Nepal: General strike and mass protests

King threatened with insurrection.

After mass protests and a general strike lasting two weeks the brutal regime of the Nepalese King, Gyanendra is threatened with being overthrown. The regime in Nepal again imposed a ‘shoot-to-kill’ curfew in Kathmandu on Friday 22 April following mass street protests when more than 100,000 took to the streets of the capital Kathmandu. In the face of brutal repression the masses have become radicalised and have lost their fear of the repression. As one student was quoted in the British Guardian, “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the nation because we are about to be killed, but we are not concerned about that”. (Friday 21st April 2006).

As the protests have become more violent and widespread so they have become more radicalised. Now the masses are demanding a republic and the ending of the monarchy rather than just elections. In a desperate attempt to cling to power the King, at the time of writing (Friday afternoon 21st April) has offered the opposition the right to nominate a Prime Minister and the return of democracy but at an unspecified date!

Police fired on demonstrators on Thursday, killing three and wounding many. With “brutal haste”, the army quickly cremated the bodies of those killed. For two weeks, the working people of Nepal staged a general strike supported by shop-keepers and many layers of the middle class. During this time, over 14 people were killed by the state forces. The mass action was called by the Seven Parties Alliance (SPA), which includes the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Nepalese Congress. Maoist rebels, who have waged a ten year guerrilla war against the regime, called a ceasefire in the Kathmandu Valley for the duration of the strike and supported the protests.

Thursday’s mass demonstrations, involving over 100,000s were the culmination of the two weeks of strike action and protests. Organisers say 400,000 took part.

Huge groups of anti-royal protesters came to the capital from all sides, and faced the army guarding the ‘curfew zone’. Eyewitnesses reported the police fired indiscriminately on protesters descending from the hills at the western suburb of Kalanki. Despite the curfew, protesters went back onto the streets on Friday.

King Gyanendra sacked the government and took direct powers in February 2005. But the Maoist guerrilla war continued, economic crisis deepened and poverty worsened. Now all sections of society oppose the King, including workers, peasants, students, lawyers, journalists and small business people.

The protests grew during two weeks of the general strike. The strike now includes 80,000 public sector civil servants. Even employees at the Interior Ministry joined the most recent demonstrations. On Monday, last week, private sector bank workers joined the strike. “The movement is popular, it’s expanding and it’s growing,” commented Dhruba Adhikary, from the independent Nepal Press institute.

With the strike entering its third week, shortages of fresh food and cooking oil are starting to take hold in Kathmandu. There are no vehicles on the roads, and no transportation of people or goods. The situation has caused alarm among the ruling class internationally. “I am very afraid we are moving into a revolutionary situation”, an anonymous diplomat was quoted as saying.

Even sections of the ruling elite in Nepal now regard King Gyanendra as a liability, whose autocratic rule is pushing Nepal dangerously close to enormous social and class upheaval. Foreign powers, like the US and the EU nations, are openly critical of the King’s rule. They and the neighbouring powers of India and China are terrified that the example of mass revolutionary struggle can spread throughout the region. For the moment, the King’s last real ally is China and even the Chinese regime is cooling towards him.

The King is isolated and relies on brutal state repression to stay in power. But reports from this week’s protests quote many police and soldiers on the streets also opposing King Gyanendra’ rule. The state forces are no longer reliable tools for the regime. Sections can quickly go over to the protesters, heralding the end of the King’s dictatorship.

The overthrow of the King will be welcomed by the working people and poor of Nepal and by workers worldwide. It will show the power of the masses, led by urban protests and strikes. It will have important consequences across the region, inspiring workers, peasants and the poor to also take to mass action. But unless far-reaching social change takes place in Nepal, the end of King Gyanendra’s rule will not mean the end of the country’s extreme social and economic crisis.

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries and an overwhelmingly rural society with 85% of the 23.6 million population living in the rural areas. According the census in 2001 there are 92 different languages spoken in Nepal. Only fundamental, socialist change will end the desperate plight of the masses and allow the country to be developed as part of a voluntary socialist federation of the region.

But this is not the programme of the Seven Parties Alliance (SPA). The Congress, which politically dominates the SPA, is a pro-market economy party that will work within the confines of capitalism and Nepal’s semi-feudal conditions. Another SPA party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) organises mass protests but does not have a programme to seriously challenge capitalism. The Maoist CPN-M has an estimated 15,000 in its militias and control of an estimated 75% of the countryside. They claim to support a liberal parliamentary democracy and puts off fighting for socialism to the distant future. But Nepal did have a limited formal ‘democracy’ until King Gyanendra took over, five years ago. Those limited democratic reforms did not mean the end of immense poverty and joblessness. This will only be possible by ending the feudal and capitalist rule and ending the imperialist domination of the economy. The establishment of a workers’ and peasants government with a programme to democratically plan the economy and a perspective to win the support of the working class in India, China and other Asian countries with the objective of establishing a socialist federation of the region is the only way to develop society and end the grinding poverty and exploitation.

The instinct of the working masses to go beyond the limited demands of the SPA is seen by the increasingly desperate attempts by the opposition parties to control the mass movement. Journalists in Kathmandu report that many protesters said the SPA leaders will have to stand aside if they do not agree with their call to end the King’s rule totally and for full democratic rights. These protesters also want an end to endemic poverty and shortage.

A revolutionary crisis is developing. There is an urgent need to build democratically elected committees of workers, students and the urban population, along with peasant committees in the countryside, to develop the general strike and prepare the basis for a new government. The establishment of armed militias, under the control of these democratic bodies, to defend the protestors is now an urgent task.

Such committees could form a basis for the establishment of a workers’ and peasants government and the convening of a revolutionary constituent assembly with a revolutionary socialist programme to begin the real transformation of Nepal in the interests of the working and poor masses.

The CWI website will carry further material on the developing crisis

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April 2006