Crisis in Nepal's capitalist democracy

By Ray Fulcher

When Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (widely known as “Prachandra”) became Nepal’s prime minister last August, his party — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), UCPN (M) — pronounced it a “golden dawn” for Nepal after 10 years of civil war. Nepal’s unpopular monarchy had just been abolished, and the Maoists had won the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA), the country’s new parliament.

But a year later, the Maoist-led government has been replaced by a coalition of rival parties, headed by PM Madhav Kumar Nepal of the social-democratic Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), CPN (UML). The coalition government includes six ministers from the conservative and formerly pro-monarchist Nepalese Congress (NC) party. Without the support of the biggest party in the parliament, the new government has little legitimacy in a country wracked by fuel and food shortages and mired in rampant corruption.

“What we have here is a crisis of governance — a weak state that has no control over much of the country,” Aditya Adhikari, comment editor of the Kathmandu Post daily, told Agence France Presse on July 20. Wendy Cue, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nepal, told AFP that three years after the end of the civil war, little had changed for most people. “A lack of development was both the cause and the consequence of the conflict. Three years on, people are still waiting for the peace dividend.”

Dahal resigned as PM on May 4 following a fallout with Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav, of the NC, over Dahal’s dismissal and Yadav’s reinstatement of army chief General Rookmangud Katawal. In his resignation speech, Dahal declared that he quit in order “to create a conducive environment and save the peace process”. His resignation was indicative of the Maoist party leadership’s perspective of seeking to create a stable parliamentary democracy in Nepal that would be conducive to the further development of Nepal’s capitalist economy.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 2006 — Dahal’s “peace process” — marked the end of a ten-year Maoist “People’s War”. Under the agreement, the Maoists joined an interim government to organise elections to a Constituent Assembly that would draft a new constitution. On May 28, 2008, the interim parliament legally abolished the monarchy and declared the country a republic. In July, Yadav was elected Nepal’s first president by the CA and a month later Dahal became prime minister of a coalition government that included most of Nepal’s parliamentary parties.

Under the peace agreement, the Maoists’ 19,000 rebel fighters were confined to UN-supervised camps, pending their integration into the Nepalese Army (NA). The pro-monarchist Katawal, who had received training from the US Special Forces, came into conflict with Dahal’s government over a number of aspects of the peace agreement. Key terms of the agreement included a freeze on recruitment by both the NA and the Maoists’ Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), and the progressive integration of the PLA into the NA. Katawal refused to even consider the integration of PLA cadre whom he considers “politicised” and withdrew the NA from the National Games, held between branches of the security forces, because the PLA was participating.

Katawal also oversaw three separate recruitment drives for the NA in direct violation of the peace agreement. When Dahal’s government decided not to extend the terms of eight brigadier-generals who had reached mandatory retirement age, Katawal ignored the government and reinstated these generals. In April Dahal’s government asked Katawal for “clarification” of these acts of insubordination. He did not respond.

On the day that Dahal sacked Katawal, the CPN (UML) and other key coalition partners withdrew from his government, and supported President Yadav’s resinstatement of Katawal. Following Dahal’s resignation, the UCPN (M) initiated protests in the streets and in the parliament over Yadav’s action, but have made no moves to return to armed struggle. This is consistent with Dahal’s and the UCPN (M)’s desire to “save the peace process”. Behind this desire is the Maoist leadership’s class-collaborationist perspective of forging an alliance with the “national, patriotic” capitalists to strengthen Nepal’s underdeveloped capitalist economy. This, in the Maoists’ view, will be beneficial to both the capitalists and the working class.

In a January 2009 interview, Baburam Bhattarai, Nepal’s then finance minister and UCPN (M) political bureau member, declared that “both management and workers have a common interest now, for the development of the economy” and “industrial capitalism or productive national capitalism caters to the market within the country and utilises the labour and resources of the country. We are in favour of that sort of capitalism.”

Consistent with its pro-capitalist politics, the UCPN (M) refuses to campaign for the most fundamental step towards creating a working people’s government — the replacement of the capitalist NA with a revolutionary national army. Even after General Katawal’s insubordination and the NA officer corps’ support for him against the Maoist-led government, the UCPN (M) leadership took no steps to mobilise its mass base to break the power structures of the Nepalese capitalist state, preferring instead to “save the peace process”. Even the Communist Party of India (Maoist), long time allies of UCPN (M), criticised the Nepalese Maoist leaders in June for allowing the “old Royal Nepal Army” to continue “to be the bulwark of the present state structure in Nepal while the PLA is a passive onlooker” confined to UN-supervised camps.

In a July 11 article, Adhikari noted that, “After the ouster of the Maoist-led government, staunchly anti-Maoist forces such as the Nepal Army have become increasingly emboldened; they will pressure the government to maintain a hard line against the former rebels, even as they try to expand their say over the government on other matters. In particular, the army will likely try to force the government to inform the Maoists that no integration of Maoist combatants into the army will take place, thus breaking a longstanding gentleman’s agreement…

“The hardline within the military would like to have a greater say over the affairs of the state, and it believes that it could intimidate the Maoists into ‘good behaviour’ by the threat of force; at the same time, though, it also knows that it does not have the credibility to directly take control of the state. As such, the army needs a political face, which could take the form of a broad group of anti-Maoist parties coming together in support of a president-led, military-backed regime.”