[WSF-Discuss] Nepal Updates: Three Divergent Readings of the Ongoing Turbulence

Kaveri Rajaraman kaveri.rajaraman at gmail.com
Wed May 5 13:54:24 UTC 2010

Just a clarification: not in Kathmandu to help the Maoist agitation as is,
but to witness the demonstration and to support the workers' groups - which
are distinct from the UCPN (Maoist) and its leadership!
in solidarity

On Tue, May 4, 2010 at 11:07 AM, Sukla Sen <sukla.sen at gmail.com> wrote:

> Kaveri Rajaraman is an "activist". A coomitted and engaged one. By her own
> account, she has gone to Kathmandu to actively help and be a part of the
> Maoist agitation.
> Yubaraj Ghimire is one of the best known journalists from Nepal in India.
> Arguably the best. He had crossed over from the camp of "democracy" to the
> "monarchist" in not too distant a past. Regardless, his views and opinions
> are considered formidable - valuable inputs for forming an informed picture.
> The third one is from the *Guardian*, a "left-of-centre" British
> newspaper.
> *All these, despite the wide divergences, point to the following*:
> Nepal is evidently again at the crossroads.
> This week is going to be decisive.
> The present dispensation's days are understandably numbered. Regardless of
> Madhav Nepal's brave postures.
> A new dispensation led by the Maoists to follow.
> That's almost certain.
> But the issue is the change would come about on what terms?
> The major issues on the table are terms of incorporation of the PLA in the
> NA. That's the most major one.
> Followed by the terms of power sharing in the interim; and, more
> importantly, the broad contours of the Constitution to be drafted.
> The Maoists, no doubt, have very large organised strength.
> But they have as yet repeatedly failed to trigger off a mass upheaval *a
> la* Janandolan II.
> That's a very notable point. While they are apparently in control of the
> "physics" at the moment, the "chemistry" is still missing.
> But, it won't be too unreasonable to speculate that things may change.
> Change rather dramatically. Particularly if there is bloodshed caused by the
> security forces. Maoist violence, on the contrary, is likely to have far
> less dramatic impact.
> At the moment, it is more of a "war of attrition" than one of "manoeuvre".
> But the mode may change.
> In case, the stalemate keeps dragging, the agitation would start losing
> steam.
> Even in such an event, the Maoists are likely to nominally head a new
> dispensation - a "national unity government" - but the terms of "settlement"
> would be far from their liking.
> Conversely, if Madhav Nepal is forced to resign straightaway without any
> "settlement" preceding, other political outfits would turn into mere
> footnotes with little chance of any early, if at all, revival.
> Sukla
> I/III.
> From: Kaveri Rajaraman <kaveri.rajaraman at gmail.com>
> Date: 3 May 2010 19:37
> Dear friends,
> What transpires here is an account of what I observed during May Day in
> Kathmandu, and the strikes and rallies of that day and the days following,
> as the CPN(Maoist) cadres aim to overthrow the current Nepal state which
> they feel has betrayed the people. This piece is a description of what I
> witnessed, quickly being sent off without the time to put it in the
> political context, which I will endeavor to do with time. The events
> themselves leading to the impasse between the Maoists and the government can
> be found easily online, what is harder to find is a description of the mood
> of the people, the spirit of the rallies, and the class nature of the divide
> between its supporters and detractors.
> I arrived in Kathmandu the morning of May 1st, 2010, International Labor
> Day. Crossing a border overnight to rush and be one of the hundreds of
> thousands of Nepali workers pouring into the city. Bus held up four hours,
> inching its way through police checks of every vehicle entering Kathmandu,
> while my bladder grew painfully full. Shortly after a group of us women on
> the bus led a mini-revolution to pull down our salwars and pee together out
> on the street, in full view of all the men, some of whom looked respectfully
> away, the buses shuddered to life and our queue began to move. My despairing
> mind raced to Kathmandu, the bus following, but I reached before the
> revolution had come to life. A very normal city, bit picturesque, bit
> Manali, bit Havana, bit Madras, with some of the world’s most beautiful
> people, so many serene women walking the streets at all hours with big
> unafraid smiles, tan wiry boys whooping as they hang from the bus doorways
> with one hand free, flying, long hair whipping their faces.
