Peter Tobin is a Marxist activist and author who is an experiment on the recent goings in in Nepal especially with regard to the Maoist revolutionaries who recently fought a brutal civil war there and are now part of the government. Turns out that with disarmament, a lot of the Maoists sold out completely on almost all of their revolutionary principles, become rightwingers and in the process become millionaires with huge mansions. In addition, as you might have guessed, all and I mean all of the Maoist leaders were Brahmins. And this was an anti-caste revolution. In this part of the world, caste is like dirt. No matter how many times try wash the dirt off, there’s always some on your skin. And no matter how many attempts are made by South Asians to cleanse the body politic of caste, there’s always some of it remaining on the skin of their culture. you can’t take enough showers to wash all the dirt off and you can’t do enough reforms to wash caste out of the culture. It’s looking like caste in now an integral part of South Asian culture like curry, saris or gurus. Warning: This work is very long. If it was a book, it would be 60 pages, long enough for a novella if it was fiction.
Time of Monsters
by Peter Tobin
The cartoon above reflects a widespread perception among many Nepalese that the four parliamentary parties are servants – in varying degrees – of New Delhi. It appeared in the 2013, August edition of Nepal – a popular monthly – showing Prachanda (UCPN(M), Nepal (UML), Sitaula (NC) and Gaddachhar (MJN), (Brahmins all!) blubbing uncontrollably as Nepal against history and the odds beat India 2-1 in the South Asia Football Championships in July 2013.
Nepal’s Brahminical State and Problems of Legitimacy
What’s more, you can’t in good faith give the nobles what they want without doing harm to others; but you can with the people. Because the people’s aspirations are more honorable than those of the nobles: the nobles want to oppress the people, while the people want to be free from oppression. Machiavelli, The Prince, 1516, p.39. Penguin 2009.
To the present day:
How can people trust them to run the state? Our boycott is therefore a political act to expose the failure of this parliamentary system. To build a new democracy and renew the revolutionary process we must go in a different direction. – Mohan Baidya, ‘Kiran’, Chairman, CPN-Maoist, October, 2013
Political parties in all societies reflect specific histories and display the balance of social and political forces at any point in their narratives. Nepal is no exception to this truism; the classes and strata arising from the socio-economic conditions obtaining in the country’s history gave rise to caste, party and faction. The aim of this article is to provide detail of their historical gestation as a means of examining and explaining the present impasse in Nepalese society. This is presently evidenced by argument as to whether a Consultative Assembly, elected in November 2013 in a disputed ballot, has authority to promulgate a new constitution and is another issue of serious division that pervades every sphere of Nepalese society – political, cultural, social and economic – that cumulatively call into question the legitimacy of the essentially unreconstructed state founded by Prithvi Nararyan Shah in 1769. The article will argue that discord has been inherent since the state’s inception in the mid-18th century, with the campaign of unification driven by a minority elite imposing a nationality upon a multi-ethnic majority and which despite changing modalities of state power in the succeeding two-hundred and fifty years, remains the dominant power in Nepalese society, surviving monarchical absolutism, feudal clan autocracy, constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy, successively appearing as contrasting if not antagonistic systems. It is certainly the case that internecine power struggles among ruling Nepalese elites, regarding modalities of power, are crucial to understanding the forces shaping the present. However, evident systemic discontinuity should not obscure persistence of upper caste, particularly Brahmin ascendancy, surmounting every upheaval, and turning every change of polity into a vehicle for retention of power and privilege. Responding to the pressures of the modern world, and with long experience in judging the vagaries of historic authority, these same castes have melded seamlessly into the local bourgeoisie – domestically hegemonic but internationally subservient. Not every ancien regime is oblivious or impervious to demands for change from formerly subaltern classes. Note the nationalist leader Tancredi’s maxim, in di Lampedusa’s epic novel The Leopard about the 19th century Risorgimento (Italian unification):
