Chapter Five: State Terrorism
Maoists, although boycotting the elections, did not disrupt them and the result was a peaceful election. Citizens were optimistic of the majority government tackling the issues of the Nepalese Civil War. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai led cabinet was making progress too, by establishing contact with the rebel leadership.
In February 2000, Prachanda responded to the government with a letter, listing three demands. He reinstated that if the government fulfilled these demands, Maoists would cease all their activities and send representatives to high-level negotiations. This was by far the closest any government had ever gotten to the Maoist in the past five years, and the outcomes too looked promising.
However, Nepal and the Nepalese political parties have always been entangled in their internal disagreements. Similar was the case with Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. Nepali Congress hamstrung Bhattarai with a lack of cooperation from his own fellow party members. Girija Prasad Koirala and the Nepali Congress advocated for a stronger approach in handling the Maoists. Thus, in March 2000, Koirala choreographed the fall of Bhattarai, to become the prime minister yet again.
The efforts from Bhattarai’s government all went in vain when the Maoists resumed their attacks on the police forces. Girija, upon his re-appointment as the prime minister, called out the Maoists and stated the government would soon put an end to all of them. The blow from the Maoists this time was even more fierce, something Girija had not speculated.
Dunai Kanda: A Big Blow during the Civil War
Up until now, Maoists had only attacked remote villages all of which, at least a few kilometers from the district capital. But, Dunai was different, it was the capital of the Dolpa district. The first among the seventy-five district administrative centers Maoists had dared to attack in the ten-years-long Nepalese Civil War.
Yet again, Pasang led 566 Maoist guerillas, in September 2000, to Dunai. The guerillas trekked for days across treacherous hilly passes from Maikot in Rukum towards Dunai. Dolpa’s topography was nowhere similar to that of Rukum and Rolpa. The trek was tough, but the guerillas and their commander-in-chief would not back off. The army officials, however, spotted them and informed the chief district officer of Dolpa, Parsuram Aryal. A forty-eight contingent of police officers landed in Dolpa via air from Kathmandu. But this couldn’t stop the guerilla forces from attacking. The attack was still on.
Early morning of 24 September, guerillas opened fire and launched a vicious attack on the administrative capital of Dolpa. The battle lasted for six long hours, killing fourteen policemen and wounding forty-one. Guerillas looted 50 million in cash from Nepal Bank Ltd. Maoists distributed the gold and silver recovered from the bank among the local peasantries to help them pay their loans. Two guerillas, however, lost their lives during the Dunai attack.
There is no doubt that failure in communication between the palace, army chief, home ministry, and the ministers had resulted in such a devastating attack. Girija, who should be held equally responsible, blamed the Home Ministry and demanded resignation from the three individuals. Such statements from Koirala further polarized the already worsening relationship between the palace and the government.
King Birendra, Saving Thousands of Lives
The Royal Nepal Army, following much criticism, had been lobbying for their dismissal. The army had already made an extensive proposal of their deployment and presented it to the palace. Nepal Police, to be honest, had failed miserably in limiting the Maoist activities.
The palace and the government both knew the Royal Nepal Army was far more logistically equipped and trained to tackle an insurgency of this magnitude. But, both the palace and the government were reluctant in deploying the army. The political parties and their leaders had witnessed the Panchayat system, and how Mahendra (Birendra’s father) had mobilized the army to his advantage. They were concerned if the army did come out of the barracks, the palace could further destroy the still-young democracy in Nepal. This is why the parliament, the government, and the prime ministers would not let the army be deployed easily.
On the other hand, King Birendra, also the Supreme Commander of the Royal Nepal Army, had always seen the army up close and personal. He knew if the army officers, with their sophisticated weapons, went to the heartlands of Maoist, in western Nepal, human casualties would soon sky-rocket. Being a more lenient king, with a feeling of compassion towards the citizens, Birendra would never risk it.
Vivek Shah, the military secretary at the palace, in his book ‘Maile Dekheko Darbar’ briefly talks about how Birendra was hesitant of the army’s disposal. Shah explains how Birendra was worried about the Maoist insurgency and wanted to put an end to it. In the meantime, the king could not risk an overwhelming death toll. This stand of the popular and charismatic king saved thousands of lives, say analysts and historians.
Massacre at the Palace: Amidst Nepalese Civil War
Nepal, already facing a crisis of unprecedented enormity, faced another historical crisis in 2001. Late night on June 1, 2001, King Birendra and his entire immediate family were murdered in the middle of a family dinner function inside the premises of Narayanhiti Palace. Besides the immediate royal members, five other royal relatives also lost their lives. The investigation report identified Crown Prince Dipendra as the perpetrator. The prince who loved his beloved girlfriend, Devyani Rana, killed everyone in the family for not letting him marry the woman of his choice. The drunk and possibly high-on-drugs Prince, drugs shot everyone on sight with two automated rifles and a revolver.
After killing his two parents, two siblings, and eight other royal relatives, finally shot himself in the head. He then went into a coma for four days. Dipendra, also became the king while he was in a coma.
Gyanendra, who was surprisingly in Pokhara that night, ascended the throne. No one had ever foreseen this. A Royal Massacre, ending Birendra’s bloodline and shifting the power to Gyanendra. If the killing of Birendra and his family came as a shock to the Nepalese, the manner in which Maoists responded to the killing was dumbfounding.
As the entire nation was still processing what had just happened, Baburam Bhattarai published an exceedingly provocative article in Nepali-language daily ‘Kantipur’. The article entitled “Naya Kot-Parva lai Manyata Dinu Hunna”, soon was talk-of-the-town i.e “The New Kot-Massacre should not be accepted”, in which he wrote:
Why.. did the murder of King Birendra and his entire family take place at this moment? What then, was his main ‘crime’ in the eyes of imperialists and expansionists? Whatever ideology they may embrace, all patriotic and honest Nepalis must surely accept that in the eyes of imperialists and expansionists, King Birendra’s greatest ‘weakness’ or ‘crime’ was that, although a product of the feudal class he had a relatively patriotic spirit and liberal political character. Although even some ‘priests’ of Marxism have, on that basis, called us ‘royalists’, we can now unhesitatingly say that on some national questions we and King Birendra had similar views and that there was an undeclared working unity between King Birendra and us on some matters.
Now that the patriotic King Birendra was dead, a new king was in charge. Gyanendra, the new king, was not as lenient as Birendra. Both the Nepalese citizens and Maoists disliked Gyanendra and his entire family. The Aftermath of the royal massacre changed the tides of the Nepalese civil war forever. Baburam-Prachanda were now thinking of shifting gears yet again, as there was an imperialist and feudalistic king on the throne.
In the next edition of Nepalese Civil War: Explained, we talk about how Gyanendra tried handling the crisis. And how the civil war got even more vicious.
The Kot massacre was orchestrated by Jung Bahadur Rana in 14 September 1846. He with his brothers killed the Prime Minister, royal relatives, army generals, senior ministers, and around 40 military officers and palace guards at Kot, the palace armory of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, Kathmandu. Jung Bahadur following the Massacre became the first Rana Prime Minister and started a Rana Autocracy.
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References: Nepal Peace Portal Maoist Insurgency Timeline