The historic initiation of people’s war in Nepal on February 13, 1996, was an epoch – making event in the history of the country and was hailed as having significant implications internationally as well by the revolutionary forces the world over. On the occasion of the first anniversary of this historic event, it would be appropriate to make a brief review of the whole process of class struggle in the country leading to this people’s war, experiences of one year of the war, and its multifarious implications, lessons and future perspective.
The Objective Conditions
Nepal is a semi-feudal & semi-colonial country, as nearly ninety percent of the population is engaged in backward agriculture (with only ten percent of urban population!) and the country is fettered by various semi-colonial unequal treaties with foreign powers (particularly India). The present centralised state was founded two and a quarter century ago under the leadership of a feudal chieftain of Indo-Aryan stock (Prithvi Narayan Shah, the forefather of the present king) by subjugating different tribal states mostly inhabited by the Tibeto-Burman (or Mongoloid) and Austro-Dravidian stocks. Since 1816 the country was absorbed into a semi-colonial bondage with the then British-lndia (though it was never colonised by any foreign power) and since 1950 into semi-colonial relations with ‘free’ India and neocolonial relations with a number of other imperialist powers.
As bureaucratic capitalism has been growing steadily within the wombs of feudalism over the years the external form of the reactionary state has undergone several changes to the present constitutional monarchial multi-party parliamentary system since 1990 but retaining the essential hegemony of the feudal and comprador & bureaucratic capitalist classes. Hence the society and state are constantly beset with a set of irreconcilable contradictions in class, national & regional terms that have given rise to a cycle of crisis one after the other.
Currently this crisis is manifest in different forms and is seen getting more acute every passing day. Total stagnation of society and absolute low level of productive forces is reflected in a mere 180 U.S. dollar per capita of GDP (second lowest in the world !), a pathetic 1.25 percent of labour force engagement in industry, 71 percent of population below absolute poverty line, 60 percent of illiteracy rate, etc. Amidst this low level of social development the extremely high degree of class polarisation and inequality is marked by 10 percent of landlords & rich peasants owning 65 percent of cultivable land against 65 percent of poor peasants owning a mere 10 percent of the land, the richest 10 percent of the society gobbling up 46.5 percent of national income, etc. Similarly, whereas even according to the IMF standards a country’s position is regarded as ‘critical’ when its foreign debt is more than 200-250 percent of its export trade or its debt servicing exceeds 20 percent of its export trade, in the case of Nepal the respective figures had exceeded 600 percent and 35 percent in 1994/95 and they are rising further every passing year. This is an unmistakable sign of crisis engendered by imperialist/expansionist domination and attendantly burgeoning bureaucratic capitalism. Thus it is no doubt that the contradiction of the general masses of the people with feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism assume primacy in the social dynamics of Nepal.
Moreover ever since the days of formation of the centralised state more than a dozen nationalities mostly of the Mongoloid and Austric races (e.g. Magar, Tamang, Tharu, Newar, Gurung, Rai, Limbu, Danuwar, Sherpa, Sunuwar, Rajbansi, etc.), who constitute a combined majority of the total population, have been subjected to political, economic and cultural domination by the ruling Arya-Khas nationality. In recent years the contradictions of the state with the oppressed nationalities have sharpened further. Together with this, as a result of the dynamics of polarised development inherent in bureaucratic capitalism vast mountainous regions and remote areas (eg. the Karnali region in Western Nepal) have been turned into sorts of ‘internal colonies’ of the centralised state. This process of regional uneven and unequal development is giving rise to sharp regional contradictions in the country.
The reactionary state has been increasingly failing to manage these multifarious class, national and regional contradictions within the ambits of its old structure. Rather the state itself has been progressively sliding into deeper crisis as manifest in the ‘hung’ parliament, frequent change of governments, pervading environment of instability and increasing recourse to naked fascist measures against the people. This calls for and provides an apt objective basis for the New Democratic restructuration of the society & state through revolutionary means.
The Subjective Factor
These objective conditions for the revolutionary transformations of the society and state had been generally prevailing for quite a long time. What was essentially lacking was the conscious subjective efforts of the vanguard Party of the proletariat. Though the peasant masses and isolated revolutionary individuals had at times spontaneously revolted against the exploitation & oppression by the feudal rulers, it could not have led into any meaningful revolutionary change in the absence of an organised leadership of the most advanced class of the society. Particularly there was strong anti-colonial and patriotic sentiment against the Britishers amongst the people, as the brave Gorkha fighters had never reconciled with their defeat against the British colonialists leading to the ignominous semi-colonial treaty of 1816. But there was no effective leadership to channelise that sentiment.
