Nepal: “light at end of tunnel” —for tribal peoples too?

This optimistic June 26 analysis by Kavi Chongkittavorn in Thailand’s The Nation is one of the very few accounts we’ve been able to find that even mentions the question of Nepal’s indigenous peoples in the new order which is emerging. We’ve highlighted the reference to the Madeshi tribal people of the lowland plains of the country’s southwest side. Our own observations will follow.

Light at the end of the tunnel for Nepal
The euphoria in the Kathmandu Valley is as high as the Himalayas following the signing of an eight-point road map between the alliance of seven political parties and the Maoists.

The historic document commits to ensuring that Nepal becomes a liberal democracy in the future.

An interim government including the Maoists will be formed soon to prepare for constituency assembly elections within a year. An interim constitution is expected to be ready in the next week or two.

In the absence of violence and constant agitation, the Nepalese people are content and once more optimistic that their struggle for democracy has been realised, and they are hopeful that it can be sustained this time. Most importantly, the future of the much discredited autocratic King Gyanendra will be decided by commoners.

Political analysts here, including academics and editors, express confidence over the future of democracy in their country but caution that without a permanent peace, democratic inspiration will be short-lived. The Nepalese people need to settle societal and political conflicts without resorting to violence. This way, the country’s democracy can be strengthened and the progress of economic development assured.

“Our people power is unique, it comes from the grassroots and rural people. They really want democracy. They are not only the middle class, as in Thailand. They are the vanguard of democracy here,” explained Kanak Dixit, editor of Himal magazine, who was jailed three times for openly criticising the monarchy and breaking curfews.

He said now was the time for the Nepalese people to shape the future of their country. “We can start nation-building together from the beginning,” he said. The April revolution had brought Nepal the opportunity for a new society that would respect human rights, human dignity and give equal status to women and where fundamental problems such as corruption, social injustice and issues related to ethnic minorities would be addressed with urgency.

Anil Kumar Jha of the Nepal Sabhawana Party concurred, saying ordinary people will now have more say in determining their future. “Having one’s voice is an important step. The next one is to translate [talk] into action,” he said. As a representative of the Madeshi minority from the Terai plain, he hoped that minorities would now be able to participate more in mainstream politics.

At this juncture, any extended discussion on Nepal’s future ends up with lots of questions related to the role of the Maoists and their agenda. Scepticism is high as to their ultimate objectives.

Krishna Bahadur Mahara, spokesman of the Maoists, made clear to me in an interview that there would not be any denouncement of their use of force or decommissioning of their guerrilla fighters, who he said numbered as many as 30,000. Academics and journalists, however, said this number is inflated. Both the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) and international community have urged the Maoists to condemn the use of violence and disarm before the assembly election. But the Maoists have resisted this proposal.

In his newly built and freshly painted office in Ghaneshwor, east of the capital city, Mahara expressed confidence that his guerrilla group would prevail in the constituent assembly election because of their struggle for justice for the people. “We are sure that our people will support us. That is why we are committed to a multi-party system and the outcome of the constituency assembly election,” he told The Nation.

That outcome, which is hard to predict now, could challenge the Maoists’ long-held position that Nepal should be declared a republic.

Obviously, the Nepalese people universally hate their king because of what he has done to them and their society as a whole. As Mathura P Shrestha, a civil-rights leader, put it: “In five years of his rule, Gyanendra has completely wiped out the 237 years of kingship.”

Intellectuals and the middle class here are concerned that the Maoists may not keep their promise and will return to the jungle. When asked about this, Mahara emphasised that the Maoists would accept the electoral outcome, but he refused to elaborate.

One of the major hurdles to be overcome is the future status of the Maoist fighters. Mahara said they should be integrated into the Nepalese Army – a demand that the national army is reluctant to accept. It seems as though anything could happen as all parties concerned are repositioning themselves during this interim period.

The international community, which is ready to provide financial assistance and economic aid package, wants to see the Maoists completely neutralised and disarmed. This could complicate the peace process if there is no compromise from all sides.

For the time being, the status of King Gyanendra hangs in the balance. He has been stripped of all power by the parliament following the victory of people’s power. At the moment, he remains a symbolic king until further notice. He even received diplomatic credentials from Thailand and South Korea recently.

