STATE REPRESSION AND THE 2013 NEPALESE ELECTION
"What's more, you can't in good faith give the nobles what they want without doing harm to others; but you can with the people. Because the people's aspirations are more honourable than those of the nobles: the nobles want to oppress the people, while the people want to be free from oppression."
(Machiavelli, The Prince, san 1613)
"How can people trust them to run the state? Our boycott is therefore a political act to expose the failure of this parliamentary system. To build a new democracy and renew the revolutionary process we must go in different direction."
(Mohan Vaidya 'Kiran', Chairman, CPN - Maoist, from upcoming Red Front edition, October, 2013)
"Though I do not have much knowledge about politics and political leaders of our country, I am not going to vote for the old faces.
We have voted for them in the past but they have shown that they are capable of doing nothing. It is now time for us to see that young and new leaders get elected.
There is no point in electing candidates who have done nothing for the country. So people should think twice before casting their vote in the upcoming CA elections."
(Yamini Shahi, 23, Republica, November 16th. 2013)
The Supreme Court of Nepal, under the aegis of a sit-alone judge, last week issued an interim order calling upon the agitating parties of the 33 party alliance to immediately withdraw the ongoing transport strike as it interfered with people voting in a 'free and fair environment'.
The CPN-Maoist - or Nekapaa Maobaadi as they are now called in the syllabic Nepalese acronym - quickly and firmly rejected the order, with Kiran saying at a press conference that the court 'lacked legitimacy'; tied in as it was to the appointed Prime Minister/Chief Justice, Regmi, and therefore no more than a tool for the four party syndicate.
This may prove to be a decisive moment by which the judicial/political/military cabal have cleared the formal 'legal' hurdles prior to hunting down the Nekapaa Maobaadi leaders and declaring the Party a 'criminal organisation' - not only for defying the court order but for previous acts of 'vandalism' where the bulk of those arrested for enforcing the transport strike are said to be Party cadre. It is alleged that some cadre have been arrested in possession of firearms, mainly pistols and explosive materials. Rifles, mainly old .303 bolt-action, left from the People's War have also been seized, with the suspicion of tip-offs from Prachanda's cadre. This of course is a threat to the state's claim of having the monopoly of violence which has also exercised the authorities. Despite this the CPN - Maoists have maintained that the boycott is being largely conducted peacefully, according to party policy, but that there are times when peoples' 'justifiable rage' spills over.
The regime, however, reached the conclusion that the activities are 'criminal', that they have been unleashed by the boycotting parties and at a high-level security meeting under the chairmanship of the Interim Election Council of Ministers decided to hold the 33 party alliance responsible for all violent activities during the election period.
Equally the rapid riposte of the Party could prove equally decisive - an act of revolutionary defiance not just in the face of a huge security apparatus poised to swoop but also challenging the status quo's right to rule and in this case specifically rejecting its claims to legal jurisdiction.
In the light of this and growing intensity of the boycott campaign the regime is poised to declare the Party as an illegal 'terrorist' organization. The Chief Election Commissioner, NK Uprety, indicated this option where he said that those planting bombs were 'creating terror' and that a government "should control such terrorists for democracy to emerge victorious." (Himalayan, November 17th, 2013).
This will cap a campaign of growing repression including the arrest of CPN-Maoist cadres, and extensive police raids sans warrants ostensibly looking for evidence of bomb-making materials but more often that not aimed at radical journalists and dissenting voices. One example here is Kamal Budha, a free-lance journalist running a website Sancharkendra who has been seized in this manner and there is a campaign for his release. But it is mainly CPN-Maoist cadre who have been arrested in across the country in such places as Jajarkot, Ithary, Dharany and Updaypur netting over 20 'suspects' on the night before the election adding to the hundreds already detained as part of an active policy of hunting down activists nolens volens.
