Nation Special

Wilson Gnanadass in Nepal
In Nepal, the internal conflict started a decade ago in 1996. It began from a small pocket in the Western region of Nepal, but soon spread to almost all the districts. Each day men, women and even children were abducted and killed, though its intensity has declined after Jana Andolan II.

As a result of the conflict, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced from rural to urban areas and also to the district headquarters. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to migrate to the region across the Nepal-India border, or to various third world countries to avoid the atrocities of the warring factions.

As a result of the prolonged war, many homes have become female-headed, its inmates living an abject, isolated life.
The conflict started with a class struggle, but today it has been transformed into an ethnic conflict, with nearly 18 different militant groups threatening to paralyse the entire country.

However the main struggle seems to be between the government and the Maoists. The struggle has been going on for almost a decade, placing severe social, economic and political stress on the country as a whole. Reports indicate that nearly 1,200 people have been killed, and several thousands more injured during the conflict between the Maoists and the government forces.
The country has been without local government bodies since 2001 and without a parliament since 2002. On February 1, 2005 the king took executive authority in his hands promising to restore democracy within three years. But this did not happen.

Annoyed by his despotic behaviour, the Maoists demanded that the monarchy be abolished and replaced by a republic.
The conflict thus remains unabated. The Communist Party of Nepal - Maoists (CPN –Maoist) who were part of the government, have withdrawn support, but hold on to their 83 parliamentary seats. There is a ceasefire agreement between both the government and the Maoists, but both sides continue to violate it.

Who are Maoist rebels?
One wonders how the rebels managed to transform themselves from a small group of shotgun-wielding insurgents in 1996 to the formidable fighting force they are today.
Of the 75 districts in Nepal, it is believed the Maoists have mass support in 72 districts. That means they are able to cause mayhem in the entire nation as and when they wish. Many who are active in the movement are the ones who played a major role in the mainstream politics one time. History reveals that although they took part in the first parliamentary elections, the plight of the rural poor prompted them to take up arms. It is also believed that the two rebel leaders, Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai were inspired by Peru’s ‘Shining Path rebels’ objective of destroying government institutions and replacing them with a revolutionary peasant regime.

The Maoists announced a ‘Peoples War’ on February 13, 1996 with the slogan, “let us march ahead on the path of struggle towards establishing the peoples’ rule by wreaking the reactionary ruling system of state.” They believed in the philosophy of Mao Tsetung, that political power grew out of the barrel of a gun , while drawing inspiration from the ‘Revolutionary Internationalist Movement’ and Peru’s left wing extremist guerilla movement, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

Visit to a rebel camp
A visit undertaken by a group of senior Sri Lankan journalists to one of the cantonments of the Maoists was the highlight of our tour to Nepal. The visit was organised by the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.
Under the present peace agreement between the Maoists and the government, around 30,000 Maoist fighters are confined to seven main cantonments and nearly 21 satellite cantonments. Each site is monitored and supervised by special UN monitors, where the Maoists’ weapons are stored. According to the ceasefire agreement, the UN and the Maoists have a key each to the Maoists’ armoury where weapons are preserved. One such cantonment is situated in Nawalparasi, about 150 kilometers South of Kathmandu.

The trip to Nawalparasi though arduous, was fascinating. The journey constantly reminded the Sri Lankan journalists that we were indeed in the land of Mt. Everest and the mighty Himalayas.
Travelling along huge mountains and sometimes narrow roads, the conducive geological and climatic conditions made the journey easy for the visiting journalists. At the entrance to the camp, the journalists were greeted by an injured (disabled) Maoist soldier, wearing a camouflage bottom. He had lost part of his right arm (from the wrist down ward) during a conflict.

Carefully taking down details of all the visitors, he escorted the visitors to the cantonment. The path to the camp was narrow and rugged. At one point the vehicle which carried us had to cross a partly dried river.