Sudhindra Sharma, an expert on the Nepalese and Thai monarchies, said that more than 70 per cent of Nepalese surveyed recently wanted to maintain the monarchy as an institution, but most of them did not want the current king. All the key institutions in Nepal will need lots of adjustment in the interim period before the constituency assembly elections next year.

Kunda Dixit, editor of Nepali Times, reiterated that the king’s behaviour during the interim period would serve as a barometer of his future. “If he is still plotting and wants to remain active, I think the Nepalese would vote for no king and go for a republic,” he said. If he repents and behaves himself on the other hand, then there is a good chance that he would remain a ceremonial king – a symbol for Nepal.

The best role for the king, some academics have suggested, would be akin to the Kumari, Nepal’s living virgin goddess, as both of them “say nothing, just wave”.

At present, the anti-king sentiment is so strong that if there were a national referendum on his future today, the Nepalese would definitely opt for a republic. However, middle class and urban dwellers express the hope that when the dust settles, the Nepalese will want to follow the middle path of maintaining the institution and making the king a symbolic figurehead.

In October, an analysis on the Democracy for Nepal blog noted that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is actually part of a larger confederation under the Maoist guerillas’ general command which also includes armed ethnic liberation groups:

The Maoists are in general disciplined and united but still face problems in controlling their large movement. Since the CPN(M) was formed in 1995 it has not suffered a single split; in contrast, each of the major mainstream parties has been fractured at least once. Prachanda is unlikely to face a serious challenge to his monopoly on power within the party. Apart from Baburam Bhattarai, there are no other leaders of a stature sufficient to present a threat to his authority; Bhattarai himself has repeatedly insisted he has no designs on the leadership and may have been chastened by the disciplinary action he underwent in early 2005. But maintaining such discipline requires constant effort. Senior leaders spend significant time dealing with policy debates and trying to prevent disagreements from becoming damaging. According to the RNA, this has had a direct effect on operational effectiveness by distracting attention from the implementation of plans and strategy.

There are other tensions within the party but none at the moment pose a grave threat to its unity or operational capacity. The most obvious area of current and potential divisions is the relationship between the party and the various ethnic front organisations. In 2004 there were notable splits in Saptari, where Maoist leader Jay Krishna Goit separated from the Madhesi National Liberation Front, and in the eastern hills, where there were several defections from the Kirat National Liberation Front. These received significant press attention but the Maoists insist they are unlikely to cause serious damage to the movement. However, the fact that similar disputes have flared up again in the months following the royal coup suggests they do indeed represent a serious challenge.

Also a part of this guerilla federation is the Dalit Liberation Front, fighting for the rights of the untouchables.

Democracy for Nepal also featured an interveiw with Madeshi leader Anil Kumar Jha, in which he called the Maoists “totalitarian”, but acknowledged that they have won the support of Nepal’s oppressed and marginalized ethnic minorities. He called for a decentralized federalist system under the new constitution.

As with India’s Naxalites, a related movement, there seems to be a tension within the CPN(M) between a localist, autonomist and indigenist strain and a totalitarian, nationalist strain. It will be interesting to watch how this will play out in the political transition now underway.

See our last post on Nepal.

  1. “tension”
    The tension is in your head… because they don’t fit your model of how people are supposed to act.

    American history is a short guide: strong central authority defined radical reconstruction after the civil war. When that was withdrawn, and Jim Crow established, black people were murdered left and right until they were driven out of political life for the better part of a century.

    It’s not that complicated. The Maoists, in both India and Nepal, have prioritized buidling up militias among oppressed nationalities, and in Nepal have stated that there will autonomous cultural areas for many peoples.

    Thanks be that everyone’s not living up to the cartoons you paint.

    Then again, I suspect you see the Dalai Lama and his feudal godking bullshit as some “authentic” or “indigenous” perspective. Just so long as you aren’t their slave…

  2. Unbelievable.
    Unbelievable. It looks like you come from a long list of “journalists” who feel they can get away with writing whatever they please about Nepal. From Conn Hallinan and Steven C. Baker, to D. Michael Van de Veer; I can proudly add the name of Bill Weinberg to the list of pot-stirring, agenda driven dolts who feel they can manipulate their coverage of events in Nepal to further some ridiculous tangenital end.