> The whoops are what signal the beginning. I had been asking around for
> where the big rally was to happen, with everyone pointing me to a big
> maidaan, a big field in the city where everyone would converge. What I
> didn’t expect was the random street I was on to suddenly come to life with
> yells and laughs and chants and shouts. This was no regimented march. This
> was people pouring out of every street, with a group of 200 or so hotel
> workers from our street, and another 200 people from another workplace on
> the next street, and yet another coming down the road joining our street,
> waiting, the boys jumping, not enough women at first, but then some animated
> groups of women joining, grabbing my hand, taking me along… one march joined
> another then another, and suddenly we were in a procession as far as we
> could see. Such a joy, some kids singing Nepali songs, everyone around
> dancing, other kids staging theater to the sounds of chants, everyone
> chanting “Mao-vadi Zindabad!”, “Lal Salaam!” and “Puppet governments- return
> to India!”.
> Our march joined others and others until we poured into the maidaan. About
> 200 m by 800 m, the field was well-populated when we walked in and
> completely packed within an hour – with an estimated 300,000 people – a
> sizeable fraction of the Nepali population! This was despite the fact that
> some marchers left before the speeches began, such as Sabina, the
> hotelworker who held my hand firmly throughout the march and who invited us
> to her home, saying “it is very tiny, we are gareeb (poor), but I live there
> happily with my two children and my husband is not at home”. She joined the
> party a year ago because before that there was no union in their workplace.
> But she felt the speeches would be long and boring in the heat, so she left.
> We sat in the sea of people, the mahasagar as referred to by the speakers,
> squished with barely any leg room next to a stern but very sweet man in a
> Che Guevara shirt and fatigues (former militia member), who solemnly gave us
> the lal salaam fist, and two middle aged women with broad smiles. The music
> settled down, we had a moment of silence with fists raised for a martyred
> comrade, and the speakers rose to the podium draped in the red flag with
> white hammer and sickle, and addressed the crowd. Behind the speakers was a
> large banner that read “Vishaal Jan Sabha”, or “Large people’s assembly”,
> with photos of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao arrayed above, and a
> large picture of Prachanda below them!
> What I understood of their speeches, or could note down of their names was
> patchy, with help from some of the people around me who spoke Hindi. The
> event was conducted by Hitmaan Sakya, member of the Constitutional Assembly.
> The speakers were Comrade Ajit, who spoke of the Indian government’s
> influence over the current puppet government of Nepal, then a speaker from
> the All-Nepal Federation of Trade Unions, then a forceful speaker who
> aroused the crowd’s applause by speaking of the sacrifice and work it would
> take to achieve true independence.
> Musical performances punctuated every few speakers. The crowd was clearly
> enjoying the entire rally, its applause did not feel at all dutiful – they
> cheered heartily when speakers struck a chord of resonance – and many of the
> speeches were not solemn, but funny – and they stolidly stayed quiet when
> speakers paused at the end of a fiery or clichéd sentence, expecting
> applause, without having truly excited the crowd. During the musical
> performance, about 1 person in 100 got up and danced. Those who danced were
> really dancing, with soul, and jhatkas and matkas, more men than women, so I
> stood up with the mutual urging of the women next to me – and we danced as
> those who sat near us cheered. Slowly my friends joined, as the crowd around
> us went wild. We got several thumbs ups. Taking photos of the rally, we were
> seen as outsiders; sitting in the sun with everyone else, we were taken for
> supporters.
> And the speakers resumed. A fiery speaker from the Nepal Dalit Mukti Morcha
> named Tilak Pariya spoke next, drawing many cheers, then a speaker who spoke
> of this as the last fight against slavery, followed by the biggest crowd
> pleaser – actor Yuvraj Lama, usually the villain of the movie. His speech
> reminded me the words of Subcomandante Marcos, about el mal gobierno. As the
> man sitting to my right said “bahut gaali de raha hai gormint ko”… he
> roundly abused the government, for killing people, for hurting people, for
> acting against the people, for being “nalayak, jan birodhi”, drawing great
> roars of support. Then the Young Communist League’s Ganeshmaan spoke,
> inciting the youth to come forth, congratulating the thousands of young
> communists there, for doubling the numbers of YCL in this short time.