On nearing the site, our first sight was the rebels’ hospital. The walls and the roof were made of Takarang sheet. The driver was escorted to the main gate. In keeping with Mao Tsetung’s philosophy that political power grew out of the barrel of a gun, we were greeted at the gate, by two guns pointing in our direction. The two soldiers, dressed in khaki uniform, who were wielding those weapons on either side of the main gate, did not appear to be above 16 years.Inside the camp there were several houses built for the soldiers and their families. It appeared to be more like an open prison. Soldiers, both men and women, walked freely in their uniforms sans their weapons. Some were in civil clothes.

Meeting the rebel leader
The journalists were escorted to a tiny room that had no electricity. The room was big enough to house only the journalists. Nevertheless, the wait for the arrival of the rebel leader took a long time. After about half an hour, we were told that the military commander had finally arrived. Contrary to what we had expected the commander to look like, there appeared a boyish looking Pratiksha (34) followed by his deputy Modan. Pratiksha’s wife incidentally, had been killed during one of the battles with the government forces.

Unperturbed by the sight of us foreign journalists, he answered all our questions calmly and with a smile, after carefully considering each question. Though appeared to be down to earth in his manner, his answers nevertheless reflected his inner strength and strong will. At no time was he willing to compromise on the Maoists demands to hold the election based on Proportional Representation.

He revealed that 160 newly born babies were living in his camp, and that the government paid each soldier Rs. 60 (Nepali rupees) per day. In addition the government pledged to pay Rs. 3000 on a monthly basis, but to date, this promise had not been fulfilled. The main camp was established in October 2006 and provided shelter for nearly 5,000 cadres. He said some 30 to 40 nurses trained by the Maoists were available to those requiring medical treatment in the camp. According to him there were trained medical doctors as well, within the camp providing treatment for the inmates. Additionally, government doctors also paid visits to the camp.

He stressed that their sacrifice was to give the future generation a better tomorrow. “This is why we are fighting. We do not believe in war. We want a political solution. We know war destroys more and more people. But we have no option since the government is not adhering to its promises”, he pointed out. He accused the government of violating all the norms that resulted in the Maoists withdrawing their support. He said it was originally decided to hold the election in June this year, but the government had postponed it. He thus emphasised that the government must adhere to the demands of the Maoists to hold the election under the PR system. Pratiksha further admitted that if the elections were held under a mix system of ‘first past the post’ and PR, the Maoists would not have much representation. “This is why we are asking the government to consider our appeal,” he said.

He said the Maoists agreed to contest the election under a mix system in June, because they did not want to block the democratic process in the country. He said if the government had held the election as scheduled in June, the Maoists could have obtained more seats. “But now it is too late for us,” he said.

Back in Kathmandu, Pratiksha’s views were rejected by almost all. The ruling Nepali Congress charged that the Maoists feared a humiliating defeat and therefore were playing a ‘game’ - trying to shift the goal posts after the game started.

Sujatha’s views
Sujatha Koirala, daughter of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is an appointed member of parliament. She has visited Sri Lanka many times.
She was of the view that the Maoists were strategically moving upward to capture power. She pointed out that the Maoists were tactically planning to take control of the city areas. She believed that if the Maoists and the Nepal army were merged then there could be a coup.
“We are very carefully handling the Maoists. First they said their enemy was the king. Now they are saying their enemy is the army. All what they want is to capture power,” she said. She indicated that the government was ready to take the Maoists by their horns and teach them many lessons. “We have been too flexible. We gave almost everything what they wanted. We are not going to do this for ever,” she warned.

Stalemate continues
Thus Nepal’s struggle to maintain democracy continues. The struggle has already reached several dimensions. If serious thought is not given forthwith, it would be too late for both the government and the Maoists to see light at the end of the tunnel. Already both parties have begun to trade charges against each other – a thing very common in Sri Lanka. This attitude certainly would give rise to hatred, animosity and further divisions.
Already it is clear there is mistrust between both warring factions: but the positive feature is that both are willing to see that the monarchy is abolished and a republic announced.
When both parties have common interests,( unlike the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE), it should not be too difficult for them to resolve their problems.
Petty reasons and personal causes should not be in the way to disrupt the life of the ordinary people.