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.