There has been a devastating legal demolition from the renowned lawyer, Professor Gopal Siwakoti 'Chintan' (Thinker) showing that the regime itself is grounded in illegality under the terms of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. He further argues therefore that the attempts to run the election and to use the security apparatus to crush opposition are unconstitutional:
"Time has come to unveil the unconstitutional acts and the malafide activities under the banner of the judiciary."
"The peaceful strikes and public transport shut down called on by the CPN-M led Alliance is being suppressed by mobilising the army against the constitutional provisions as a rehearsal of the 1960 bloodless coup of late King Mahendra. The country is being pushed back towards an undeclared military rule."
(Election Fiasco in Nepal, Ignite, 19th November. NB this important contribution needs to be read in full.)
As part of keeping any trouble down and the population cowed in Kathmandu the army and police have increased their patrolling. Normally the NA is a ubiquitous presence and there will always be a squad lounging around some chowk (intersection) and of course they continually strut their stuff in their own private section of Tudikhel Park in Central Katmandu, but during this period platoons spread out into squads actively patrolling with INSAS slung at 45 degrees and the occasional Stirling horizontal across the chest. Add to this a stream of APF para-militaries sometimes in 4 wheel personnel carriers cruising the main drags, sometimes marching the with lathis and wearing the particular padded-jackets that have earned them the nickname - 'Ninjas'. In some quarters they are regarded as more dangerous than the NA; founded in 2001 by the NC government as a counter-balanced to the King's control of the army, they number nearly 40,000 and have their own more brutal esprit de corps. Plus the authorities are also using thousands of plainclothes policemen to infiltrate or inform on any attempt to hold meetings or engage in active boycotting.
Along with Professor Siwakoti's legal deductions on the political direction that Nepal is heading in this unfolding drama you do sense that you are in, unless it is stopped, an incipient, dollar/Rupee-backed, banana republic-style military dictatorship when the smartest people around are the soldiery; spick and span - they really stand out against the grime and poverty and where most of the rest of us look like bags left outside clothes banks in run-down western shopping arcades.
This was against the background of growing disillusion, amounting often to active antipathy with the so-called election which crystallised in the 10 day general strike which was launched as a total bandh on the first day, followed by nine days of transport strike.
I have been through a few bandhs in Nepal but first day was the most solid as yet experienced. I'm situated up in a normally bustling, largely residential middle-class neighbourhood but nothing stirred from sunup to sunset, and not just here but all over this particular metropolis it was, to use an old trope, eerily silent. There was total discipline and unanimity in observing the strike, the taxi-ranks were gone, the shops were closed, the schools and institutions were shut and if you look at the photographs of usually busy thoroughfares you will not see one vehicle of any description. There was no enforcement - there was no need of it. It was a similar story nation-wide.
Despite the barrage of anti-strike propaganda in the media which has slavishly reported the relentless condemnations of all the anti-Maoist foreign and domestic forces in the weeks and days leading up to its launch, there was no wavering implementing it. The hysteria has continued during the strike with plenty of shroud-waving as to victims caught up in attempts of transport companies to run the strike gauntlet, which, in some cases, has seen buses and tampos torched. Much was made of the unfortunate driver who expired from burns after his bus was torched. It is even more pronounced with relation to the small-scale bombing campaign, and road blockades aimed more at disrupting the four-parties leaders' election programme rather than creating casualties. Prachanda, has being particularly singled out, forcing him to fly everywhere by helicopter; a reflection of the security worries arising from the depth of loathing he has engendered among his former comrades and supporters.
It is because the transport strike was so effective that ratcheted-up the rightist attempt to judicially suppress it. This was especially important in the four day run-up to the ballot when electioneering was suspended - and they wanted to pump-up the vote in rural areas by returning voters who have become urban dwellers. Thus all the buses in Kathmandu were hired by the big parties and provided free of charge to supporters.
