Crisis Follows King’s Power Grab

Nepal: Two Futures, Two Roads

by Li Onesto

Revolutionary Worker #1268, February 20, 2005, posted at

On February 1, 2005 King Gyanendra in Nepal declared a state of emergency, dissolved the parliament, sacked the prime minister and suspended many constitutional rights, including freedom of the press, speech and expression, peaceful assembly, the right to privacy, and the right against preventive detention. All international flights to and from Kathmandu were halted and telephone lines and internet services were blocked.

With the king’s televised declaration, armored military vehicles began patrolling the streets of the capital city of Kathmandu and soldiers immediately started arresting people and instituting a sweeping clampdown. Soldiers surrounded the houses of Prime Minister Deuba, putting him under house arrest. Other leaders of two of the main parliamentary parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), were detained in their homes or arrested—and security forces were stationed in front of government buildings, post offices, telecommunications centers and the state bank. To prevent organized protests, trade union and student leaders were also arrested. Reliable news is hard to get from Nepal because of intense censorship, but there are reports that in the days after the king’s announcement, as many as 1,000 people were arrested.

This is a desperate move by the king, who has been unable to crush the Maoist People’s War led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). February 13, 2005 marks the ninth anniversary of the start of the insurgency and the Maoist guerrillas now control 80% of the countryside.

The World to Win News Service pointed out: "With his attack on parliament, Gyanendra is trying to win a certain populist appeal by pointing to the corruption among those parties—as if he himself were not involved in all sorts of corrupt activities and killing. It has become apparent to one and all that society has become polarized between the Maoists and a monarchy based on little more than the Royal Army. With the king’s ‘self coup,’ the country has entered what Prachanda [head of the CPN (Maoist)] called ‘a turning point, a decisive battle between autocracy and republic.’ "

The day after his declaration Gyanendra announced a new 10-member Cabinet made up of his supporters. The king’s new foreign minister said there would be no new elections until the Maoist rebellion was ended and predicted it could take three years before multi-party democracy could be reintroduced.

The current king, Gyanendra, people may remember, came to power in June 2001 after a palace massacre in which his brother king Birendra, the queen and eight other members of the royal family were murdered. Many people think Gyanendra was behind this massacre and upon coming to power he sent the Royal Nepal Army against the guerrillas for the first time.

By the end of that year Gyanendra had declared a state of emergency, suspended constitutional rights, and unleashed a bloody campaign against the guerrillas in which thousands of people were killed. He has been backed by India, the United States and the UK which have all provided political, financial and military support. The U.S. Congress gave the king $22 million, thousands of M16s, and has sent U.S. military personnel to train the Nepalese Army. Nepal has been without a working parliament for over two years. At the end of 2002 Gyanendra grabbed complete power, disbanded the parliament, and appointed his own prime minister. Later, in 2004 he was forced to give some power back to the parliamentary forces. But he has now grabbed complete power once again.

It was reported that only hours after the King’s speech, in the western town of Pokhara, stone-throwing students clashed with the police, driving them away from the campus twice over the course of several hours. At least 15 people were injured when the police fired on the protest, and many were also beaten when the police dispersed the crowd. Nepal’s national human rights commission also reported that the same night the army raided a student hostel and at least 250 students were detained.

The paramilitary police immediately began enforcing the king’s ban on public gatherings. A few days after the king’s declaration they raided a meeting of about 50 members of the Nepali Congress Party, arresting all those who couldn’t escape. Nepalese and international reporters and photographers — including a team from The Associated Press and Associated Press Television News — who were covering the meeting were briefly detained and had their digital camera disks and videotapes confiscated.

Government security teams launched sudden inspections of the Passport Department, Land Revenue Department, Kathmandu District Administration Office and Transport Management Office. And the king issued an order prohibiting government employees from setting up any kind of organizations having political affiliation. Any such organizations that already existed have been ordered to stop all activities "that affect the sovereignty, integrity or peace and security of the Kingdom of Nepal." The order also authorized the seizure of private property.

Sweeping Censorship

In 2001, the last time a state of emergency was imposed, censorship of the media was brutally imposed— newspaper offices were raided, editors and journalists of the mainstream press were detained and questioned for even writing about the Maoist insurgency. Krishna Sen, the editor of the pro-Maoist newspaper Janadesh was arrested and later killed in custody.

Now, once again, the king has clamped down hard on the media. Nothing is to be published that has not been authorized by the government, and any criticism of the king’s action has been banned for six months. Soldiers were sent to literally sit in newsrooms to scrutinize stories before they were published and soldiers and armored cars were stationed outside some offices.

The government ordered all private radio stations in Nepal to stop broadcasting news and opinions and to air only entertainment programs. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists says four weekly papers were raided to prevent their publication. The BBC reported that the general-secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists was detained.

The king’s decree bans any public comments "made directly or indirectly" about the security forces "that is likely to have negative impact on their morale." Violators can now be arrested and security forces can monitor telephones, radio, fax and e-mail and other forms of electronic communication and block them when necessary.

