Nepal in Twilight

The attraction for communism has faded to zero globally, but strangely the plague of Maoism is blighting Nepal and has for the last decade. The Maoist terror in Nepal presents a grave cause for alarm. In order for Nepal to save herself from a red terror, it is important for Nepali people to understand the devastation and suffering in countries that practiced communist dictatorship. In contemporary Nepal, however, moderate communists have always been central players trying to achieve power through democratic processes. They call themselves communists but follow moderate socialist policies. More importantly, they shun violence as a political weapon and can coexist as partners in democracy.

The rise of the Maoists with their blind devotion to violent insurgency poses the most serious challenge to Nepal. If even China discards Maoism, how is it going to help Nepal? If communism has failed everywhere, how can it succeed in Nepal? Only the worst of worse case scenarios will materialize for Nepal if the Maoists are ever to succeed. In this ongoing struggle are pitted the democratic forces plus the Monarchy versus an ill assorted gang of Maoists. Only five years ago the Maoist threat seemed unreal and faraway. Despite a series of incompetent governments and chronic instabilities, Maoists were marginal feature on the political canvas of Nepal. Some press and intelligentsia saw in the Maoist uprising an expression of undercurrents of neglected and deprived communities of remote villages.

Through their wanton destruction of development infrastructure and physical elimination of opposition, Maoists show the same tendnecy to barbarism that befell Cambodia in the seventies. They even dream of reviving the corpse of communism on a world stage. At the core of Maoist leadership is a blind fanaticism that Nepal can copy Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s success. The closest inspirations of Nepal’s Maoist guerilla are Peru’s Scendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and some Maoist outfits in India.

The army of Nepal made a fatal mistake to swing into action only long after the Maoist insurgency started. They were already formidable militarily. The police forces of Nepal were no match to the bands of Maoist guerrillas. The damage is so devastating for the government of Nepal that the entire outcome of this war is uncertain although the world powers, in the current balance of forces, will probably not let Nepal fall into the control of treacherous and murderous Maoists.

The people of Nepal find themselves divided after the royal takeover of Nepal on February 1, 2005. Some see in it a return of the absolute monarchy. Others, exhausted by the never ending violence, want the king to succeed in bringing normalcy to the country. The king is both feared and supported at the same time. Is the fear of king justified? It is based on an unfounded accusation that he wants to discredit the political parties to shore up support for his direct rule. He might concentrate some power in his hand temporarily but his hands are not free. He has to compromise with the political parties to play a meaningful role and even to save the institution. The future of monarchy depends on the return to a functional democracy.

I believe Nepal’s King can restore some semblance of order. But he has to show concrete results soon. Although a succession of democratic governments during the last decade and half have been reviled for their corruption, the Nepali people will not put up with direct royal rule unless the King defeats the Maoists and then hands over power to the elected civilian government. One of the most fundamental covenants of any government is to protect life and property of its citizen. In democracy the guiding spirit is the rule of law. In Nepal Maoist kill their opponents. The terror is so compelling and lethal that, only in the capital city of Katmandu and some urban centers, people are relatively safe. Only here opposition against the Maoists can be heard. While large numbers of people, fleeing Maoist atrocities, live as internal refugees in Katmandu, it is also a hot bed of anti-king activities. Political parties accuse the king of evil intentions and of wanting to be a despot, while they fail to see through the designs of Maoists. The relevance of democratic parties will be better demonstrated when the object of wrath and venom is not only the king but the Maoists who talk of violent revolution.

If Nepal were a functioning democracy, the King’s take-over tof he government would have been unthinkable. But in a calamitous circumstance of Nepal where Maoist atrocity and killing has risen dangerously, the most important priority is the restoration of peace and normalcy. Who can restore the peace by defeating Maoists or through other means? As of now, parliamentary forces have failed to understand and forge a common front against the Maoist terror. If king is looked upon as a redeeming figure, it is because the options before Nepal are limited. Parliament is defunct, its normal duration expired. While the importance of parliament and legitimate government can not be minimized, more importantly we need a government that has the will to crush the Maoist terror. The future of Nepal will be shaped effectively by how resolutely King responds to this internal convulsion. The king has limited alternatives other than to crush the backbone of the Maoist uprising and save Nepal along with the institution of monarchy.

I was a democracy activist and spent time behind bar. All my family members suffered when there was absolute monarchy calling all the shots in Nepal through the sham democracy of Panchayat in the years from 1960 to 19990. Growing up in Nepal ruled by an all powerful monarchy, I fought for the restoration of parliamentary democracy and understand the importance of freedom. In the last three years, we hear some grumbling of republican sentiment also from the non-Maoist camp. How Nepal will fare without the constitutional monarchy is a question which needs to be pondered dispassionately. The likely scenario in the absence of monarchy is not a peaceful democratic country but Nepal joining the ranks of Afghanistan and Cambodia after the overthrow of the monarchy. In Nepal monarchy is an important bulwark against further chaos and anarchy.

