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More Mao Than Thou: What the Hell Is Happening in Nepal?
Posted on Sep 1, 2010
By Reese Erlich
Another Maoist guerrilla leader elaborated. “There is zero chance of returning to guerrilla war,” he told me. “But there may be general strikes and other unarmed popular uprisings.”
That constitutes such a deviation from Maoist dogma that Avakian and some others in the international Maoist movement denounce the Nepalese as reformists. “Avakian hates us,” chuckled Pasang, who didn’t seem too worried.
The Maoists demand full integration of the two armies from the officer corps to enlisted personnel. That would radically reshape the army, of course.
The army argues it will accept only individual recruits. “There is no point imposing that kind of unnecessary restriction on this army,” Brig. Gen. Ramindra Chhetri told me.
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Another major disagreement is on writing the new constitution. The Maoists said they want genuine democracy.
The Maoists no longer believe in a one-party state as existed in the Soviet Union or China, according to Pasang. Instead, Nepal would have direct, popular elections for president and a bicameral legislature. Other “anti-imperialist” parties could run in those elections.
“If another party won fair elections for president or won a majority in the legislatures, the other party would rule and the UCPN (Maoist) would run in future elections,” according to the guerrilla leader I interviewed.
The Maoists continue to advocate socialism but are quite vague when it comes to describing what kind of socialism. Pasang casually mentioned the economic reforms in China, but refused to offer any examples of successful socialism operating in the world today.
Accepting the idea of genuine competing parties is a radical shift from Maoist dogma. But what the Maoists see as new thinking, the opposition sees as communist dictatorship. After all, they argue, who gets to determine who is an “anti-imperialist” party?
Magazine editor and political analyst Kanak Dixit cited as evidence the Maoist draft constitution submitted to the Constituent Assembly.
“It’s a draft constitution for a People’s Republic of Nepal,” he told me. “The judiciary is kept under control of the legislature. Press freedom is curtailed if you go against nationalism.”
Other analysts said the Maoists have put forward demands but will compromise later on. Jha said the Maoists have already made tremendous changes and “are slowly becoming entrenched in the established political culture of the country.”
Nepal holds important lessons for resolving guerrilla insurgencies whether in Palestine, India or Colombia. Those in power always denounce insurgents as terrorists. But those rulers are really worried about losing economic and political control. The real question is: What kind of society would the insurgents build and can they do it with majority support?
In the case of Nepal, the Maoists have not yet put forward realistic plans for radical economic and political change that will sustain popular support. They have broken with some of their past dogma but are held back by the rest.
Will Nepal break the stranglehold of military and corrupt party rule? Can the Maoists win popular support through fair elections and establishment of democratic institutions?
Stay tuned. The next year may provide the answers.
Foreign correspondent Reese Erlich recently reported from Nepal. His new book, “Conversations With Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire,” comes out Sept. 14. See reeseerlich.com.
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