In the days after the king’s declaration, with the crisis intensifying and swirling around them, newspapers ended up running editorials on things like archery, the merits of sunbathing, ballet and the importance of socks in society. As many as 1,000 radio journalists are now jobless because their stations can only broadcast entertainment programs.

Soldiers were deployed at some private internet service providers to make sure they remained disconnected. By February 10, some internet services were restored and soldiers had been pulled back from newspaper offices. But General Dipak K. Gurung, spokesman for the Royal Nepal Army, said this was only because editors had "assured us there would be self-censorship." According to one newspaper, this self-censorship came about with "some encouragement"—one editor who spoke on conditions of anonymity said the king’s press secretary told some editors that he would not be able to help if the military decided to "disappear" them for a few hours. Gurung said all this was necessary to stop the publication and broadcasting of Maoist announcements and propaganda, as well as any reports that sap the army’s morale. Referring to editors, he said, "in the name of democracy, in the name of freedom, they really got out of control. If they are cooperating, there’s no reason they should be afraid."

As a statement issued jointly by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists pointed out, measures like suspending freedom of the press "put the Nepalese people at even greater risk of human rights abuses." And many others are pointing out that with this kind of clampdown, the army, already known for widespread abuses of human rights, will be free to carry out a reign of terror in the countryside. Even Keith Bloomfield, the ambassador to Nepal from the UK—which has been backing the king with financial and military support—said, "There’s a danger that anybody who’s anti-king will be called a Maoist and treated like a Maoist." The fact is, the RNA has already been carrying out brutal and widespread human rights abuses, targetting Maoists and anyone even suspected of being a "Maoist sympathizer," killing thousands, and torturing, raping, and imprisoning many more. The new state of emergency and widespread censorship will now give the RNA even more freedom to carry out their reign of terror in the countryside.

Revolutionary Response

The Maoists have called for an indefinite blockade and traffic strike throughout the country starting on February 13, the ninth anniversary of the start of the People’s War and a spokesman for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ruled out any possibility of talks with the king. As we go to press, the news on February 13 has reported that the Maoists have begun a successful blockade of traffic across the country.

According to sources from inside Nepal, even though the phone lines and internet were cut off, the revolutionary forces were able to keep in contact with each other. Five radio stations, from the People’s Republic of Nepal Radio— have continued to transmit daily programs. The pro-Maoist newspapers have managed to keep publishing regularly through many different means. And there are reports of successful attacks by PLA fighters against RNA soldiers.

TV stations in Nepal reported that on February 9, the Maoists attacked a district jail in Kailali, near Kathmandu, killing five security personnel and freeing 166 prisoners, including many imprisoned Maoists. It was reported that the guerrillas, armed with crude bombs, broke open the prison gates after a 90-minute firefight with the security personnel.

Responding to the king’s actions, the CPN (Maoist) issued a statement saying, "The feudal aristocracy is responsible for the grievous situation of the country and the people, and the time has come to throw it into the dustbin of history. Through the class struggle of 1990 and nine years of People’s War the Nepalese masses have shown beyond a doubt that they can fulfill their historic task of establishing a republic... Our Party forcefully appeals to all the country’s political parties, the intellectual masses, civil society and the masses of all levels and beliefs to create a storm of united countrywide rebellion, under the minimum common slogan of a people’s democratic republic and a constituent assembly, against this last lunacy of the feudal clique."

Prachanda, the head of the CPN (Maoist) has urged "pro-people forces of the world" to oppose Gyanendra’s power grab and called for "the political forces, civil society, the intellectual community, journalists and all levels and sections of the people to store supplies necessary for daily consumption and support our movement by all means to make it successful." The regime then announced that anyone buying extra food and fuel would be arrested.

The CPN (Maoist) has warned that the advance of the people’s power toward the seizure of political power countrywide heightens the danger of Indian expansionist and imperialist intervention. And Prachanda’s February 1 statement appealed to "the entire pro-people forces of the world to raise their voices against this autocratic step and in favor of the Nepalese people’s democratic movement."

Military Offensive Against the Maoists

The moves by the king in Kathmandu are targeting the parliamentary parties and any others who oppose the monarchy. But these drastic measures are first and foremost aimed at the Maoist guerrillas who are increasingly in a position to seize power. This became immediately clear when the king announced that with the state of emergency, his army is launching a new and increased offensive against the Maoists. On February 8, Reuters news agency reported that RNA troops backed by helicopters launched attacks on Maoist camps in the west and that dozens of Maoists had been killed near the western city of Nepalgunj.

For years now — even with the U.S., UK and India providing millions of dollars, helicopters, automatic weapons, advice and training—the RNA has been unable to defeat the Maoists. Until 2001, Royal Nepal Army soldiers numbered only 45,000. This number has since almost doubled to around 85,000, but has still not been able to militarily beat back the People’s Liberation Army in any real significant way. Most analysts following developments in Nepal, including U.S. bourgeois think tanks, say "there can be no military solution to the crisis in Nepal"— conceding that the RNA by itself (without any kind of outside intervention) cannot militarily defeat the Maoists.