For Nepal, the best way forward is constitutional monarchy. The coming of republic must come through peaceful revolution or evolution in future. The situation is not favorable for the king to become a despot. I don’t distrust the king when he declares himself for the constitutional monarchy. There is no indication that he means otherwise. In time of crisis when there is no elected government and elections can’t be held, he can rightly take steps necessary to crush the terrorists. The stakes for him are high. Never before in the history of Nepal has the monarchy faced such a perilous threat to its existence. The king of Nepal has put his kingship in the line of fire. This historical crisis calls for the boldest action on the part of king. He should understand that Maoist strategy to sit for dialogue has only been a propaganda ploy; it is only likely to strengthen them. When they speak of compromise by peaceful dialogue, it misleads the public and is not going to happen..

If the civilian government of Nepal has acted in a no-nonsense manner against the scourge of Maoists in the early days, they would not have succeeded in pushing the country to the abyss. Rounds of negotiations were held between Nepalese government and Maoists. The upshot was a temporary lull in hostility, then its dramatic collapse and exacerbation in violence. A one-to-one fight is not going to give the army of Nepal a clear and decisive edge. The moral of the Maoist cadres is high; they sense an imminent victory. Political parties are divided. By failing to make a common stand against the Maoists, they are only emboldening the Maoists to be even more ruthless and cruel. The division among democratic forces and lack of clarity vs. the Maoists makes them incapable of rising to the challenges of the Maoist terror. Furthermore, the Maoists have physically trampled upon their opposition in the large rural area of Nepal.

The propaganda line that the Maoists will give up violence if a constitutional assembly is agreed to is delusive. How can a group which wages violent insurgency against a peaceful democratic country and tear it apart can be arbiter of the constitution? They have committed terrible crimes in the course of their violent campaign. How can they be protectors of human rights and democracy? What will Nepal say to the victims, the 11,000 dead? Meanwhile, let us not forget that there are reports of excesses committed by the army of Nepal. But then, who started the cycle of violence, the Maoists or the government of Nepal? It would be injust to put them both on the same footing. The Maoists had all the peaceful avenues before them to bring about social transformation. Their weapons of choice are violence and terror.

There is war fatigue in Nepal. The conflict has been costly. Peace-at-any-cost sentiments propounded by people in Nepal and aided by parties like Nepali Congress and UML Communists will only play into the hand of the Maoists. The Maoist strategy is either to take over Nepal through military victory to dictate peace at its own terms. The suspicion that King is out to put an end to Nepal’s democratic experiment in the name of fighting the Maoist and Maoists have faith in a democratic give-and-take is a lie.

Nepal in the year 2005 is not as backward as in1960 when it had the misfortune to groan for thirty years under the dictatorship imposed by the late king Mahendra, father of the present king. In the early post World War II years there was a strong natural temptation for the newly emerging poor countries to fall under the spell of totalitarianisms of different colors allegedly to expedite economic progress. The memory of that era still causes deep suspicion of the king in Nepal, while the credibility of the political parties has also taken a serious beating for bad governance, instability and corruption.. Nevertheless, the most important challenge for Nepal is to defeat the Maoist insurgency.

Very much critically depends on how the active monarchy in Nepal after February 1,2005 deals with this crisis.

Even though the democratic governments in post-1990 Nepal have dismal records, the longing for free society and democracy runs deep among the Nepalese people. The king, in spite of his intellectual shortcomings, is perfectly capable of understanding this changed world circumstance. Only in the consolidation of democracy has the Monarchy a long term future. From his announcement it appears that he harbors no illusion of ruling Nepal by undermining the democratic aspiration of Nepali people. He is not trying to act as he he was another Musharaff of Pakistan.

There is an element of miracle in this drama. On the fateful night of June 1, 2001, the present king Gyanendra, still a prince, was absent by the luckiest coincidence from the family gatherings which turned into the carnage of Nepali royals at the hand of crown prince Dipendra. Perhaps destiny kindly intervened to save Gyanendra. Latest in the long line of succession of the Shah dynasty he ascended the throne amid the most somber tragedy. While an infant he was crowned the monarch by the beleaguered Rana regime for a few months when the reigning king Tribhuvan was still alive and fugitive in India. His kingship was short-lived and could not survive the fall of Rana oligarchy and he found himself crowned again only after 52 years. A man saved by the mysterious providence, he should devote his rule to liberate Nepal from this darkness of the Maoist terror.

BHISHMA KARKI was born in eastern Nepal, was imprisoned for his pro-democracy activities and now lives in Lawrence, Kansas. He can be reached at: