Nepal: King Gyanendra’s coup

King Gyanendra’s coup in Nepal, on 1 February, is "likely to strengthen the Maoist insurgents and make Nepal’s civil war even more intensive", according to the International Crisis Group, a Brussels think-tank.

The following two articles, by Per-Åke Westerlund, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (cwi Sweden), and Jagadish Chandra, New Socialist Alternative (cwi India), examine the recent Nepalese military coup, headed by King Gyanendra, the growing Maoist rebellions in Nepal and India, and the need for genuine working class internationalism and socialist struggle throughout the region.

King Gyanendra’s coup

This view was confirmed on 13 February, when a two-day bandh "brought normal life to standstill in larger parts of western and northern regions of the Himalayan Kingdom".

The Indian ‘Rediff’ website quoted an eye-witness: "We have witnessed ‘bandhs’ in the past as well, but never before have we seen such impact". (A bandh is a kind of local general strike/state of emergency, which shuts down everything).

"King Gyanendra has backed himself into a corner", the Crisis group concluded in their report (9 February).

The King’s coup was not totally unexpected. King Gyanendra, representing the army, has dissolved three previous governments since 2002. This time he went further. All democratic right were abolished, from the right to assembly to the right to make a phone call. Mobile phones, telephone lines, and the internet were cut off. (The Maoist website, however, was still working). Absolute censorship was established over newspapers, radio and TV. Armored vehicles in the streets underlined the new military rule.

More than 1,000 activists were arrested, including leaders of the Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC). Politicians from the leading parties were released quite soon, while organisers of protests against the coup were immediately arrested. On Wednesday 9 February, telephones and the internet were back in business.

King Gyanendra claimed to protect "multi-party democracy", while, at the same time, announcing that he would keep power to himself for three years. The monarch looks to the Musharraf regime in Pakistan as an example to follow. In return, Pakistani officials made sympathetic comments after the coup.

Low-key criticism from the US fed rumors that the US embassy was informed about the King’s move in advance. Nepal, after all, sent troops to "defend democracy" in Iraq. The Chinese regime – supporting the King rather than the Maoists – merely stated that the coup was an "internal affair".

King Gyanendra came to power in June 2001, after a massacre at the royal palace that led to the killing of King Birenda, among others. Gyanendra, his son, Paras, as well as the US and India have been considered as possible suspects.

Since "democratisation" after 1990, the leading political parties in Nepal are the Nepalese Congress (NCP) (which is now split in two) and the ‘communist’ party (UML). These two parties have a completely parliamentary orientation, including subordination to the King. The now overturned Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, leader of the NCP(B), was first appointed in July 2001, sacked in October 2002, and reappointed in June 2004.

Deuba’s return as Prime minister was linked to Nepal being given 40m dollars in World Bank aid. Generally, Nepal has received increased backing from US imperialism in recent years. Military aid from the US stands at $20m since 2002, and more is in the pipeline for 2006. The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) – 138,000 troops in total – is trained by Indian officers.

But this has not stalled Nepal’s drift towards becoming a "failed state". As a result of the Maoist rebellion, only 100 out of 1,135 police stations are functioning (‘The Economist’, November 6th 2004). Last year, more people went "missing" in Nepal than in any other country, according to Amnesty International. There are 17,000 registered cases of torture.

The Maoists

On Friday 11 February, one and half weeks after the coup, hundreds of Maoists stormed a jail in Kailaliat, west Nepal, and released 145 prisoners. This just underlines the weakness of the King’s regime and the strength of the Maoists. Three days later, the bandh on 13 February against the coup paralysed most of countryside.

The Maoist rebellion organised by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), started on the same date, 13 February, in 1996. From local skirmishes with local police forces, the ‘jan yuddha’ (people’s war) has developed rapidly, particularly in the last 18 months. From 5,000 troops, the Maoist ‘Peoples Liberation Army’ – the name of Mao’s army – today claim 25,000 troops. The ‘Asia Times’ commented that "they have successfully stormed army barracks and police posts, killing scores of soldiers at a time" and "they now have acquired capability to assault more than one district center at the same time."

In August and in December, last year, effective blockades of the capital, Kathmandu, were organised.

The International Crisis Group says the Maoists are a "shockingly effective challenge to a weak state that lacks a political response to the many problems of poverty and exclusion in Nepal".

The police have withdrawn from many areas of the country and the Maoists claim they control 68 out of the Nepal’s 75 districts.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the civil war. A Nepalese NGO, INSEC, a reports that 7,175 were killed by state forces and 3,810 by the Maoists. Even the Western media reports that state brutality is worse Maoist brutality.

Even if Maoist control is far from total in "its districts", the guerillas organised a parallel state/government under the leadership of their leader, Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal). They established "jan sarkar (people’s rule), with people’s committees collecting taxes and upholding their own judicial system", according to South Asia specialist, Rolf Jonsson, in Dagens Nyheter, 11 February.

These districts have schools. Speculators lending money and liquor salesmen are attacked. Women play a prominent role in the guerillas, particularly compared to Nepalese society, in general.

The Maoist’s programme remains unclear. Their perspective is that a final phase of their struggle is approaching, which, most likely, will include fighting the Indian army. Their main demand, the "minimum demand", is for a constituent assembly to establish "bourgeois democracy". In talks with the government, in 2001 and 2003, the Maoists asked for UN involvement. Recently, the rebels welcomed European Union representatives. Another indication of the Maoist’s ideas is that following the coup, the CPN (M) invited all other political parties to form a ‘front’ against the King.

It is clear from all reports that the government’s troops cannot defeat the Maoists. The Maoists, on the other hand, have all the classical weaknesses of Maoism: a stages theory, (which sees a ‘democratic’ stage followed by a ‘socialist stage’ in the dim and distant future), ‘popular-frontism’ (which means class collaboration with pro-capitalist parties), an emphasis on military organisation instead of democratic organisations of the oppressed, and also an emphasis on the countryside and nationalism.