The founding of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) in 1949 paved the way for generating such a leadership for an anti-feudal and anti-imperialist New Democratic revolution in the country. But the Party leadership that was stuck in the quagmire of one or the other form of reformism miserably failed to chart out the basic path of the revolution, not to speak of leading the masses in a people’s war. Consequently the occasional spontaneous armed revolts of the masses or small breakaway factions could not be sustained for long and the first four decades of the communist movement in the country were frittered away in mere squabbles over inconsequential issues.
Only the Unity Congress held in December, 1991 of the then reconstituted CPN (Unity Centre), which was later rechristened as CPN (Maoist), adopted for the first time a clear-cut political line of protracted people’s war for carrying out the New Democratic revolution in the country with a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideological perspective. However, when the question of implementation of the political line within the party came up there ensued a vicious two line struggle against a right liquidationist clique, which was finally defeated and expelled from the Party in May 1994. After the consolidation of the Party along the revolutionary line, the Third Central Plenum of the Party held in March 1995 chalked out a detailed politico-military policy and programme outlining the strategy 8 tactics of people’s war in the country (see, “Strategy & Tactics of Armed Struggle in Nepal” in this volume) and made a final decision to launch the war. This was followed by six months of hectic preparations primarily to remould the old organisational structure into a fighting machine. Then a Central Committee meeting of the Party held in September, 1995 adopted the “Plan for the Historical Initiation of the People’s War”, which defined the theoretical basis & goal of the war and formulated detailed plan and programme for the final preparation and initiation of the war.
As part of the final politico-ideological preparation (while organisational-technical preparations continued underground) a series of countrywide mass meetings under the banner of the popular united front organisation, United People’s Front-Nepal, (UPF) were held to be crowned by a massive public ralley attended by more than 50 thousand people in the heart of the capital city of Kathmandu on December 7, 1995. Meanwhile a vicious armed police operation, code-named ‘Romeo Operation’, launched by the reactionary state against the rural class struggle going on for some time in Rolpa district in Western Hills and a countrywide public outcry against this state repression, provided a perfect setting to initiate the people’s war. In this light the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party that met briefly in January 1996 made the final selection of the date of the historic Initiation for February 13 (i.e. the first day of the month of Falgun according to the Vikrami calendar followed in Nepal).
Thus had the vanguard Party of the Nepali proletariat, steeled from years of inner-party struggle and class struggle, made the final big leap to create history by leading the Initiation of the armed people’s war on the day of February 13, 1996.
THE FIRST PLAN: INITIATION & CONTINUATION
As outlined in the Third Plenum document “Strategy & Tactics of Armed struggle in Nepal”, there would be three strategic stages of protracted people’s war, namely Strategic Defense, Strategic Stalemate and Strategic Offense. And within the Strategic Defense, there would be several tactical stages, namely Final Preparation for Initiation, Development of Guerrilla Zones, Development of Base Areas, etc. Hence after the completion of the phase of Final Preparation for Initiation, a plan for the Initiation was worked out, which was again visualised to be implemented and develop in sub-phases.
The First Plan, envisaged to cover the actual Initiation of the first day and the continuation for some time thereof, say about a month or so. The basic objectives of the first plan, as outlined in the “Plan for the Historical Initiation of the People’s War” were to make a practical leap into and establish amongst the masses of the people the politics of armed revolution for capturing political power and to initiate the process of making the people’s army as the principal form of organisation and the armed activities as the principal form of struggle.
Hence with a clarion call of “It is right to rebel” the emphasis was placed on arousing the masses to rebel against the oppressive system and the state, and the selection of targets and the forms of actions were designed to give correct political message and derive maximum political propaganda rather than to make any material gain in the very beginning.
As planned, on February 13, one police outpost each in Rolpa and Rukum in Western Hills, an Agricultural Development Bank and a distillery factory in Gorkha in Central Hills, a police outpost in Sindhuli and the house of feudal-usurer in kavre in Eastern Hills and the factory of a multi-national company (Pepsi Cola) in the Kathmandu Valley, were systematically attacked by the armed squads (accompanied by the supporter masses at several places) with great precision to herald the historic Initiation. These seven targets in different districts and regions were selected purposefully in keeping with the geo-physical and socio-political specificities of Nepal and not to allow the enemy to concentrate its repressive armed forces on any particular area. On the same evening hundreds of thousands of revolutionary leaflets & posters issued by the Party were distributed all over the country to spread the political message of the people’s war among the masses.
