Nepal: Mass Upsurge Against the King
U.S. Up To No Good
Revolution #044, April 23, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Nepal. An alliance of seven political parties called for a four-day bandh, a general strike, starting on April 6, aimed against King Gyanendra's autocratic feudal monarchy. And as we go to press on April 17, there have now been daily days of demonstrations in the capital city of Kathmandu and in towns and cities throughout the country.
Leading up to April 6, the government tried to stop the strike by banning rallies and public gatherings and arresting hundreds of people. Dozens of people were arrested at a rally in defiance of the ban on April 5. And the police attacked a rally of journalists and physically disabled people, organized by the Nepal Journalist Association. Security forces also carried out raids on the homes of opposition leaders and arrested many opposition activists.
But despite such repression, thousands took to the street on the first day of the strike, in Kathmandu and in other cities and towns. Normal life was completely paralyzed, with shops, commercial centers, schools, and other businesses closed and very few vehicles in the streets. A thousand people were arrested across the country on this first day of the strike.
Tens of thousands continued to take to the street, even after the end of the four-day strike that had been called for. In the first five days of protests, there were demonstrations in over 70 districts. On April 7, more than 50,000 people took to the streets in Chitwan, in the Terai area near the Indian border. In different areas, roads have been blocked by burning tires and tree logs. Huge numbers of riot police have been deployed against the protests and there have been daily clashes with protesters burning cars and hurling stones and bricks at security forces. The police are using tear gas, rubber bullets and regular bullets, injuring many. At least four people have been killed and dozens have been injured by bullets. Thousands have been arrested, including children.
Fourteen months ago, on February 1, 2005, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency, dissolved the parliament, sacked the prime minister, and suspended many constitutional rights. This was a desperate move by Gyanendra, who has been unable to crush the People’s War led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The CPN(M) began their armed struggle against the government in 1996, now control some 80 percent of the countryside, and have set up base areas ruled by new revolutionary forms of government. (For more on the People's War in Nepal go to revcom.us/s/nepal.htm).
In spite of a brutal counterinsurgency by Gyanendra's Royal Nepalese Army—backed by political, financial, and military support from the United States, India, and the UK—the People's War has continued to grow and expand and this is what has set the stage for the current demonstrations called for by the parliamentary parties.
The Maoists supported the four-day strike and for those days, suspended armed operations in and around Kathmandu. The third day of the strike, the Maoist People's Liberation Army (PLA) assaulted a Royal Nepal Army base in the central Terai region. About a dozen army barracks were destroyed and some two dozen Royal Army personnel were killed and a large quantity of weapons were seized.
The CPN(M) reports that there have been dozens of recent military actions by the PLA, including the seizure of district headquarters, commando attacks, and frontal battles—carried out in the western, central, and eastern regions of the country. On April 6, the PLA took over Malangwa, the district headquarters of Sarlahi in the eastern Terai (plains) region. The action left dozens of security personnel dead, and dozens injured. All of the government offices were destroyed and some of the officers including the security forces were taken into custody. Some 125 prisoners, most of them political prisoners, were released from the prison.
Throughout the world—whether in Iraq or Los Angeles, helicopters are used against the people, and in Nepal, the RNA has been using them to drop bombs and fire on PLA soldiers and ordinary people. On April 6, when an RNA helicopter flew into Malangwa, ground fire from the PLA brought it down in flames, killing 10 Royal Army officers. This is the first time the PLA has taken out an RNA helicopter.
The growing protests throughout the country are a powerful indication of how much King Gyanendra is isolated and widely hated by a wide spectrum of people in Nepal. And it is significant that the government's increasing brutality has only fueled the anger and determination of the people who have continued to defy the ban on protests and the palace's "shoot on sight" warnings.
Students have been a big part of the demonstrations all over the country. Dozens of journalists have been arrested at rallies organized to protest the arrest of journalists. Human rights activists monitoring demonstrations have been arrested. When writers, actors, musicians, comedians, and poets staged a march against the atrocities of the government and performed anti-government skits, they were attacked by the police with bullets, tear gas, and batons.
Farmers and workers are joining the protests, with peasants traveling from their villages to towns and cities to demonstrate. In one town a list of police, soldiers and vigilantes engaged in violent repression has been circulated and residents are urged not to rent to such persons.
Women's groups, professors, and lecturers have organized protests. The Nepal Medical Association mobilized doctors to demonstrate. Engineers, lawyers, and accountants have taken to the streets in the thousands. Government office workers have staged work stoppages and sit-ins.
The police attacked a sit-in of white collar professionals, arresting and beating more than 50 people. When a memorial was held for protesters killed by the government, thousands of security were deployed to arrest and beat people.
Security forces are firing indiscriminately at demonstrators, attacking with teargas, wounding hundreds. In Kathmandu alone, on one day, more than 200 were injured, including people hit by bullets. After security forces entered the dormitories of student doctors at a teaching hospital and beat them, doctors and health workers across the country protested by wearing black armbands.
Students at Kanchanpur’s Siddhanath Science Campus boycotted classes, set up burning tire barricades around the campus and declared they would not take exams until the andolan (movement) succeeds. The students took over the roads into the campus and declared the campus off limits to the police.
Right now in Nepal, there is a very complex situation in which there are various forces—with different interests and agendas—contending and maneuvering. And throughout all this, the United States has continued to act on its staunch position that “the Maoists must not be allowed to win.” The U.S. has officially put the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on their “terrorist list,” despite the fact that the politics and practice of the CPN(M) clearly has nothing in common with groups like Al Qaida. The United States has backed a brutal counterinsurgency against the People's War, with millions of dollars, thousands of automatic weapons and military training. U.S. Ambassador to Nepal James Moriarty has repeatedly urged the mainstream parliamentary parties to unite with the King to defeat the Maoists. And he has harshly criticized them for working together in any way with the Maoists.
Now, in a situation where Gyanendra may not be able to hold on to power, the U.S. is maneuvering to ensure an outcome that will be in its interests—continuing to agitate that the Maoists are an illegitimate political force. News reports say that Moriarty has been meeting with leaders of the two main parliamentary parties, the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. And on April 10, the U.S. urged Gyanendra to hold talks with the opposition parties.
On April 7, Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, addressed the Confederation of Indian Industries. In a response to a question about the U.S. position on Nepal, Boucher said: “These are nasty people, the Maoists are. And I think we need to work as much as we can to pressure the King to restore democracy, to encourage the parties to stay together and to come up with a workable, functioning democracy. And to be able to expunge the Maoists from Nepali society. I think it's very much the attitude of governments in the region including India, and we've had some very good discussion today about how to advance those goals.” Later Boucher added, “Our diplomats are in touch with everybody in Kathmandu, all the players, the political parties and the King, delivering very strong messages I think every day and coordinating with other countries who are represented there.”
In such a situation, there is the real possibility of even more direct intervention by the United States, in some form—which would be very bad for the masses of people in Nepal.
The involvement and efforts by U.S. in Nepal are not about “restoring democracy.” They are about maintaining a state rule, in whatever form and by whatever political parties, which is subordinate to foreign domination and will enforce the underlying economic and social relations of oppression in Nepalese society that serve the interests of imperialism.