The strife and intractable divisions within the Nepalese ruling class have been centered on this problem, including over whether and how to negotiate with the Maoists. There have already been two ceasefire periods of negotiations between the government and the CPN (Maoist). But the Maoists’ strategy is not one of achieving military gains aimed at getting a seat at the parliamentary table. They are carrying out a protracted People’s War aimed at seizing power and establishing a new socialist government. And a new revolutionary government has already been established in vast areas of the countryside where the Maoists have control.

The RNA basically acknowledges that at this point it cannot win on the battleground and are now saying they expect a long and bloody warfare against the Maoists, aimed at forcing them to the negotiating table.

Gyanendra says the first priority of his new government is "peace with the Maoists." But what does he mean by this? Speaking to Reuters, a member of the king’s new cabinet, referring to the Maoists, said, "Will they come to talks or not? If they do, we can move forward in a certain way. And if they don’t, we have to make another choice."

The king may hope that by unleashing an even more brutal military campaign against the Maoists, he can perhaps "divide and conquer" the insurgency. Army spokesman Gurung stated, "We have to force the Maoists to come to the negotiating table, we are looking for them. Wherever they are we are going to launch offensive operations. We have to make them weak. Once their military capabilities go down, their political faction will gain the upper hand and hopefully they’ll come to the negotiating table."

But this is a big gamble by the king that could backfire.

The Indian Express newspaper commented, "Clearly, King Gyanendra has calculated when it comes to a choice between the monarchy and Maoists, India and the international community would have no option but to side with him." But the U.S., UK and India have been very concerned about the deep splits within the Nepalese ruling class and have been trying to get the king and the parliamentary parties to work together in order to form a stronger more united front against the Maoists. Now the king is only deepening the deep chasm that has existed within Nepal’s ruling class.

One worried analyst from New Delhi said of Gyanendra’s move, "This is a fairly disastrous decision, the worst possible option" that will alienate the king from all of the nation’s major political forces even as it does nothing to strengthen his hand against the rebels.

The parliamentary forces in Nepal are also worried that the king’s seizure of total power will only end up strengthening the Maoists. A leader of the Nepali Congress said, "If the king fails, it will strengthen the Maoists, which are already a dangerous force. If he fails, it could cost his crown because the real power will go to them. If he succeeds, this will enhance the role of the king in favor of a stronger monarchy. With that, multiparty democracy will be weakened."

Imperialist Response and Concern

The U.S.and India have been providing the Nepalese government with political, financial and military support to fight the Maoists. Neither of them, as of this writing, have retracted any of this support or in the past really condemned the fact that Nepal has basically been a monarchy—without elections or any semblance of a democratic parliament since the end of 2002. It is unclear what role the U.S., UK, or India may have had in the king’s decision to make such a drastic move. The U.S. and India have been very involved in arming, training, and advising the RNA, and some argue it is unlikely the king would and could have made a move like this without the knowledge and/or support of the U.S. and India. But now the U.S., UK and India are all publicly condemning the king’s "undemocratic" moves—reflecting real concern that the escalating crisis could lead to further and perhaps decisive gains by the Maoists.

Britain summoned the Nepali ambassador in London to convey its concern. And Nepal’s ambassador to India, who said he was in regular contact with New Delhi to explain the new government’s views, said, "The government of India is very concerned about the growing nexus between the (Nepalese) Maoists and the Maoists in India" and that New Delhi has a vital stake in helping quell the revolt as it is worried Maoist violence could spill into parts of India where radical leftist groups are powerful.

A statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs said, "The latest developments in Nepal bring the monarchy and the mainstream political parties in direct confrontation with each other. This can only benefit the forces that not only wish to undermine democracy but the institution of monarchy as well."

The New York Times quoted C. Raja Mohan, professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, who pointed out that Nepal shares a border with China and borders three of India’s largest states, all of which are battling Marxist Naxalite insurgents, who have links to the Maoists. "Strategically," Mohan said, "you can’t get any bigger than this."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said the Bush administration was "deeply troubled by the apparent step back from democracy" and demanded an "immediate move toward the restoration of multiparty democratic institutions." He said Gyanendra’s actions "undermine the Nepalis’ struggle with the Maoist insurgency, which is a very serious challenge to a peaceful and prosperous future for Nepal."

U.S. officials have acknowledged that RNA soldiers are carrying out human rights abuses but have justified U.S. aid on the grounds that without it, the Maoists might win and Nepal could join the roster of "failed states hospitable to terrorists." The CPN (Maoist) has been put on the U.S.’s official "terrorist list"—even though it is clear the Maoists in Nepal have nothing whatsoever in common with "terrorist" politics, tactics and strategy. And the U.S. has made it clear that the Maoists cannot be allowed to come to power in Nepal—that this kind of "regime change" is against the interests of U.S. imperialism.


The situation continues to intensify in Nepal, with two futures posing themselves very sharply—on the one side, the brutal monarchy and a whole oppressive and corrupt system; and on the other side, the People’s War which is struggling to liberate Nepal from the grip of foreign domination and establish a new revolutionary government. This situation places a great demand on all progressive people of the world—to oppose the murderous moves by the King, expose the role of the U.S. in backing the efforts of the Nepalese ruling class to crush the insurgency, and protest any further intervention by the U.S., UK, India, or any other power, aimed against the People’s War.