> Finally the first female speaker came up, speaking for the Akhil Nepal
> Mahila Sangh ( Krantikari). The women to my left perked up, listening
> intently as she spoke of strong punishments for the rape and killing of
> women, and condemning the state for speaking of violence of the Maoists,
> when they had incited violence against the people, especially women, against
> which the gun was the only weapon. She incited women, who hold up half the
> sky, to join the struggle. When she used the word “kitchen”, a word I
> understood, I wondered if she was speaking of women leaving the kitchen and
> taking the struggle, but the man next to me translated what she said as ”she
> is asking the women of Kathmandu to cook for the people who have come here
> from all over the country”. If this is true, and even if not, given the
> absence of women speakers except 1 token women to speak of women’s issues,
> the party has a lot to answer for, despite the obviously better status of
> women in the country which some attribute to the party and some attribute to
> Nepali culture. From what I could tell, there was likewise a single Dalit
> speaker on dalit issues, while the leadership is almost entirely Brahmin –
> at least Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai certainly are. But the party had
> clearly galvanized a lot of participating Dalits and women – one man said
> Baburam’s intercaste marriage had inspired him greatly.
> Finally, Prachanda spoke, an event people were clearly waiting for.  He
> spoke with less fire than many of the previous speakers, emphasizing the
> peaceful, organized nature of the rally, and the party’s issues with the
> current Nepali puppet government, and their expectations that the call for
> an indefinite general strike would lead the prime minister Madhav Kumar
> Nepal to resign and make way for the Maoists to take power without having to
> sacrifice their hopes for a people’s constitution and an integration of
> Maoist forces with the army. But the most interesting thing was that as he
> spoke, several people got up to leave. It was 5 pm and we had been there in
> the sun five hours. People were tired, they were told the rally would last
> till 5 pm, and now they wanted to leave. Some were clearly bored by the
> speech! While party cadre were vigilant about getting people to sit down on
> the ground and not stand, the people leaving in noticeable numbers as
> Prachanda began didn’t seem to feel any kind of pressure to be polite and
> wait until he was done. By the time Comrade Badal spoke, many people were
> standing, wandering around, speaking to one another. That said, both made
> points that drew much applause. Prachanda poked fun at Madhav Kumar’s press
> conference in Thimpu following the SAARC meeting, claiming that Manmohan
> Singh might well have called it himself. He called for people’s solidarity
> between India and Nepal against their governments. He thundered that the
> government has blocked revolution by its parliamentary games.
> I want to give a quick, and possibly unrepresentative sense of what seemed
> to be to be the dividing line between those who supported the strike and
> rally and those who did not, because it was not clear to me for a while.
> Eventually, it seemed to me that those who supported the strike were
> workers, who did not own the means of their survival, who didn’t speak
> English, while those who were against the strike were of course the elite,
> but also the petty bourgeois, who owned small shops, or people who were
> lower clerical workers, those who spoke bits of English and could hope that
> the way forward would make them less poor, who didn’t like the stoppage of
> the opportunity to do business. But the dividing line seemed to be the
> question of hope – those who felt that the system was making life easier for
> them, personally, over time, or who even felt a sense of optimism about one
> day making more money… vs those who felt that there was no hope of
> betterment, who were fed up, who were either not seeing economic improvement
> in their lives, or who were working in jobs that left them feeling classical
> Marxist alienation, and wanted something else. Although many people who felt
> either way about the party expressed their views without much vehemence,
> almost amiably, others had strong opinions, and it seemed that everyone was
> well-informed about the issues at stake, although no one had very clear
> ideas of what would actually come to pass if the Maoists came to power, or
> if they didn’t – understandably, since neither the status quo government or
> the Maoists have spelt out these details.
> We spoke to some party members after the rally. We learned of how they
> joined the party, the years spent underground, the formation of the party at
> the village level. We asked almost entirely unanswered questions on the
> internal democracy within the party, but we did learn that the proposed
> constitution of the Maoists has been 80% written, proposing a federal
> structure, proposing land reform, and popular power, but that they need to
> write the rest with the co-operation of the rest of the parliament.
> Ten minutes after Comrade Badal spoke, the ground was almost empty. We
> drifted homeward, to quickly buy some food to cook the next day when the
> indefinite strike would begin in earnest. We spent our next day trying to
> support the strike by cooking, not eating at the little places operating in
> secret. But the general strike was remarkable, with every single shop
> shuttered down, with the sole exception of medical stores. The streets were
> populated by laughing, chattering children playing cricket. No cars, no
> trucks. It was almost as stunning in its placid, beauty as the exhilarated
> march the day before. Street vendors and fruit sellers continued as normal.
