Chapter Two: Aurora of The War
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda were now under the same political front – the CPN Maoist. Prachanda however from the very beginning remained underground throughout the Nepalese civil war while Bhattarai handled ‘PR’ of the party.
Nepal perhaps was witnessing the least of some changes with the introduction of constitutional monarchy. While the other communist radicals welcomed this amendment and joined the government, the ‘Maoists’ chose other ways.
The duo’s CPN (Maoist) had already forswore elections and decided to take up arms during the “Third Plenum” of the party. In September the same year, the party’s central committee adopted “Plan for Historic Initiation of People’s War”. Still and all, there was no denying the party was not yet ready to initiate a war of such magnitude.
When exactly did they gain the momentum then? How exactly did they pull off a war whose graphics give us goosebumps to this day? To answer these questions, we must take a closer look at our country and our people.
CPN (Maoist) was a small leftist party with merely a few hundred followers all over Nepal. The think-tanks and tactical minds in the party themselves were still skeptical of the war. It was the deeply entrenched ‘feudalistic’ and oppressive societal structure that enabled thousands of people to join the PLA. Prachanda liked calling the guerillas, the members of the People’s Liberation Army – PLA.
Immediate Causes of Civil War
Nepal is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country, Prachanda has stated in many of his interviews. During the dawn of the war, 71 percent of the country’s population belonged below the absolute poverty line. More than 85 percent of the population lived in rural areas. More than 60 percent of the total population were illiterate, and 60 percent unemployed.
These data are enough to visualize the-then Nepal where citizens were inundated with poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. The prejudicial society made it even worse for the proletarians to sustain. Jung Bahadur Rana, the architect behind the autocratic Rana regime, had forced discrimination upon the people.
Rana had introduced Muluki Ain, the general civil and criminal code, back in 1910. The code literally legalized social discrimination, with penalties based on caste. People from the lower class faced severe consequences for a trivial offense, while those higher in the hierarchy simply got away. Ranas, Shahs and all others from ‘upper caste’ including the Panchas fraudulently used the code to oppress minorities and the poor.
Dalits were facing extreme prejudice, and this is why they were now growing fierce against the system. Women were too, on a similar spectrum, and the society was acutely misogynistic. The society rarely allowed the females to actually practice their rights, and subsequently drained them inside the thresholds. For the daughters to look at the dawn beyond the horizon was out of the question in our society.
The economy too was in the hands of the capitalistic ruling class, belonging to the uppermost caste hierarchy. Richest 10 percent exercised almost half of the national economy. More than 81 percent of the labor force engaged themselves in ancient agricultural occupations promising minimum output. However, only 12 percent among them actually owned land.
Convincing Promises with the Civil War
For those in rural villages, the situation was not any different from the Rana regime, or the Panchayat system. Especially in villages like Rukum and Ropla, in the western stretch of the country, people were discontented at the ruling class. These villages were later ground-zero of the Nepalese civil war.
With no changes visible and the same oppressive and feudalistic ruling synchrony, people hooked themselves to Maoist ideology quite easily. Prachanda and his party claimed to plan a protracted people’s war while bringing down the feudals. They promised marginalized working-class people, including women, Dalit, and other minorities a brighter future. Nationalizing property of “comprador and capitalistic rulers” and in turn uplifting the oppressed was among Maoist’s many commitments.
Another major assurance was the drafting of a new revolutionary constitution to promise each Nepali with their basic rights. Moreover, a constitutional assembly elected by all the citizens was to sketch the new constitution ensuring people with their rights.
With such seditious promises from Maoists, proletarians found themselves captivated by the party’s ideology. Maoist’s doctrine persuaded the working-class people, who had faced discriminatory practices against them for centuries. People believed Nepalese civil war could guarantee them basic rights and overthrow the capitalist feudal from power once and for all.
The Shining Path
Nepalese Civil war in many ways is believed to have been inspired by the one in Peru. Abimael Guzman, the leader of The Communist Party of Peru, liked calling the war “Sendero Luminoso” – meaning Shining Path. Peru resembles Nepal in various aspects, including topography, society, economy, and more. Even though the war led by Guzman turned into a fiasco ultimately, the Prachanda-Baburam duo got to learn a lot from The Shining Path.
Having done proper planning, preparations, and the path set, it was time. On 4th February, 1996, Baburam Bhattarai presented the Nepali Congress-led coalition government with a list of 40 demands focusing primarily on “Nationalism, democracy, and livelihood.” The extensive demand-list was presented to the cabinet led by Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba.
These demands included repudiation of both 1950 and Mahakali treaties done with India; retrench all the privileges exercised by the Royal family. Drafting of a new revolutionary constitution by the constitution assembly; establishment of federal democratic republic of Nepal were also in the demand-list.
Bhattarai’s demand-list also included a cover letter that read if the government did not initiate positive steps towards fulfilling these demands by 17th February, there would be consequences. By consequences, he instated embark of armed struggle against the existing state.
On 13th February, however, four days before the deadline had even expired, Maoist struck in seven simultaneous attacks over six districts. Prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was on an official state visit to India when Nepal plunged into an unprecedented war.
Was Nepal ready? More importantly, was the palace and the government ready for such a crisis? In the next edition of Nepalese Civil War: Explained, we unravel the events that followed thereupon.
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