The Guardian August 1, 2001


Nepalese cauldron of mass rebellion

The spectacular assassination of most of the royal family of Nepal on 
June 2 is an extension of a social crisis that has turned feudal Nepal on 
its head.

Millions of workers and peasants in one of the poorest countries in the 
world have shaken off centuries of feudal oppression and are in open 
revolt.

Just days before the royal assassinations, the capital city of Katmandu was 
paralysed by a three-day general strike demanding the resignation of Prime 
Minister Girija Koirala on charges of corruption. (He was forced to resign 
last week  Ed). 

The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) called the general 
strike in a bloc with five other left parties. Together they hold almost 
half the seats in an unstable parliament.

Distribution of the land to the peasants is the fundamental question in a 
country where 80 per cent of the people are engaged in subsistence 
agriculture. The small but powerful landlord class has blocked any 
parliamentary solution to this burning issue. 

An armed struggle began in February 1996, led by the Communist Party of 
Nepal (Maoist). This revolutionary upheaval is a cause of great concern to 
the Indian bourgeoisie and to the British and US ruling classes.

To date, the rebellion has directly affected the lives of roughly two-
thirds of Nepal's 24 million people. 

Poverty, illiteracy

Nepal's population is more than 65 percent illiterate. The life expectancy 
of 51 years is among the lowest in the world. Nepal has one of the highest 
levels of infant mortality and malnutrition, with 72 per cent of the 
population living within the United Nations definition of extreme poverty.

As the peasant revolt has grown, it has impacted on the lucrative 
international tourist trade and expeditions to Mount Everest.

Wealthy international tourists trekking in Nepal are charmed by the quaint 
traditional life of villagers in the Himalayan Mountains who live without 
electricity or plumbing. These peasants are tied to and indebted to the 
landlords.

Charms and prayers are their only protection from disease. Society is 
divided by a rigid caste system. Deeply cut valleys divide ethnic groups. 
There are 25 different nationalities and seven major languages along with 
125 recorded languages. Only 14 per cent of the people have access to 
electricity.

In 1990 militant street protests in Katmandu grew into an explosive mass 
movement, finally forcing the king to abdicate power and accept a 
constitution that made the royal family a mere constitutional figurehead.

Political parties were legalised. Militant communist organisations, mass 
organisations and unions recruited hundreds of thousands of members. The 
masses took the stage.

The British and US role

Nepal had been a semi-colony since the British invasion of 1816. The 
mountainous terrain made total subjugation impractical for the British, but 
they used the highly organised Gurkha troops from Nepal as mercenaries to 
subjugate other peoples throughout the British Empire.

The US Government has for over 40 years pumped in millions of dollars to 
maintain the Dalai Lama of Tibet and his whole entourage in exile in India, 
including an office in Nepal. The Central Intelligence Agency spent many 
millions training a Tibetan contra army. It spent nothing for the 
development of Nepal.

While the role of the US Government in Nepal's present turmoil is not 
clear, it is important to note that Nepal is a buffer state sandwiched 
between China and India. As the British Empire faded, US imperialism 
assumed the role of preventing revolutionary upheaval.

Royalty and class

The feudal landlord class and old nobility in Nepal, along with the Indian 
bourgeoisie and US and British imperialism, have all had a stake in 
preserving the archaic royal family in Nepal. It is a powerful bulwark in 
maintaining class divisions and private property.

Both British and US imperialism have protected, equipped and trained the 
military for utterly corrupt dynasties throughout the Middle East and Asia, 
from Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia to Thailand and Afghanistan.

But there is another road. If the revolutionary workers' movement in the 
cities, led by several different communist parties, and the communist-led 
revolt in the countryside can find common ground for collaboration, that 
would be a huge step towards battering down all the reactionary forces that 
are holding back social and economic development in Nepal.

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