> I was impressed by the exceptions allowed for the bandh, which also included
> a 6-8 pm break for all purchasing of essentials.
> I was curious as to how the strike was enforced, since most shop-owners
> clearly preferred to stay open. No one suggested the use of violence, and
> shop-owners expressed their disapproval for the strike but said they shut
> down shops because they were worried about vandalism and stone-throwing.
> Certainly at night, we saw shops hurriedly shut down when Youth Communist
> League cadre came running through the streets. Bearing large improvised
> torches of flaming rags borne on sticks, they ran and whooped, chanting YCL!
> YCL! We followed them for a while, then another group came running through,
> this time looking for some one… ordinary people on the street got scared and
> ran indoors. Finally, a big group converged on the local chowk where a big
> bonfire was held, and YCL comrades held hands and chanted around the fire.
> Excitement was in the air – the YCL kids felt it with an urgency and heat
> that I’d never seen before… but it has never been difficult to arouse groups
> of young boys – and the YCL groups were almost entirely male. Today,
> however, protests continued (this is day 3 now), with a sea of women this
> time, one with a baby clutching the red flag with white hammer and sickle.
> There is no doubt that the massive numbers of people participating in these
> rallies are here with a genuine aspiration for change, for equity, for
> democracy, for the new constitution around which this demonstration is
> ultimately organized, and the hope for a peace maintained by justice and not
> by repression. To not support the people in this endeavor would be criminal.
> But the hope is that these events will live up to the genuine aspirations
> and support of the people, and that the party that has organized around
> their aspirations this far, with fits and starts, will either deliver or be
> made by the people to deliver.
> II.
> http://www.indianexpress.com/news/may-day-mayday/614576/
>  <http://www.indianexpress.com/news/may-day-mayday/614576/>May Day mayday
> *Yubaraj Ghimire *Posted online: Tuesday , May 04, 2010 at 2303 hrs
> **Andolan season is back in Nepal. The Unified Communist Party of
> Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) that spent weeks giving physical training to
> able-bodied villagers and to its cadre, has paraded its supporters in the
> capital for what it calls a “decisive battle”. But will it be decisive
> enough — in the Maoists’ favour?
> During a mammoth May Day rally in the capital, UCPN-M chief Prachanda
> announced that the victory is going to be theirs during this round of
> battle. People who had come from different parts of the country stayed put
> in the capital to hasten the promised victory. But their hope and
> determination has apparently dissipated faster this time. Apart from
> Kathmandu’s fluctuating climate, with intermittent rain in the past 48 hours
> driving away street protestors, the locals have refused to participate in
> the “decisive battle”. More important, the government and 22 out of 25
> political parties represented in the constituent assembly have firmly stood
> by Prime Minister Madhav Nepal — the man Maoists want out, and replaced by
> Prachanda — sending a tough signal to the Maoists for the first time in four
> years that the politics of “surrender” before the former insurgents is over.
> Another thing that goes totally against the Maoists is the changed
> behaviour of the international community, mainly UN agencies like the United
> Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN), the European Union and some Scandinavian
> countries. They have now warned the Maoists that any violence during the
> indefinite political strike that began on May 2 will not only imperil the
> peace and the constitution-writing process, but will also discredit the
> Maoists thoroughly in the eyes of the international community.
> India’s tough stance is, of course, well known, and with hostility on the
> rise at home and abroad, Maoists have to bank solely on the terror that the
> Young Communist Leagues (YCL) can create on the street. But that will also
> require determination on the part of the Maoists to face a government that
> for once issued stern warnings that it would not hesitate to deploy the
> police, the paramilitary as well as the army (which remains confined within
> its barracks, as per the peace agreement).
> Worse for the Maoists, divisions within the party have come to the fore as
> never before. At the rally, two prominent leaders — Baburam Bhattarai and
> Narayankaji Shrestha Prakash, both vice-presidents — were not allowed to
> address the crowd. Both leaders have been sidelined following their public
> statements that the party could offer somebody other than Prachanda as PM
> for a national unity government should Madhav Nepal resign.
> Madhav Nepal made a categorical statement that he is willing to quit as
> soon as the parties agree on his substitute and an agenda to take the
> constitution-making process forward. The Maoists, however, insist that the
> government leadership should first be handed over to Prachanda and the rest
> should follow. That is clever tactics on their part, as it is very clear now
> that the constitution cannot be delivered within the May 28 deadline, and
> that the constituent assembly’s life, if not extended, will expire. Securing
> government leadership now or around May 28 would give the Maoists an
> opportunity to rule without having to follow accountability to a House that
> will cease to exist. The Maoists are not a party that believes in the purity
> of means in acquiring power.
