Kathmandu Rises Up

The Nepali revolution of Spring 2006 was a formidable show of a true people's movement. The strength of the Nepali civil society was apparent in the outpouring of a massive number of diverse peoples, with a strong contingent of youth onto the streets. Today, for the first time in Nepali history, there exists a possibility of a new constitutional parliament and Nepal is finally a secular nation. The palace has lost its power and the political parties have perhaps realized their fundamental role to serve the people rather than their own interests.

The face of the revolution was young but more significantly, the Kathmandu elite took to the streets. The image of middle-aged women in saris, to spiky haired youth, to old-school political activists created a much different collage than that of the young rural Maoist revolutionaries clutching their guns in the countryside.

The US recently applauded the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) on its democratic achievements while scolding the Maoists to disarm and enter the political arena so as to not establish a single-party system in Nepal (while the US supported until recently the autocratic Monarchy). The political parties have urged the rebels to restore the cease-fire in order to move forward with the peace process. However, the Maoists are holding strong at the bargaining table, as the cease-fire deal rests on a vulnerable stand. The Maoists have threatened to end it until the language in the new constitution reflects their demand of completely stripping the Monarchy of power and honor.

A true analysis of Nepal's people's democratic revolution needs to be situated in a complex history of Nepali politics. As much as the analysis of the recent accomplishments are being characterized as an organic upsurge of the people, the fact remains that Nepali politics of the last ten years were critical for the civil society to erupt in the way it did.

Firstly, Nepali history has had many bloody palace back stabbings and takeovers. The western media packaged the June 2001 massacre as a story from the old world Himalayan kingdom with protagonist royal brothers, evil queens and deranged princes. But if one is to read Nepali history, the 2001 massacre only follows a foundation of autocracy and fascism in the royal palace. Nepal's autocratic history, like other poor South Asian nations, has been upheld by the regional powers that see the poor nations in the region as nothing more than their playpens. The support of the palace by India and China (and subsequently the US in recent years) has been critical to Nepal's failed development since the two royal lineages in Kathmandu (the Shahs and the Ranas) have controlled most of the country's operations and in the process built their own familial wealth.

The powerful people's movement of today arises from a disturbed political context in Nepal which had been incubating for more than a decade. The 1990 revolution was a milestone for people to realize the power of a mass movement. However, critical mistakes of the leaders of 1990 uprising allowed the current king to dissolve the parliament and maintain control over the army, but it also created a highly polarized political situation in the country at a time when the political parties were splintered. While the mainstream politics were tangled into a tight knot of deceit and corruption, the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist (CPN-Maoist) organized the poor in the countryside who until then were invisible in Kathmandu politics. The CPN- Maoist in 1996 took it a step further and led an armed insurgency in the countryside.

Like all armed movements, Nepal's poor people's revolution has not been without contradictions and mistakes. Thousands of innocent people have sacrificed their lives, and thousands more have been caught in the middle. Violence, fear, extortions, detentions, mass killings, rape and murder are part of the vocabulary of the insurgency. Both the Nepali state and the Maoists are guilty of mistakes with both sides having used the poor as pawns.

However, the political ramifications of the communist movement in the countryside must be acknowledged as a major catalyst for the Kathmandu uprising. Specifically, the12 Point Agreement between the Maoists and the SPA has set the political language and terrain in Nepal. One of the primary demands of the Agreement was the end to the constitutional monarchy and to define Nepal as a secular nation. The rebels have successfully instigated numerous general strikes, creating a precedence of mass organizing in Kathmandu. All of which were essential in organizing millions to keep filling up the streets, and seeing possibilities to enter the royal palace.

Until the spring revolution, the city and the country had been experiencing a political face-off: on one hand there was the borderline fascistic antics of the monarchy, while on the other, idealistic (but perhaps not sustainable) strength of the countryside rebellion. This created opportune moments and ripe elements for the political parties to organize, propelling the civil society to realize they had nothing to lose but their chains and make history. The Kathmandu elite ideologically disagreed with the Maoist revolution, but saw the need for a radical change in the country. A severe dichotomy existed in the country, it was either follow the path of radical change or continue to be silenced by the Palace.

Nepal's splintered identity, perhaps for the first time in history, was united on a sense of urgency and people from all walks of life chose change rather than docility. And most importantly, the mass media, locally and internationally, supported the people. This was instrumental in sustaining the huge numbers of people on the street. Despite the Monarchy's attempt to cut off telephone lines, people organized by sending mass text messages. It was truly twenty-first century organizing.

Today, Kathmandu is calm again and there is a sense of real possibilities. A new constitution will be written, and already the old language of Nepal's identity is being discarded. The army is no longer royalty, and Hinduism has finally been abandoned as a source of governance. But the question now is how will Nepal engage with the newly founded democratic government? The foreign aid community is ecstatic that the political parties have joined the rest of the "free" world. How will the political parties, who are not only up against the forces of contemporary democratic governance but are also pressured by communist ideologies of the Maoists, juggle the two contradictory forces? What will Nepal's economic policy look like when both India and China are awaiting with their arms crossed to get the green light to continue invading the local economy? Fundamentally, what remains to be seen is how the SPA will hold up to the free market while bowing to the reigns of the Prachanda Path.


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