    You’ve really done a comprehensive tabloid hack job, Bill, so where to begin…

    Nepalis neither “universally” hate their King nor are they overly optimistic about the future. There was and is no comprehensive representation of Nepali political thought because there hasn’t been a democratic election in over 8 years, so claims of any kind of “universal” anything are false. Plus, 100,000 folks showing up to honor the King last week kind of puts a damper on that line of reasoning as well, don’t you think?

    The 8-point agreement is another Maoists smokescreen to cover their traditional monsoon inactivity. All SPAM can agree on is that an 8-point agreement exists and they like it. There is no commitment other than that. Has anyone offered up an implementation strategy?

    As per the recent budget announcement, there is, once again, no representation for the middle classes of Nepal. There is no sense of reform, and no sense of compromise with the reinstated parliament. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    The Maoists have no intention of giving up their arms, and most of us in Nepal realize that they will most likely break off peacetalks once they’ve regrouped after the monsoon.

    Is it so hard for you to realize that the Maoist proposal to dissolve the current parliament for an interim structure is a simple ploy for taking a dominant role in government? You have obviously not followed events in Nepal long enough to recognize a familiar pattern when you see one

    I could go on and on, point for point, but I don’t believe accuracy will ever be your goal. My time will be better used by exposing your type of commentary to a larger public; let them help with the fact-checking and condemnation. The good news is that your type of reporting can no longer can hit the mainstream of any media outlet without scrutiny, and be passed off as accurate. Too many people are watching you now.

    I get a little tired, I must confess, with slapping-down shoddy reporting and commentary; but I will make the same offer to you as I’ve made to all of your hack predecessors:

    I will openly debate and dispute your assertions at any time in any public forum you choose. Are you up for it?


    1. You should work on your reading comprehension skills
      And you should extend your invitation for a debate to Kavi Chongkittavorn, not me. I was simply quoting his words. You have a probelm with that?

      I must say, I am quite vindicated to be lambatsed by both monarchists and Maoists here. Nothing like getting shit from both sides to prove I am doing my job.

      Thanks, guys!

      1. comprehension
        Oh this article has appeared on many a site, and yes, I know who wrote it. The point is that you pass it on like it’s holy writ without so much as an insight or a fact check. People write all kinds of things about Nepal every day, but it’s the boosters and spinners of information, like yourself, who really soil the nest of truth.

        It’s also significant that your name shows up on more Western wire services than our Thai friend from The Nation. Basically, your take on Nepal is more likely to be read by stupid people who tend to live in Western countries, and who tend to form groups that shout out policy demands to lawmakers and thus do real damage. Can’t say the same about Kavi Chongkittavorn, can we?

        That’s where I come in. Before you and others like you can form a pool of disinformation and create some tabloid momentum or further some unrelated agenda at the expense of Nepal, I blast you with a little Nepali Reality 101.

        Also, try a little research before you sink into your comfortable little black and white, right vs. left comparisons. Only a simpleton would label me a royalist.

        On that subject, I’ll close my end of this thread by saying that I’ve done a bit of due-dilligence research on you, Mr. Weinberg and have discovered that your postings, by their very nature and tone, speak for themselves in terms of their objectivity and accuracy. Any further criticism by me would be moot, redundant and degrade the overall high level of discourse on Nepal issues that many of us have worked hard to establish and maintain.

        So, those of us who have made Nepal and its people our life’s study hereby cut you loose to do what you must in the hopes that it will serve as an object lesson for all of us. One cannot have a high level of debate without establishing what constitutes the low level, can one? With your permission, I propose labeling any Nepal discussion that simply apes a position without offering any fresh insight, or seeks to massage a viewpoint into fitting a narrow agenda as approching the “Weinberg threshold” of credibility. With your permission, of course.

        Anyway, I apologize for disturbing you and I yield the floor.


        1. Neither of you are paying attention
          We made perfectly clear that we were presenting Kavi Chongkittavorn’s article not as “holy writ,” but because it was virtually the only one we could find that even takes note of the Madeshi. Our commentary following it made clear we felt it was missing some points. Meanwhile, your anonymous Maoist friend accuses me of painting “cartoons” for failing to glorify the guerillas as unequivocal heroes. Funny that you guys have so much in common.

          I am sick of monarchists, Maoists and all their ilk with their smelly little orthodoxies (TM Orwell).