This said, the extreme weakness of Nepalese capitalism and the regime means that the Maoists taking power is not ruled out. This, in turn, would pose an immediate reply from the US and from India.


Is the crisis in Nepal spilling over into India? James F Moriarty, the US Ambassador to Nepal, last year stated that the Maoists in Nepal "…also pose a threat to stability in larger parts of India".

In July 2001, a regional Maoist organisation, with parties in five countries, CCOMPOSA (Coordinating Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations in South Asia), was created. According to ‘The Economist’, 157 out of 593 districts in India are affected by some degree of ‘Naxalism’ (Indian Maoist guerilla activities). 102 of the effected areas districts are new areas from the last few years.

Further coordination between the Maoist groups was taken on 14 October 2004, when the ‘People’s War’ and the ‘Maoist Communist Centre’ joined with other groups in the new Communist Party of India (Maoist). Their strongest bases are in Bihar and Andra Pradesh.

Against this background, the reaction of the Indian government to the coup was to formally condemn the King. The coup seemingly confirmed the Maoist position: the King is undemocratic and fears the Maoists. The Indian Congress government therefore had to distance itself from the coup. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, abstained from attending the South Asian Summit where King Gyanendra was supposed to attend.

India, however, also has strategic interests in the region. The Nepalese parliamentary parties, NCP and UML, have both demanded Indian backing against the King, as well as against the Maoists. Nepal has a large hydropower potential, which Indian capitalists look at hungrily. For these reasons, military involvement by India is far from ruled out.

The way forward?

A brief look at Nepal’s history shows how capitalism and semi-feudalism will only ever mean poverty, joblessness, despair and revolts.

Nepal has 27 million inhabitants, of which 80% live on agriculture. The Royal family, Shah, came to power in the 1700s. In 1846, the mighty Rana family established control and ruled until 1951, without overthrowing the monarchy. The Rana family made Hinduism the state religion.

Following Indian independence, both Congress and a communist party were established in Nepal. They forced the King to accept elections in 1959. But only a year later, the King re-established absolute monarchy, called the ‘panchayat system’, which continued until 1990. That year, popular protests forced new elections. But "the leaderships of the parties seemed most interested in enriching themselves" (Dagens Nyheter).

That fact, alongside terrible poverty, cast discrimination, no hope for the youth, and the oppression of workers and women, gave a basis for the Maoist rebellion.

Gyanendra’s regime is far from strong. There is even speculation that the coup "might lead to the abolition of the monarchy" (‘Financial Times’, 3 February).

The only way forward for workers and youth in Nepal is a struggle for socialism and for a socialist federation in South Asia. There should be no trust in imperialism or foreign forces, whether Indian, Chinese or from the US. Those governments are only interested in a Nepalese regime that suits their purposes and increased exploitation of Nepal’s working people.

In the struggle against the King’s regime, democratic demands are in the forefront. These demands – the right to assembly, to organise trade unions and workers’ parties etc – should, however, also be implemented in the areas controlled by the guerillas. The struggle for liberty, for social and economic emancipation, has to be democratically controlled by assemblies of workers and poor peasants, involving youth and women.

India, Nepal and internationalism

The creation of the ‘Coordinating Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations’ in South Asia by the Maoists goes to show there is a crying need for class solidarity and internationalism in the region, on a working class basis.

Jagadish Chandra, New Socialist Alternative (CWI India)

Even if the Maoists capture power through the gun, the solidarity and the mass action of the working class in the region would be a must for a new regime to go forward.

But the Maoists say that they first want to introduce "bourgeois democracy". Why would Indian workers and the poor peasantry support the demand of establishing a bourgeois democracy in Nepal, while they have the brutal experience of suffering and struggling against one at home? We should not forget the experience of the "liberation" of Bangladesh by India, when the Mukti Baahini guerillas were massacred by the Indian Armed forces in the name of gaining freedom for them. It is also important to remember the treacherous role played by India in relation to the national question in Sri Lanka. In the name of liberating the oppressed minority Tamils they tried to disarm the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Even today India’s covert operations are intended to stop a radical regime coming to power in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Though the Maoists of Nepal have not voiced any illusions in the so-called "democratic regime" of India, many working class activists in the region ask what is their model of a bourgeois democracy? Their Maoist counterparts in India, the Naxalites, still cling on to the ‘comprador bourgeois’ theory, which believes there is a ‘progressive’ wing of the capitalist class, and put forwad the programme of ‘New Democracy’, an ‘alliance’ of four classes. The Naxalites method of rural guerilla struggle, primarily to defeat the state forces of the class enemy, has a paralyzing effect on the combativity of the working class and its independent role. Many times it is the lowest ranks of the Indian police that are victims to the Indian Maoist guerillas blind killing sprees.

Though many of the rank and file guerillas are undoutedly courageous, by substituting themselves for the mass action of the working class, they hold back the entire working class movement, which alone can defeat capitalism and introduce a democratic, socialist society.

The failure of the system of capitalism and landlordism in the region is blatantly stark. All forms of capitalist rule have failed, be it Presidential style rule in Sri Lanka, the much acclaimed "Indian democracy", the monarchy in Nepal and Bhutan, or the on and off semi-dictatorships in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

None of these regimes or the system is capable of taking society forward. Furthermore, capitalism in the region is unable to introduce stable, parliamentary democracy.

Only mass socialists parties, with a programme calling for a genuine socialist transformation in the entire region, can unleash the latent energy of the powerful working class, which will come to the defence of their brothers and sisters in neighbouring countries.

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February 2005