Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Marxism, Maoism, Democracy: Kerala 1957 and Nepal 2008

Nepal's Maoists want the monarch to step aside: a dance of death is on the cards?

NEPAL IS entering an exciting new age in its history and politics: From a monarchy, it is going to be a democracy run by Maoists!

That is going to be a very fascinating scene to watch. Fifty years ago when E M S Namboodiripad came to power in Kerala in the 1957 election, it was one of the first elected Communist governments in the world. Now unlike our traditional Communist parties who took to parliamentary democracy way back in the fifties, Maoists never really put much faith in parliamentary system. They took to the gun and even in Nepal it was the gun that took them to the mainstream politics, as all other traditional parties had lost their credibility among the people. Now Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, two youthful leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal(Maoist), are poised to take over the reins of the Government there, write a new Constitution for the country and dethrone the monarch, taking Nepal to the status of a Republic.

But how are they going to dethrone the monarch, King Gyanendra? From the days of the Magna Carta to the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution, we know that the practice has a gruesome side to it: It involves bloodshed. And will Nepal be able to avoid it, for a change?

Recently I read some very interesting accounts about Nepal which give some deep insights in to the developments in the country.Here is what Jimmy Carter, former US president and Nobel peace prize winner, said in his article Pariah Diplomacy, in New York Times, yesterday:
About 12 years ago, Maoist guerrillas took up arms in an effort to overthrow the monarchy and change the nation’s political and social life. Although the United States declared the revolutionaries to be terrorists, the Carter Center agreed to help mediate among the three major factions: the royal family, the old-line political parties and the Maoists.
In 2006, six months after the oppressive monarch was stripped of his powers, a cease-fire was signed. Maoist combatants laid down their arms and Nepalese troops agreed to remain in their barracks. Our center continued its involvement and nations — though not the United States — and international organizations began working with all parties to reconcile the dispute and organize elections.
The Maoists are succeeding in achieving their major goals: abolishing the monarchy, establishing a democratic republic and ending discrimination against untouchables and others whose citizenship rights were historically abridged. After a surprising victory in the April 10 election, Maoists will play a major role in writing a constitution and governing for about two years. To the United States, they are still terrorists.

Then there was a very long and perceptive interview in The Hindu with Prachanda. It touched upon many issues but I think what is important for us, who have to deal with Maoists in our own surroundings, is how they could influence the Indian Maoists. In fact former RAW chief Hormis Tharakan, an able Malayalee officer, wrote the other day that they might influence the Indian Maoists to take to a new line, of joining the mainstream politics. Sitaram Yechuri, CPM politburo member, who had played a key role in the Nepal’s recent developments as an emissary between Maoists and the mainstream parties there, also had written an article that the Nepal Maoists should be an example to their Indian comrades.

This is what Prachanda told The Hindu:
I do feel that what we are doing will send a strong message not only to Indian Maoists but Maoists worldwide – about how the Nepali Maoists have gone from bullet to ballot, how they have influenced and won the hearts and minds of the Nepali people, and how they have come to the position of leading the government and building a new constitution. This will be the subject of very big debate, and this will have a positive impact on Maoists everywhere because we have not betrayed our basic theory, we have developed it based on the changed situation in the world, and tried to move ahead on that basis. For example, even when the Peoples War was going on, we concluded that multiparty competition is a must even in socialism. Not only in the phase of democratic revolution but also in the phase of socialism, if multiparty competition is not there then a vibrant society will not be possible. This is the conclusion we have drawn from the great revolutions and counter-revolutions of the 20th century. And on the basis of those conclusions we are moving forward. So I feel that for the Indian Maoist party, its leaders and cadres, these efforts of ours provide some new material to study, to think about and go ahead in a new way. Our efforts provide a reference point.

I had occasion to go into detailed discussions with many friends on the future of Nepal. One of my friends, John Samuel, who has been travelling to this country and has wide contacts there, gave an account of how he views the new Nepal:

He writes:
The emergence of Maoists has something to do with the systemic discrimination against Dalits, abject poverty and unequal distribution of land. The Kathmandu clique (consisting of Royalists, few well known Brahmin families, the middle class elites) managed to marginalize ethnic minorities as well as the poor from rural Nepal. CPN (UML) too more or less got co-opted in to the Kathmandu elite. Maoists partly emerged as a reaction to these entrenched power equations.

However, the leadership of Maoists too are a part of the upper caste (Brahmins, Nevaries, etc), middle class and many of them studied in Delhi (Baburam Bhattarai did his Ph D from JNU.) So on the one hand, the upper-caste, middle class revolutionaries knew the language of the establishment; but at the same time, they also lived with the poor people and learned their language too. During various phases of the Maoist insurgency, many among the Maoist leaders were very much in India and Delhi. During the royalist take over, many of the top leaders of Maoists used to meet political leadership in Delhi. Their coming to mainstream was only a question of time. Baburam is more close to CPM and there used to be a few of their representatives in Delhi to connect with others.

Once I was in Edinburgh organizing a big rally (in 2005) challenging the G8, asking them to deliver on debt cancellation, etc. During the course of my stay there, I found a very interesting Socialist Book Centre as part of the bookstalls at the meeting venue. I realized that there were Maoists from Andhra, Bihar and Nepal organizing this. It appears that there are direct links between Maoists across South Asia and many of them consider CPM to be in the enemy camp.

Nepal Maoists have got rather an opportunistic and tactical links with CPM and India. On the ground there is a widespread anti-India rhetoric as well as sentiments. During the last Madhesi uprising in the Therai, many thought it is a section of the Indian Establishment in connivance with the Royalists that created the trouble. It is another thing Madhesis (closer to UP) had been sort of marginalized in the Kathmandu power clique. It is also true that a faction of VHP and RSS did promote the unrest (along with the breakaway factions of Maoists). But it is not clear whether it was a part of the Government of India policy. India has one of the biggest foreign policy establishments in Nepal. And usually there is a sort of love-hate relationship with India.

I was in Kathmandu recently. I was surprised by many factors. 1) Personification of a Maoist Movement- I have seen huge hoardings declaring Prachanda as the Future President of Republic of Nepal; 2) The style of campaigning, advertising and many other factors looked like a very uneasy mix of ‘Congress style’ of campaign in India, with a bit of CPM cadre methods and also a bit of Maoist violence. So it looked like that Maoists have got in to the mainstream with amazing speed, opening trade unions here and there and every where. Of course, there are corporate connections and funding too (and a few Indian businessmen have all of a sudden become pro-Maoists!)

One has to wait and see where Prachanda would take Nepal. There is ambivalence here, given some of his style and the manner of his working. The good thing is, there is indeed a deep sense of democratization in Nepal. And there seems to be a complete disenchantment and even anger with the present Royalists and an overwhelming approval for the Republic.

There is a big difference between the leadership of Maoists in Nepal and the present leadership of Maoist outfits in India. The leadership of Maoists in Nepal consist of well meaning ‘comrades’ from the upper caste and middle class background from the ‘mainstream’- very similar to the earlier Communist leaders in India. They are educated, practical as well as with middle class aspirations for power (though no one will admit it). The leadership of Maoist outfits in India is less from the ‘mainstream’ background. There is less of ideological conviction or even ideological commitment.

(Cartoon courtesy: Sudheernath, New Delhi.)

1 comment:

radical royalist said...

I acknowledge, the Maoists have won the Nepalese elections by winning 220 seats out of 601 by securing 36.6 pc of the votes. That's a victory, but hardly an overal majority. On the other hand opinion polls show that more than half of the Nepalese people want to retain the Monarchy. Why not let the people decide on this question? Give the people a say in this matter.