> In fact, the Maoists made every effort to create a favourable situation for
> the power capture move. On May 1, Prachanda spoke publicly in praise of the
> Nepal army, saying that it and other nationalist institutions must “work
> together” with the Maoists. There was also a call that the army must defy
> any order from the present government that lacked “legitimacy as well as the
> people’s mandate”.
> In the past few months, as the Maoists and pro-democracy forces have been
> pitted against each other, Prachanda apparently had a series of meetings
> with retired generals of the Nepal army who still wield enough clout in the
> institution — besides political sympathisers and supporters of former King
> Gyanendra, and perhaps his close relatives. But the Maoists’ power or
> strength to bargain, as well as their credibility, has clearly nosedived.
> That clearly leaves them with two options: either to ask for a face-saving
> solution from the government so that they can continue with political
> negotiation, or let their restive cadre go on a rampage and create a law and
> order problem — thereby inviting all the consequences it might induce from
> the state. Either way, the losers this time round will be the Maoists.
> III.
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/02/maoist-general-strike-nepal
> <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/02/maoist-general-strike-nepal>
>  Maoist-led general strike shuts down much of Nepal
> Thousands march through Kathmandu in effort to force prime minister Madhav
> Kumar Nepal from office
>    - Mark Tran <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/marktran> and agencies
>    - guardian.co.uk <http://www.guardian.co.uk/>, Sunday 2 May 2010 23.36
>    BST
> A general strike today shut down much of Nepal<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/nepal> as
> communist activists intensified their pressure on the prime minister to
> resign.
> Thousands of Maoist supporters were on the streets of the capital,
> Kathmandu, to ensure that shops remained closed and buses were not operating
> amid fears that Nepal would descend again into civil strife. Few vehicles
> were about and people were forced to walk to their destinations. The
> international airport remained open.
> The government provided foreign tourists with free shuttle buses from the
> airport to their hotels. Tens of thousands of Maoist supporters poured into
> the capital from the countryside for a rally to demandthe dissolution of a
> cabinet propped up by an alliance of 22 parties.
> As thousands of police in riot gear watched today'sprotesters, there were
> scattered reports of vandalism against vehicles and shops that defied the
> strike. A Maoist coordinating the protests in Kathmandu said the protesters
> were prepared to shut down the country for days until their demands were
> met."We are protesting peacefully. But if the authorities try to provoke us
> in any ways we are ready and prepared to retaliate," said Chandra Bahadur
> Thapa.
> Karin Landgren, chief of UN's peace mission in Nepal, said she met Maoists
> leaders to appeal for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The US embassy in
> Kathmandu issued a statement that appealed for the parties to exercise
> restraint and work toward consensus. Travel advice from the Foreign Office
> warned that political tensions in Nepal are currently high.
> In 2006, the Maoists agreed to end a decade-old insurgency that left more
> than 13,000 people dead and went on to lead a coalition in 2008 after a
> surprise win in the election for a constituent assembly.
> But the coalition collapsed this time last year, when the Maoists, who have
> the largest party in parliament, walked out of the government after their
> failure to get the head of the army dismissed.The prime minister, Madhav
> Kumar, has refused to bow down to Maoist pressure.
> "One should not resign from the government in the midst of confusion ...
> government changes can be made through constitutional and parliamentary
> procedures and not from the streets," he said.The constituent assembly is
> unlikely to meet its deadline target of drafting a new constitution by 28
> May 28 and the deadline cannot be extended without the support of the
> Maoists, who hold about 40% of the assembly's 601 seats.
> Analysts say consensus has steadily given way to a polarisation that has
> fed the more hardline elements on both sides. At the time of the fall of the
> Maoist-led government, theInternational Crisis Group<http://www.crisisgroup.org/> thinktank
> warned: "Only concerted efforts to re-establish a minimal working consensus
> and a national unity government including the Maoists can avert the
> likelihood of a more dangerous erosion of trust."Strong international
> backing, with India eschewing short-term interference in favour of
> longer-term guardianship of the process it itself initiated, will be
> essential."
> --
> Peace Is Doable
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