However, despite this offer, and despite the government's repeated assurances regarding security the shutdown prevented substantial numbers of voters in the Kathmandu Valley from returning to their districts and villages. (Kathmandu Post, November 17th. 2013) Although the government denied this transport companies said that the number of vehicles leaving the Valley was down by two-thirds. If you consider that the population of the area is 2.5 million and that the numbers from outside districts (jilla) is a million this can have a substantial impact on not just turnout, but on reducing the big parties attempt to rig ballots by flooding in hirelings (bharautteharu). It is more significant considering the total electorate is just over 12 million. The last report said that the Maobaadi plans are working as they say that the government had failed to persuade the transport entrepreneurs to continue services and that only a handful of long-distance buses and micro-buses left Kathmandu Valley and those that did, according to the laws of supply and demand in any capitalist society, were charging exorbitant prices.
The desperate free transport offer is the tip of the iceberg relating to bribes and treats being lavishly applied. Money is no object; food and drink (raksi) are laid on and the petrol paid for all the motor-bike rallies for the election or against the strike. The government finance minister suggested in this respect:
"There have been new reports that the political parties contesting the election are spending lavishly on feasts." (SR Subedi, Kantipur, 18th. November, 2013)
Vote buying is also part of this orgy of corruption passing as exercise in democracy. All the parties are engaged in bidding and have even mobilised their cadres to prevent their rivals swaying their supporters. One source has said that special squads will remain alert to strange vehicles entering their areas and will follow them with special attention given to the poorer districts where the chances are high that the underprivileged there will sell their votes. (Kathmandu Post, 18th. November 2013). In Saptari VDC the locals there who are fed-up with leaders who only offer lip-service during elections have gone one further and collectively decided to sell their vote to the highest bidder - an organizer, Tulasi Prasad stated:
"We got nothing for the votes we cast in the last election, so why not sell our votes this time." (Republica, 15th. November, 2013)
The most extravagant spender, or perhaps least discrete, is the UCPN (M) which appears to have millions; there are reports of candidates, such as Hisila Yami, a UCPN (M) candidate, going around handing out bundles of cash and Dahal's chopper doesn't come cheap. Sources estimate that this money comes from what was looted from the treasury during Dahal and Bhatterai's administration, also from skimming monies meant for PLA/NA integration and from New Dehli. If the CPN-Maobaadi are now referred to as the 'Dashists' then the UCPN (M) have well merited the sobriquet 'Cashists'. (It used to be 'Khaobaadi', as opposed to 'Maobaadi', which is a play on the verb Khaanu - 'to eat'). They hope that their money will somehow buy-off the huge disappointment they have been to the downtrodden and oppressed whose hopes they had previously raised. It helped them become the largest party in the 2008 CA but this time, based on increasing anecdotal evidence, media interviews with Dalits, oppressed minorities, janajati peoples especially show this disillusion. So it appears likely they will crash from being the biggest party. I think their leaders know it - that's why Prachanda and Bhatterai have chosen to run in two constituencies, their existing home patch and one each in the Madesh in order to spread their bets. It also accounts for the air of desperation in their campaign where all the manifestos' are replete with extravagant promises regarding stopping power-shortages in three years, transforming Nepal into Singapore or Switzerland in five, &c but showing Prachanda's as the most vainglorious - even promising to halt tusker rampages, killing, (which along with many other deaths from la nature savage remain a constant threat in Nepal), within six months! He also envisages himself as a future unifying president who will, in words to his Hetauda jamboree last February: "Institutionalise the gains of the People's War."
In my last article I quoted that the official cost of this electoral stunt was Rs. 30 billion (now risen to Rs.36) and one estimate is that you double this adding in the 'informal' expenditure. As one analyst wrote:
"We have seen the election costs go up. Black money seems to be the source of funding for political parties during election time. This will fuel corruption."
