The Beginnings of a New Democratic <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Nepal?<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


March 18, 2007


by John Mage and Bernard D'Mello




Over the last year, as the world watched Nepal making a significant and qualitative break with its past, the EPW too was planning a special issue. For the two of us, having come of political age in the 1960s and 1970s, an aphorism of those times that still lingers, "no investigation, no right to speak," may have been behind our joint decision to visit Nepal in February, to put our fingers to the pulse of things. A "people's war" that lasted 11 years led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the CPN(M), as well as the Jan Andolan in April last year, brought about profound shifts in the balance of power in national politics. The 238-year old feudal monarchy has been marginalised, a preliminary step towards laying the foundations for a democratic republic. The Nepali Maoists, for their part, are practising another one of those 20th-century aphorisms: "to rebel is justified." They had waged a just war by raising an army -- the people's liberation army (PLA) -- ingrained with the democratic tradition of building close ties with the common people. Their strategy required the establishment of "base areas" in rural Nepal, which have now been heralded as representative of a new Nepal in the making. It was in this context that we decided to trek in Rolpa, located in mid-west Nepal, one of the first base areas in the people's war.


As is by now well known, the CPN(M) has altered its strategy of a protracted people's war, although the party's goal is still the establishment of a people's republic of Nepal. It is now concentrating on ushering in a democratic republic, with a multiparty democracy within a constitutional framework that is anti-feudal and anti-imperialist, and requiring extensive reorganisation of state power to resolve problems related to class, gender, caste, and nationality/region. Under the UN's monitoring mission, the PLA units have stored and sealed their arms and ammunition and have confined themselves to temporary camps/cantonments in the run-up to elections to a new constituent assembly. The Nepal Army (NA), too, has been confined to the barracks and a similar quantity of its arms stored and sealed. The Maoists have even agreed to dismantle the people's governments in their base areas; they are now represented in the interim legislature and their entry into the interim cabinet appears imminent.


We set out to understand developments in the base area of Rolpa in the Magarat region, where the Maoists have claimed, according to one of their spokespersons [Parvati 2005], to have undermined the feudal base of the state, setting up mobile, locally-based people's courts, people's councils at the regional (under the Magarat autonomous region), district, village and ward levels, and also a local militia to ensure public security. There have also been moves to reconstruct the economy, importantly, with a socialist orientation, and the initial foundations for progressive changes in the areas of health, education, and culture have been laid. The obvious question in our minds was that, with the end of armed conflict in sight, but with the tasks of the revolution still unfinished, what would be the fate of these progressive changes that remain in their formative stages. At another level, our trek through Rolpa brought us in touch with a spectacular landscape and a rich culture. One could talk of the beauty of the hills, the pine trees amidst winter giving way to spring, but that brings us to the dilemma of the poet in hard times, expressed so well by Bertolt Brecht (in "To Posterity"): "Ah, what an age it is/When to speak of trees is almost a crime/For it is a kind of silence about injustice." So that's what chalked out our trek.