From the morrow, also as planned, ensued a wave of guerrilla actions, sabotage and propaganda actions all over the country in continuation of the Initiation. Within three weeks about 5000 actions, mostly of propaganda nature, had taken place in the far & wide corners of the country. National media was agog with the ‘ghost’ of people’s war. All the political forces and politically minded persons were forced to take a position vis-a-vis the new politics. Thus the politics of revolutionary armed struggle was firmly established in the country within a very short span of time.
As the basic objectives of the First Plan were already fulfilled, the Party issued an inner circular to restrain further actions of offense but permitting the defensive actions. This step was deemed necessary and important as otherwise the initial ‘rebellion’ could be misunderstood as ‘insurrection’, and the essential protracted nature of the people’s war had to be emphasized and grasped firmly from the very beginning.
A severe tremor & shock wave had rocked the reactionary ruling classes and their state by then. Hence after an initial vacillation the reactionary state went into a mad frenzy and let loose its armed might upon the revolutionary forces and the masses. Scores of persons were shot dead in Gorkha, Rukum, Jajarkot and Rolpa; thousands were taken into custody and brutally tortured; arson, looting, rape of the peasant masses knew no bounds.
At the end of March, the PB of the Party met to take stock of the situation and charter the future course of actions. It was resolved that the initiation was a tremendous success and the emphasis now would be to mobilise the masses in favour of the people’s war and continue the war in a planned manner. Accordingly overt and covert programmes were launched throughout the country to mobilise the masses and to build public opinion against the government repression and in favour of the people’s war. As the reactionary state, as expected, virtually obstructed the open mass activities of the various front organisations, new methods and forms of organisation were devised to carry out open activities. In this context open denunciation by leading human rights organisations and prominent public figures of state terrorism and widespread human rights violations contributed significantly to take winds off the sails of the repressive state. Meanwhile armed squads continued carrying out selected guerrilla actions and propaganda campaigns. Soon the reactionary state was caught up in such a pitiable situation that the Prime Minister himself went on record to call for a dialogue with the revolutionary forces and formation of a committee to pursue the dialogue was announced in the Parliament. The Party rightly saw through the conspiracy in the whole exercise and exposed it as such through various means.
At the end of the month of June the CC of the Party made a final summation of the successful conclusion of the First Plan and drew out the second Plan.
THE SECOND PLAN: Planned Development of Guerrilla Warfare
The basic objective of the Second Plan was to develop guerrilla warfare in a planned manner so as to prepare grounds to convert specific areas into guerrilla Zones in the near future. For this the emphasis would be on creating radicalised (or militarised) mass base in specific areas and upgrading & expanding the fighting capability of the armed detachments. Accordingly, broad categorisation and identification of Principal Zones, Secondary Zones and Propaganda Zones were made and the forces and activities were sought to be channelised and centralised in keeping with the envisaged roles of different zones. As earlier a short period of preparation would precede the launching of the Second Plan, and by the very objective & nature of the Plan it would not commence on a fixed date but would follow an approximate time frame.
There was a slight set-back in the beginning of the Plan, as the enemy managed to sniff it and the important element of ‘surprise’ had to be partially compromised. However, by October the execution of the Second Plan had started in right earnest, and gradually it unfolded in such a manner and scale that the reactionary camp was again caught in a surprise. A set of military and non-military actions were sought to be judiciously blended from the beginning; and this plus the gradual phasing of the major actions over time and space provided the key to the successful launching and progress of the Second Plan.
Of the major military actions so far, daring guerrilla actions to seize arms have been the most notable ones. Armed guerrilla squads raided police outposts at Lung in Pyuthan on December 14, at Triveni in Dolpa, on December 15 (both in Western Hills) and at Bethan in Ramechhap (Eastern Hills) on the January 3 and the state-owned Nepal Bank Ltd. at Duradanda in Lamjung (Central Hills) on November 14. Out of these the Bethan raid was the most successful and was rightly hailed as the best example of daring military exploit and supreme sacrifice so far. Arms of local tyrants were also seized in different districts like Sallyan, Dolakha, etc.