(Prof. K Khanal, Katmandu Post, 18th. November, 2013)
Professor Khanal also expressed the strong opinion that a poor country like Nepal could ill-afford such extravaganzas; further evincing the blatant nature of this exercise showing Nepalese politicians as hucksters, carpetbaggers and mobsters and a general dead weight on the Nepalese people's back. It spreads down to their hooligan (gundaa) followers who have also marked the campaign with drink-fuelled, inter-party violence reported everyday as UML, NC and UCPN(M) youths administer or receive 'thrashings' at the hands of rivals with an occasional gunfight to liven up the proceedings. These encounters can be likened to a mix of modern gangsterism and feudal/lineage loyalties. This, for example, enables a political godfather in a particular area to use his 'cadre' to enforce his control and his political position to engage in pork-barrel politics. This engenders loyalty to a don whatever party he is in. Thus party-hopping is rife, especially as in the cases like MJN's Gaddachhar and RPP's Thapa, as the trick is to maintain ministerial positions at all costs.
Therefore, under these conditions many votes, as well as those flagrantly bought, can be discounted as being no more than regional, feudal reflexes as opposed to a truly free, enlightened poll; the abstract model of 'democracy' advanced by ex-Skymaster Carter who has just arrived to front up his Carter Center NGO aiming to see the Nepalese reaching the high standards set by his homeland where a flourishing democracy gives you, as Lenny Bruce once said about the American press: "The big picture - from the right to the right."
It is another factor that makes this election no more credible than any of the referendums and elections held by the Kings Mahendra and Birendra, and which even then were resisted by the left with force, viz:
"The only political move that enlivened the dry, dull public life of Kathmandu was a satyagraha (civil disobedience) call made by the NC as a protest against upcoming Panchayat elections in May 1985 Some leftist politicians rallied behind the agitation as media reported on the event as a sign of a gathering storm. In June 1985, a series of bomb blasts rocked the valley. Blasts of smaller magnitude hit Pokhara and Birgunj." (CK Lal, RP Singh - The Warrior Revolutionary, Revolution in Nepal, Oxford Press 2013)
EK KSHETRA- EK SAMITI - EUTA KARYA - EUTA NATIJAA!
(One area - one committee - one action - one result! - Naxalite slogan adopted during People's War)
Faced with a similar situation the contemporary left has essentially repeated the strategy that represents, as Kiran noted, all those excluded from the power centres and whose justifiable anger against the status quo has been galvanised by this New Delhi/US/UN/EU inspired attempted electoral 'soft coup'. Thus leaders and cadre have gone semi-underground spreading across the country to their home territories; Biplav and Prankanda, e.g. have returned to Rolpa and the aim there is to secure a total boycott. In areas and districts like this it will be like kicking an open door. The reasons the maraginalised, oppressed people here gave overwhelming support to the Maobaadi during the People's War and in the 2008 elections still stand. They have abandoned the party that let them down but not the cause that inspired it. Furthermore, despite the hardships of the war period people's lives had been transformed for the better as a socialist state in embryo carried out a 'land to the tiller programme' collectivization, cooperatives, People's Courts, village committees established, schools, hospitals and roads constructed and built. Even critics acknowledge the then CPN (Maoist) displayed a real flair for organization and popular mobilization that enabled them to fuse a revolutionary war with building socialism in the base areas. The Party was both dynamic and methodical - the first time any semblance of a Nepalese government had served the people. This party grew from the people and unleashed their potential. It was a singular achievement, not just in Nepalese terms, and the experience has not been forgotten. So when Prachanda recently opined as a justification for he and Bhatterai's handing back expropriated land, dissolving the PLA, abandoning the base areas, &c. was that he had come to the conclusion "Communism was not suitable for Nepal", he is dismissed as a lal gaddaar (Red traitor).