“Things have to change so that everything can stay the same.” (“Tutto deve cambiar perche tutto reste uguale.”) (Il Gattopardo, G. di Lampedusa, 1958)
The Nepalese ruling castes are exemplars of this paradox, having survived successive changes in polity, a point underlined in contemporary Nepal where the major constitutional parties and organs of state are dominated by the same higher caste/class, as supreme in the new democratic republic as they were under the preceding Hindu God-Kingdom created through war and conquest by their Brahmin/Rajput ancestors in the 18th century. Unification was more empire than nation building, pitting a warlike Indo-Aryan warrior caste against a rural majority comprised of over sixty Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups, each with its own languages and specific Buddhist/pantheist/shamanist cultures. Over time this may not have precluded the forging of national identity: consider the example of Britain, which emerged from English subjugation and colonization of the tribal Celtic peoples that flourished on the periphery of the later named, with breast-beating triumphalism, British Isles. Similarly the English had emerged as a distinct people following military invasion and occupation by French Normans over Anglo-Saxon natives. Christianity in the form of Roman Catholicism already provided a common ideology for conqueror and conquered. In the centuries following, the former lost both their French language and territories with the European feudal system they imposed upon Anglo-Saxon England taking root and dominating until the emergence of bourgeois capitalism in the Late Middle Ages. Nepal has never overcome the contradictions engendered by its violent birth which was compromised by its Hindu ruling castes retaining political, cultural and economic ties with caste peers governing India the sub-continental empire, and who, since Bhimsen Thapa, Jonge Bahadur and the Ranas, have, unlike the nation-builders of medieval Europe, proved unable or unwilling to act with national impunity. The notion of the present ruling caste elite representing the national interest is presently even more unlikely as their growing cosmopolitan class interests political, ideological and economic necessitate the country continuing as neo-colony of Brahminical India, subject to the ubiquitous, all-conquering global market and the multinational institutions established by US and other First World powers after 1945. The last serious threat to centralized caste power was the People’s War from 1996-2006, which saw a 12-point peace agreement between parliamentarians and revolutionaries, following the success of these two former bitter enemies allying to overthrow King Gyenendra in the 2006 second Thulo Jana Andolan (Great People’s Uprising/Revolution). It did not, as promised, lead to a ‘New Nepal’, instead seeing the elites of ‘Old Nepal’ regrouping, and remaining ensconced in power. This had also happened after the 1990 Jana Andolan, when the Brahmin leaders of the democratic movement summoned the Janjatis (ethnic minorities) and oppressed castes and classes to join the struggle for democracy against King Birendra and the feudal Panchayat system. Promises made, offering cultural and political autonomy to redress historical injustices, were later reneged on, with the subsequent constitution drawn up by the victorious New Delhi-backed political parties even retaining Nepal’s status as a divine Hindu Kingdom. It was not until 2008, with the declaration of a republic, that the monarchial system was finally abolished. However, that was the only tangible political gain from ten years of People’s War, while the major socioeconomic and cultural inequities that had provoked it were left in place, with attempts to ameliorate them blocked or sabotaged by a resurgent rightist bloc that seized the political and military initiative in the years following the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Nepal’s political parties are defined by which side they take in relation to this history; whether they want to either preserve the existing system, albeit with minor tweaks and modest reform, or completely replace it with a new dispensation. Conservatives and revolutionaries are adversaries in the struggle for the body and soul of the nation. First, some empirical details about the country that provide the inescapable, epidemiological conclusion that the socio-economic antagonisms fermenting in Nepalese society point inevitably to further eruption.
