What was the origin of the Maoist revolution in Nepal?
Nationalism in Asia, which still rears its ugly head in riots and thuggery across the continent, fails as an ideology for those many people whose culture is not aligned with often arbitrary geographic borders. In the post-colonial period, newly emerging states sought unity and coherence through adherence to a particular ideology. Some pursued nationalism and some pursued religion but these are, clearly, exclusive and divisive in many cases. Where people are different, from each other and from the state-sponsored norm, alternative ideologies are required to represent their political interests. In Nepal, as in many other countries, Communism represented the best option available for the people. It is no surprise to find that the principal leaders and membership of Nepalese Communist parties (of which there are many) hail from areas in which ethnic minorities predominate: Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Newars, Tharus, Rais, Limbus and Madhesies, among others. Additionally, support has been received from those considered in traditional society to be Dalits – the “untouchables” who occupy to their great misery the bottom rung of caste society. Communism, promising to treat people equally and advertising some version of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was considered preferable to the masses, some of them at least, to the alternatives.
As is so often the case, revolutionaries find it difficult to agree with each other and there are, as a result, numerous versions of Nepalese Communism. Maoist versions have tended to predominate over Marxist-Leninist versions owing to the proximity of China and its influence, as well as the preponderance of rural, subsistence farmers supporting the cause and the lack of the industrialized urban classes who would have made up the vanguard of the revolution under Marxist-Leninist thought. Maoism also promotes a form of perpetual revolution which has tended to mean constant violence and reprisals where it has been put into practice, notably in the killing fields of Cambodia. This has not happened in Nepal or, at least, not yet. The struggle with the Nepalese army has been bloody and many issues remain unresolved. Yet the massacre of the royal family in 2001 has made it possible for the revolution that recently took place, in which Maoist revolutionaries have taken seats in the democratically elected government and their leader, Prachanda, has assumed the role of president. This is a striking reversal of fortune and, for many, an encouraging step forward towards genuine equality for all and away from a reactionary, semi-feudal monarchic state. It is impossible to make the equation between death and revolution – more than 13,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting and many thousands more had their lives destroyed. Healing these wounds will take decades and perhaps can never be effected. Nevertheless, the Nepalese people have achieved their revolution.
For more details on the roots of Nepalese Maoism, see S.D. Muni’s Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: The Challenge and the Response (New Delhi: Rupa and Co., 2003).