This is the military experience and commitment that is being brought to bear in the boycott campaign. Because of the topography there is usually only one road in and out of any Nepalese town or village and where dense forest or jungle provides plenty of cover. This gives any determined band an advantage of surprise and over a numerically superior but reactive military force. The existing army, however swollen would be stretched to meet potential forays effectively. What also makes the job of the army - which by the way has maintained its own chain of command and action within the 4 tier security strategy - even more difficult in these regions is the degree of mass support the boycotters enjoy for the reasons mentioned above. So, while the NA may swagger around Kmandu, and occasionally clip some Bahun politico's ear, out in the west they have to recognise the popular support for the boycott. In Rolpa, therefore, they requested a meeting with the Dashist area secretary to ask if they work together respecting each other's position. KB Mahara, a prominent Cashist leader is a candidate in Rolpa-1 and will be hard-put to repeat his success in 2008.
You could almost reverse Marx's observation in the Communist Manifesto along the lines of thanking the bourgeoisie for building cities and "rescuing the mass of the people from 'rural idiocy' to Nepal where the peasantry represents the advanced guard of the proletariat against 'urban idiocy'; except when you remember that there is a vast body of support from the working and under classes in the cities - particularly Kathmandu - for the real Maoists In the 2008 elections, for example, the CPN (Maoist) took 12 of the 14 seats to the astonishment of the Brahmin/Chetri media and political classes. They even defeated the UML leader, MK Nepal, in his home seat. (He bounced back though as he was appointed unelected PM with the connivance of India as a reward for stabbing the CPN (M) coalition government in the back by withdrawing support over the attempt by the then PM, Prachanda, to sack the mutinous NA CoS, Prajawal. Capitalising on the disillusion with the new reformist UCPN (M) he might even get elected this time.)
To an extent Katmandu is something of a bubble and there operates a conscious and sub-conscious black-out about the rest of the country. A few dissenting columnists in the upper-caste controlled media are licensed but the news selection and editorial is solidly right-wing and of a particularly centralised mindset that sees outside the Valley as almost a foreign country, albeit inhabited by 80% of the population. They ever hardly leave the Valley and have consistently missed out on events and developments in the countryside. During the PW, in case of point, they faithfully reported every armed encounter and accompanying violence but knew nothing about what has happening behind the lines in the base areas. A comrade recently complained about the lack of reporting on the security operation and the resistance it was encountering and arrived at the conclusion that it was 'Kathmanduitis', a long-standing affliction of the indigenous, ideologically colonised commentariat.
This is one reason why the People's War was little reported around the world due the filtering and suppression of information that is normative for this stratum. Only the pre-prepared bullet-points get presented I've just been reminded of this as this is Election Day and I tuned in to BBC World Service - you know the self-proclaimed and objective purveyor of news and comment, an uneasy, patronising leftover from former imperial days fronted and staffed by Rupert's and Fiona's, occasional professional, 'Oirish' crybabies called Fergal, and with the assistance of multi-national helpmeets from around the globe to provide an 'authentic' voice and a bit of local colour; as I say I tuned in for the first news on Nepal only to be told that there was a crucial election taking place that involved all the major parties and would, after the false start of 2008, provide the all-important constitution that would unlock the country's development potential….. That was it - there was no mention of a strike - no mention of a boycott. The BBC apparatchiks were playing the game along with their Nepalese homologues of selecting the news fit to hear.
Similarly, the Morning Star, a British 'communist' daily paper ran a report of the General Strike in Nepal without mentioning the boycott - the reason for it - or the word 'Maoist'. Now the mindset of these soft-left MS editors approves of strikes in the same way the BBC minions approve of 'democracy' - therefore each report from inside their own comfort-zone, censoring out the painful, to them, actuality. The Morning Star, representing the CPGB, will similarly be closer to the UML as they are each reformist parliamentary parties frightened stiff by revolution and Maoism as much as are the placemen at the BBC.
In this way - despite globalization - Nepal is being presented as Czechoslovakia was in the thirties during the Munich Crisis: "A small far-away country about which we know little." This is the external strategy of the media circles of the status quo on the one hand while on the other, it's other political and ideological institutions; foreign and domestic concentrate their firepower on the left opposition within the country.
POSTSCRIPT - ELECTION RESULTS