Economy and Society
Nepal is an aid-dependent, landlocked country, accessed principally from India, with a population of approximately 28 million. It has over sixty ethnic groups or Janjatis (called Adivasis in India) reflecting a rich linguistic and cultural diversity. Over 80
The CIA World Factbook estimates its labor force at 16 million: 70
As its contribution to GDP shows, the manufacturing sector is small, with carpet weaving dominating its light industrial sector and the rest made up of skilled handcraft production in metal, stone and wood. Since the decline of the jute industry based in Biratnagar, heavy industry is negligible, and Nepal has to import everything from cars to computers – necessities of modern life – which add to its trade deficit. Nepal has always faced the difficult situation of being a small economic power next to a big one that is denied economies of scale that accrue from size, thus insuring that Nepali companies could not compete with bigger Indian ones in the home market. This problem has, for example, caused the virtual collapse of its cotton and garment industry. Exports are inhibited because India imposes high import duties to protect its own industries. The pan-Indian Marwari Corporation/Clan dominate the domestic industrial and commercial sector in collusion with the traditional caste elites of Ranas/Shahs. A further aspect of its neocolonial status is that Nepal is forced to concede an open border with India and must endure a ‘take or leave it’ in terms of trade with India, a market that accounts for nearly 70
Nepal’s manufacturing base was further weakened by the global march of neoliberal capitalism (4) that saw, for example, Structural Adjustment Programs introduced in Nepal from the mid-1980s’. SAP’s are loans to aid-dependent, underdeveloped or economically unstable countries that have strong conditional clauses requiring adoption of rigorous free market policies, including privatization, trade and finance-sector liberalization, prices determined by the market and precluding and retreating from state intervention in any form. They were implemented by the IMF and World Bank, acting in a ‘bad cop/bad cop’ scenario and affected all sections of Nepalese society; the removal of subsidies on such items as cooking gas hit many homes, while those on fertilizers reduced agricultural production. Privatization programs ended public enterprises, many of which had been initiated by a dirigiste Rana regime in the 1930’s in a desperate attempt to modernize. There was, for example, sustained pressure from multilateral development financial institutions – the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank in particular – forcing a sale of water utilities, resulting in their complete privatization by 2006. Tariffs protecting indigenous industries were also removed and the penetration of multinational capital was facilitated across all sectors.
Inequality and Poverty
This regime, which does not even manufacture a needle in the name of a self-reliant and national economy, has handed the whole economy to a dozen families of foreign compradors and bureaucratic capitalists. This handful of plunderers has become billionaires, whereas the real owners of this country and the national property – the toiling masses of Nepal – are forced to eke out a meager existence of deprivation and poverty. – (CPN(M) leaflet, distributed on the eve of the start of the People’s War, 13th February, 1996.
The UN Human Development Report 2014 listed Nepal as the 31st poorest country in the world and among those classified low in Human Development indices with glaring inequalities in incomes and lifestyles that has the top 10
Government Household Survey statistics for 2010/11, by contrast, estimated deprivation at 25
While the majority of Nepalese are rural dwellers, the agriculture sector is weak and inefficient; hilly and mountainous topography with subsequent scarcity of arable soil apart from the southern Terai plains allows mostly for only subsistence farming. A poor infrastructure of roads and communications inhibits movement of produce. The continuing failure to reform land ownership sees huge, growing numbers of landless Dalits, Muslims and other minorities, especially in feudal and populous Terai. The failures to implement scientific management and introduce modern technology combine to render Nepal dependent on importing foodstuffs from or through India. The failure of the present system to provide necessary conditions of existence for an expanding demographic adds greater urgency to the antagonisms between the Establishment Right and Radical Left. These will be further accentuated given that India’s newly elected BJP administration has signaled the intention of pursuing more aggressively expansionist policies and is fully committed to the neoliberal economic project. The latter is being promoted as ‘shock therapy’ necessary for economic lift-off that will rescue the Indian people from poverty and deprivation. It is it problematic because it is set out as an ideological as opposed to an economically rational project deliberately masking the aim of increasing the penetration of Western monopoly capitalism into the Indian economy through the mediation of the Brahmin/Banyia oligarchy. One of the new regime’s first acts was to increase hikes in diesel prices, allowing the