Also during this Plan period selected annihilation of local tyrants, police informers and policemen were carried out. Of these the annihilations of a police Sub-lnspector (responsible for killing Com. Ram Brikshya Yadav) in Dhanusa (Eastern Terai), a village committee chairman (responsible for the arrest of Com. Dev Gurung) in Gorkha and several police informers in Rolpa, Rukum & Sindhuli were highly appreciated by the masses and were of immense political significance. Similarly, a large number of sabotage actions including the ones against the Agricultural Development Banks (in Kavre & Baglung), INGOs (in Baglung & Mygdi), premises of comprador capitalists (in Kathmandu & Kapilvastu) and others were carried out all over the country. The instance of setting fire to the house of the Home Minister in Kathmandu on December 10 had sent chills down the spines of the ruling classes and was a favourite topic of media coverage for several days. Armed propaganda actions in the form of marches, corner meetings, etc., have been organised regularly all over the country.
Apart from these military forms of actions, other non-military (or political, economic, social & cultural) actions have also been organised either in overt or covert manner in large numbers for mass mobilization or propaganda purposes. In this context the highly successful Kathmandu Valley Bandh (or general strike) on August 21 and Nepal Bandh on December 12 under the banner of a generated organisation, National Mass Movement Coordination Committee, helped to mobilise the masses in hundreds of thousands in favour of the revolutionary politics. Similarly, various village development programmes, people’s cooperative schemes etc. have been launched at the local level under the aegis of the UPF with a view to prepare grounds for the local power in future. Different front organisations have been organising open & legal activities to mobilise different classes and masses of the people Particularly in urban areas new forms of organisations have sprung up to propagate revolutionary politics and expose the reactionary slate.
During the Second Plan period the reactionary slate has let loose its armed might against the revolutionary forces with greater vengeance. The instances of outright massacre and shooting have multiplied (see Table – 1). So have the instances of police brutalities in the name of combing operations, etc. Villages have been set on fire, properties looted, women raped! The Western & Eastern regions have been the worst affected. More than a dozen persons have been shot by the police in one village, Mirul, alone in Rolpa. Including Com. Dev Gurung and a number of important leaders of the front organisations, thousands of people are arrested & kept behind bars in inhuman conditions. Leading national & international human rights organisations have decried the gross violation of human rights by the state.
The PB of the Party met in December and made preliminary evaluation of the implementation of the Second Plan. The progress was found quite satisfactory despite some limitations. The meeting formulated additional programme to celebrate the first anniversary of the Initiation in a grand & fitting manner. The Second Plan is still in the process of Implementation.
THE IMPLICATIONS, LESSONS & FUTURE PERSPECTIVE
The qualitative leap in the social development process of Nepal marked by the historic initiation and continuation of the people’s war has had important political implications in the country. The past one year of the people’s war was accompanied by faster degeneration of the old reactionary forces and rising up of new revolutionary forces, thus hastening the process of socio-political polarisation.
During this period the crisis of the old state was further aggravated and the contradictions within were seen more sharpened. As the problems of poverty, unemployment, price rise, corruption, foreign domination, etc. grew more acute and the state managed by a weak coalition of extreme rightist forces increasingly failed even to offer a patchwork solution, a situation of all-round instability, anarchy and total breakdown was created. Particularly there was a great patriotic surge among the masses against the abject surrender of the mainstream parliamentary parties, including the renegade UML clique, to Indian expansionism and the ratification of the Nepal-lndia ‘Mahakali River Integrated Development Project Treaty’ by the puppet parliament. Later on a farcical attempt to bring about a new change in the coalition realignment of the government and the naked horse-trading of MPs, thoroughly exposed and discredited the parliamentary system as a whole. All this prompted even the BBC radio service to comment that ‘the ultimate winners and gainers in the national politics were the Maoists and the people’s war’.
The initiation of the people’s war has hastened the process of polarisation in the Nepalese Communist Movement as well. The attitude towards people’s war has served as a good acid test to differentiate revolutionaries from the opportunists and revisionists. Whereas the renegade UML clique has further degenerated into reaction and attempted to endear both the king and the Indian expansionists to ride to power within the present dispensation to check the revolutionary process, a significant number of its leaders and cadres at different levels have crossed towards the revolutionary camp. Similarly two-line struggles have developed within the neo-revisionist Mashal and right liquidationist ‘Unity Centre’ over the question of support to the people’s war. A large number of independent Intellectuals and others have overtly or covertly extended their support to the people’s war. Thus, at least politically if not organisationally, the CPN (Maoist) has emerged as the rallying centre of all genuine communist revolutionaries in the country.
