The People's War?

By Santina, Peter | Harvard International Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The People's War?


Santina, Peter, Harvard International Review


The Resurgence of Maoism in Nepal

February 13, 1996, marked the symbolic beginning of the People's War of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). On that day, activists and sympathizers gathered outside a government office that made loans to poor peasants and proceeded to confiscate and burn the loan papers. The insurgents later ransacked and occupied three police outposts, burned a foreign-owned bottling plant, and bombed a liquor factory. As the guerrilla campaign developed, the CPN-M attacked more police stations, captured more arms, and brought greater attention to their revolution. Beyond these military exploits, social relations also began to change in the countryside. In some places, peasants publicly criticized large landowners, women denounced male domination, and people who had read very little their entire lives began to read books given to them by party activists.

"Thousands and thousands of mass organizations were built up, and in new areas the party's influence spread and new organizations developed," said the CPN-M chairman, known as Prachanda. "The people were not only fighting with the police or reactionary, feudal agents, but they were also breaking the feudal chains of exploitation and oppression, and a whole cultural revolution was going on among the people." This statement cuts to the ideological heart of the movement, which is what, more than its mere opposition to the historically oppressive and elitist government, makes the CPN-M a fascinating and significant anachronism in the post-Cold War world.

The Birth of a Rebellion

There has been a tremendous amount of bloodshed since 1996; most observers estimate that at least 1,500 people have been killed in the war. According to the police, 35 of the country's 75 districts are "moderately to severely" affected by the rebellion. There are four districts in the mid-western area where the police and government have essentially no control.

The response of the Nepali government to the conflict has often been brutal because the Maoists are considered an internal security problem, not a political problem. Rather than simply a party of intellectuals as it was just four years ago, the GPN-M has now developed a popular base, and poses a serious threat to the Nepali government. In 1999, the government launched the "Kilo Sierra Two" operation in an attempt to crush the guerrillas militarily. During that operation, many peasants were killed, helicopters tracked down rebels in the countryside, and government agents raided some newspapers and censored or banned other publications. Yet the rebels survived and have even gained ground in the year following the operation.

Since then, the Nepali government has come under increasing scrutiny from the international community for human-rights abuses. Asiaweek reported that the reaction of the police to the CPN-M has taken the form of "summary round-ups and executions of suspects and a curious absence of wounded Maoists after clashes." For over a year following "Kilo Sierra Two," the government response to the guerrillas was in the hands of local police. "Previous operations such as the one code-named 'Kilo Sierra Two' last year cost [the government] local support," added The Nepali Times. "Even party politicians in Kathmandu are unwilling to stick their necks out in support."

But in October 2000, the guerrillas successfully attacked the Dunbai district headquarters, defeating the police and stealing 35 million rupees from a bank. The minor crisis was enough for Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to mobilize the military in an attempt to control the rebels. This move was not supported by many opposition parties and even members of Koirala's own Nepali Congress Party (NCP), who felt that peace talks should proceed first. "As I look at the Maoist problem I link it essentially with the socioeconomic phenomenon," said Yadav Kant Silwal, the former foreign secretary; "I do not equate it with other security issues. …

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