments over the form of the Constituent assembly elections. The SPA including the NC and the UML initially argued that the elections would be held with just electorates on a first past the post basis as had historically been the case. The Maoists however demanded a direct proportional representation system. This was especially important was the former system had been used by the Nepali political elites in Kathmandu and the Hill regions of Nepal, to oppress the peoples of the southern Terai Plains. People in the Terai make up 40-50% of the population of Nepal, but had never received more than 15-20% of the representation in a Nepalese parliament. A compromise solution was resolved where 240 seats would be on the basis of the first past the post, 335 seats would be awarded on the basis of direct proportional representation and then 26 seats would be given by the government to any minority groups that were not represented or under represented in the assembly.
After 2 delays the elections where finally held on April 10 of this year.
Despite some tension the elections were held in a generally free and fair atmosphere. People were free to cast their vote. The results show a massive victory to the Maoists, who polled about 30% of the vote and will make up 36% of the seats in the Constituent Assembly. While this isn’t an absolute majority, it’s more than 15% more seats then any other party, and they polled a million votes more than their nearest competitors. While this isn’t an absolute majority, parties with progressive platforms make up the majority. Smaller revolutionary Parties make up about another 8%, the bureaucratic hulk that is the UML makes up another 18%, and then the Madhesi Parties another 12%. In all the elections were an overwhelming vote for change, and radical change, led by the Maoists
Ill talk abit about the Madhesi movement. The Madheshi/Terai Parties picked up about 13% of the vote during the election. These parties spring from the southern plains, the Terai, where most of the agricultural land is and about 40% of the population lives. This population has historically been oppressed by the people from the hills where the monarchy had been based. In 2007 in response to the idea from the SPA that the elections would not be on the basis of direct proportional representation, the Madheshi Movement sprang up. This movement called for an end of oppression of Madheshi people, for regional autonomy and for a direct proportional representation in the Constituent Assembly Election, all of which were Maoist demands. The difference was that the new Madheshi parties are lead by bureaucrats and politicians from the NC and the UML who jumped ship and set up new less discredited parties with the help f the Indian embassy. Essentially this movement by the Madhesi people was usurped by a leadership which used this movement to divert support from the Maoists, by picking up some Maoist demands and capitalizing on the Madhesi populations rightful anger, and dropping other Maoist demands like land reform which would challenge the local elites.
At any rate the elections took the established elites and political establishment by complete and total surprise. Prior to the elections, the consensus in the Media and political commentators was that the UML would win, followed by the NC and the Maoists would follow in a distant third. The real question was would the Maoists accept defeat or try and return to the hills following their inevitable defeat. Naturally the result knocked the established political order flat on its arse.
Due to this the Maoists met outright hostility from both the UML and the NC in attempts to form government. There were pre election agreements that in order to keep the peace process going that a national consensus government would be formed while the new constitution was written. The NC and the UML now started trying to wrangle their way out of these deals. I wont go into detail, because its largely unimportant, but after about 6 months of political haggling the Maoists were able to form government with the UML, other leftists and some of the Madhesi parties.
So the challenges now for the Maoists are many. They are leading the government, but seeing as it is a minority government, it would be correct to say they have taken state power. Nepal is now a nation of two armies, the National Army with its officers still very much pro royal, or at least right wing and the Maoists Peoples Liberation Army. There were agreements on the integration of these two forces, but in light of the election results the elite of Nepal, led mostly by the NC are desperately trying to maintain the National Army as a bastion of their power and are trying to exclude the Maoist army or at least drastically limit the level in which Maoists are brought into the army.
Its also of fundamental importance that the Maoists achieve land reform. In a feudal backward country like Nepal land reform naturally is in the forefront of the majority of the populations minds. This is particularly important because the areas where the majority of the land reform will take place is in the Terai, and therefore to maintain support there and amongst the Madhesi populations a widespread and effective land reform policy is essential.
Thirdly developing the country is also going to be essential if a long term sustainable and ultimately socialist Nepal can even be possible. At the moment it is an incredibly backward county with essentially no industry, and its economy is entirely based around agriculture and tourism. Unlike Venezuela also Nepal does not have the good fortune of sitting on a fifth of the worlds oil wealth, and has very limited natural resources. They do have an enormous potential for hydro-electric power stations, and sitting between India and China would be in a very good position to export sustainable green energy to those nations, but developing these resources is very capital intensive, and also very demanding on an educated workforce, which Nepal at this stage just doesn’t have, and therefore Nepal at this stage, in the absence of a Soviet bloc, is very dependant on international capital to bankroll its revolution.
The Maoist party is aware of these challenges. The Budget written by a key Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai this year was very ambitious. There are plans for a literacy program to erase illiteracy within two years, extend the road networks to all regions, develop other infrastructure projects, such as bridges ect and extensively invest in hydropower projects. Also by early next year the Maoists hope to begin the extensive nationwide (but Terai based) land reform programs. These projects are very dependent on foreign aid but also on cutting corruption. The Maoists are now using their youth wing the Young Communist League as a tool of development. Because it is such a large and well organized organization it has taken it upon itself to begin infrastructure projects, and also help try and develop communities with communal agriculture projects ect. Also in the budget school will be free up until the 8th grade (I think), which although its not (yet) full free education it’s the best the government can offer in the economic reality of Nepal at this stage.
It is important however to note that the Maoist Party of Nepal is currently going through a very intense internal debate. Essentially this debate stems from their current strategy “Prachanda Path” has essentially reached its conclusion, and very successfully. In 2001 the CPN(Maoist) made the conscious decision to start looking into the cities and within the “democratic forces” for allies against the monarchy, and to politically work towards a constituent assembly, and the republic. In this they where completely successful, due to a host of reasons. Now they have come to the end of the “Prachanda Path” there is no real clear direction as to where to from here, what do we do with the Constituent Assembly, do we consolidate the gains of the revolution, or continue to push forward for something even more?
I wont go into all the details of the factional debates, but three weeks ago the CPN(Maoist) held an extended cadre conference with about 1200 cadre from across the country. The new working slogan that they have adopted is they are building a new ‘People’s Federal Democratic National Republic’. The slogan isn’t really important, but the meeting was. Coming out of this meeting allot of the party especially the grass roots had been growing frustrated by a parliamentary focus of the leaders, which in some ways was justified. The party hasn’t really brought out the full force of the party apparatus since the election campaign. They had been very active on certain issues, and I’m not at all trying to suggest the leadership is bureaucratic but they had been bogged down in political shit slinging within the Assembly. Now they have a commitment to not neglect the roots and to continue to struggle on the streets and in the assembly for the new Nepal. The Maoist party is now going to use the constituent assembly to write what they term a pro-people constitution, which seems similar to a Venezuela.
Ill just finish up saying that I don’t think Nepal is really the “Next Venezuela” because the two are very different. Nepal is not and will not be for a long time in a position to give aid around the world, or even really have doctors on every corner ect. But Nepal does have a movement that has overthrown a 240 year old monarchy that was backed to the hilt by international powers, and is involving literally millions of people in struggling for a better socialist society. The political landscape of Nepal has changed forever, and the more the fire grows there it is spreading into India and beyond. I could go on for longer and talk about the women’s movement, the youth movement, the oppressed peoples and more which are all amazing in themselves, but at the end of the day its just important to know that there is a revolutionary movement radically changing the reality for millions of people in South Asia, and this has very real repercussions for the world, and we need to be switched onto this revolution.

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