One year of people’s war has had a very positive impact in the development of the three instruments of revolution, i.e. the Party, the Army and the United Front. The Party, long used to legal forms of struggle & organisation, has had a marvellously quick & smooth transition into a fighting underground organisation to lead the armed people’s war. Except for isolated instances of revolutionary impetuosity or capitulationist tendency, there has been virtually no differences or inner struggle within the Party to implement the revolutionary line. Rather the people’s war has significantly improved the ideological-political level, brought about unprecedented monolithic unity and given birth to a reliable hierarchy of revolutionary leadership from top to the bottom.
Similarly on the question of the formation of the Army, the past one year has seen a meteoric rise, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Starting from the lowest and simplest formations speedier upgradations to higher levels and qualities of armed guerrilla formations have been achieved. Particularly the emphasis placed on militarisation of the whole Party and development of symbiotic links with the masses has had a very important bearing on the rapid and qualitative development of the armed formations.
And lastly, on the question of the development of the revolutionary United Font, the initiation of the people’s war has prepared a material ground towards building such a Front under the leadership of the proletariat, and new initiatives have been taken in this regard during the past one year. Taking into account the historical experiences and specificities of Nepal, building of United Front has been attempted simultaneously at two levels. At the local level, where class struggle has developed to a significant height, clandestine United Front committees under the leadership of the Party have been formed to exercise embryonic local political power and sustain the people’s war. At the central level, the already existing and high-profile United People’s Front, Nepal, (established in 1991 as a loose front of different Left and democratic forces and since some time later on operating as an open forum of the Party till the initiation of the war) has been reorganised as an embryonic revolutionary United Front by incorporating representatives from different progressive classes, oppressed nationalities and depressed regions primarily to carry out propaganda & agitations in favour of the New Democratic revolution. Enthusiastic responses to the people’s war from different Organisations for the Liberation of Nationalities and from prominent individuals has brightened the prospects of building such a Front.
Lessons & Future Perspective
Experiences of one year of people’s war have provided significant lessons both positive and negative, but mostly positive, which should prove valuable for the development of the war to higher levels in the future.
The pace and nature of development of the people’s war in different phases from the Initiation as a general ‘rebellion’, through the continuation with a judicious blending of armed actions and mass mobilisations plus the open propaganda, to the Second Plan of ‘Development of Guerrilla Warfare in a Planned Manner’ – has brought out some of the specificities of Nepal and has highlighted the need to be creative while applying the basic politico-military and organisational tenets of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. While the basic nature of the war would be protracted and the strategy would be that of encircling the city from the countryside, it seems that in the specific historical and geo-political case of Nepal the pace of development of the war could be faster and it would have to be waged, though in varying degrees, throughout the country or at least at several places at a time.
Valuable lessons have been learnt about the dialectical relationships between military and non-military forms of actions (though the former would be principal), between offensive and defensive actions, between centralisation & decentralisation of forces & activities, between open & clandestine activities, between people’s war and mass movement, etc. Similarly, the Maoist formulation of decisiveness of ‘people’ over ‘weapons’ In the war has been experienced in practice, and the process of development of the people’s war from the simple to the complex and from the lower to the higher levels has been observed in a significant scale. Also the strategic role and importance of guerrilla warfare in the overall military campaign has been well understood and a number of basic tactics of guerrilla form of warfare has been practiced quite successfully. Some experiences have been gained in discerning & utilising contradictions within the enemy camp.
The importance of constantly practicing mass line and devising ever newer forms of organisation and struggle to mobilise the masses in favour of the armed struggle has been grasped from the beginning and effectively put into practice. Due attention has been paid to organise propaganda and publications and expand international relations in favour of the people’s war, though further efforts and proficiency in this domain is desirable.
The all important role of the Party in leading the people’s war and crucial significance of preservation of the leadership particularly in the initial phase of the war has been correctly grasped and inculcated among the cadres and the masses.
Apart from these, certain shortcomings and limitations have also been encountered, but quite naturally at that and not of any formidable nature or degree. The arrests of some responsible comrades and deaths of some others have occurred due to certain avoidable lapses mostly derived as a legacy from the past legalist work styles. Some erroneous thoughts about the relationship of people’s war and mass movement, distinction between a national war and a civil war, the role of weapons in war, etc., have cropped up in between at some places but have been corrected subsequently.
In sum, the achievements of the past one year have been primary and the short-comings are relatively negligible. Building upon the foundation of this initial success and firmly grasping the invincible weapon of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the people’s war in Nepal should scale greater heights in future and move towards an inevitable victory.
The Worker, #3, February 1997