‘Was it worth it?’ ask young Maoist fighters in Nepal

Jiri, Nepal, Aug 6, 2012 (AFP) – As youths they were idealistic Maoist soldiers fighting to bring revolution to Nepal but now that their leaders are in power, many say the party has abandoned its faithful.

Among a class of 12 students on an engineering course designed to help them rejoin civilian life after the war ended in 2006, there is deep resentment and a sense of betrayal that the sacrifices they made have been forgotten.

“Party cadres and supporters have begun to question what the party has achieved. What have we got?” said Ratna Kumar Century, a stocky 28-year-old, as he fumbled with a computer mouse.

“The establishment faction has betrayed the people,” he said. “They said we will create a new Nepal which will be inclusive and reformative. But they seem content with the status quo.”

The former rebels at the Jiri Technical Institute in northeast Nepal are among thousands of Maoists offered a new start after living in UN-monitored camps for five years when peace was declared.

They are being taught to design the roads, buildings and canals that will form the future of a state they waged a guerrilla war against for a decade, but it is not a future they look forward to with much hope.

Instead they see their leaders talking politics in mansions in Kathmandu, and they complain that they are an ignored and inconvenient part of the past.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist chief known as Prachanda (“the fierce one”), once inspired devotion among his fighters as they brought the government to a standstill in a civil war that claimed 16,000 lives.

He became prime minister for eight months after the Maoists won elections in 2008 and his party oversaw the abolition of the monarchy, but is now held in little esteem.

“People placed their hopes on Prachanda. But he drifted from his path,” said Century, who was attracted to Maoism’s aim to destroy elite hierarchies such as Nepal’s Hindu caste system.

“If the sacrifices and struggles were just for elevating leaders to power, was it worth it?” he said.

“Facing the challenge of civilian life”

Century was among 19,000 Maoists confined to cantonments because of disagreements between Nepal’s political parties over the future of the former fighters after the war finished.

A deal was reached last year that 6,500 fighters would be integrated into the national army while the rest would be given money or vocational training courses like the one in Jiri.

Their 15-month course, funded by German aid agency GIZ, is divided between on-the-job experience and classroom sessions designed to help them find jobs, but many find it hard to look past their brutal wartime experiences.

Mahesh Bogati was born into a family of poor subsistence farmers in Nepal’s remote Karnali region and spent five years fighting government troops as part of the Maoist “people’s war”.

The 28-year-old traded his textbooks for guns when he was just 17.

“I spent several years as a fighter in the war. During those years, all I learned is how to lay an ambush and make bombs and improvised devices. Because of the war I also missed my studies,” Bogati told AFP.

“My comrades and I are facing the challenge of civilian life. But our leaders are more concerned about remaining in power. They have forgotten us.

“They are enjoying their luxurious life in Kathmandu while we are worried about our future.”

The growing distrust among grassroots activists was fuelled in January when it emerged that Prachanda had moved into a lavish mansion in the capital, a property he has since said he intends to give up.

Two months later party officials were accused of corruption after it was revealed they had offered Prachanda’s son $250,000 to climb Mount Everest.

“No reason to regret”

The Maoists are currently running the country as a “caretaker” government with no parliament and no real mandate after the legislature was dissolved when it failed to agree on a new peacetime constitution.

Worsening the political turmoil, last month a hardline faction of the party broke away, a move that some students suggest could inspire former rebels to take up arms again if another insurgency is launched.

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