state subsidy to shrivel, while signaling an intention to do the same to fertilizer subsidies. It has since announced that the health budget is to be slashed in a country that already has one of world’s lowest expenditures in this sector. When all such state aid is rolled back, if wealth ‘trickles down’ perhaps by the conspicuous consumption of luxury commodities and lifestyle of a privileged cosmopolitan caste elite or charity (not a noted Brahmin characteristic) and alleviates some poverty – so be it, but it will be serendipitous. Such an outcome is not what drives au courant ‘capitalism with its coat off’ mutation, (4) so eagerly embraced by India’s caste elite as greed is a noted Brahmin characteristic. However, for all the Hindutva histrionics and bravura posturing of the demagogue Modi, his BJP regime is in fact morphing effortlessly from Mohan Singh’s Congress Party Administration’s line of march. This became apparent in 2005 US/India Memos of Understanding (MOU) which, inter alia, initiated opening up India’s agricultural research establishments to American monopolies and activated policies of ‘rapid commercialization’ of already hard-pressed Indian farmers. One commentator noted at the time:
The treaty is a partnership between two unequal partners. American agriculture is highly mechanized and organized, energy-intensive and market-centric. Indian agriculture, by contrast, has been for millennia the way of life for the vast majority of the population. (8)
The present Nepalese establishment invariably marches in step with New Delhi and accordingly rolled out the red carpet for the newly-elected PM Modi’s August 2014 official visit to Kathmandu. Addressing the Nepalese Parliament, he emphasized his government’s neoliberal economic priorities and the benefit Nepal would derive from deepening existing bilateral links by “…taking our relationship to an entirely new level.” Nepal’s establishment parties were receptive, as the post-1990 administrations had closely shadowed India’s descent into neoliberal policies, and Modi’s regime was seen as continuation of this course. The August visit was also marked by concluding agreements that increased Indian access to Nepal’s vast untapped water resources, which the revolutionary opposition denounced as a blatant example of neocolonial subservience to Indian expansionists and betrayal of the national interest. The argument over this abundant but as yet untapped natural resource constitutes a longstanding fault line in Nepalese politics that bears examination; it concentrates many existing socioeconomic and political contradictions in one issue.
The Politics of Water and Unequal Treaties
On September 6th 2014 the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist announced its intention to publicly burn copies of the Power Trade Agreement (PTA) recently negotiated between India and Nepal which allows for the construction of hydropower projects by Indian companies so as to facilitate energy trading, cross-border transmission lines and grid connections between the two countries. (9) The coalition government concluded a further agreement with the Indian company GMR to construct a 900MW hydropower project on the Upper Karnali. It was claimed that combining these two accords would enable Nepal to utilize its hydropower resources to produce enough surplus to permit the already agreed export of electricity to India and help reduce the country’s trade deficit. The extraction of Nepal’s water resources began in 1920 when the Indian Raj signed the 1920 Treaty of Sarda that secured access to the Mahakali. After independence, India’s Nehru’s Administration continued in a similar manner with the 1954 Koshi and 1959 Gandak Treaties that saw dams constructed solely to irrigate the thirsty Gangetic Plains of North India. There was outrage at these one-sided deals from Nepalese nationalists and communists, which led to greater caution by successive regimes faced with India’s insatiable water demands paralleled with failed attempts in securing international aid or a loan from the World Bank to develop the country’s hydropower resources independently. After the 1990 upheaval that ostensibly reduced Birendra to constitutional status, the fledgling democracy experienced renewed pressure from New Delhi that led to the 1996 Mahakali Treaty which was described as revealing:
“…the larger neighbor as bulldozer and the smaller one as hapless and internally divided.” (10).
While this treaty was supported by the both the constitutional communist party, the Unified Marxist-Leninist Communist Party which turned full circle from the anti-Indian position of its mother party in the 1950’s, and the always reliable pro-Delhi Congress Party (NC), it was denounced by CPN (Maoist) spokespersons who pointed out that Nepal would only get 7 out of the projected 125 megawatts output. (11) The symbolic burning of the present PTA as ‘against the national interest’ by the new Maoist party was manifestation of an ongoing campaign for retaining Nepalese jurisdiction over its water resources, resisting New Delhi’s strategy to monopolize them. This is underscored by observation that Nepal has huge hydropower potential estimated at 40,000 MW but is presently realizing only 600 MW. All of this is happening against a backdrop of daily power cuts and the fact that 60
Lenin famously stated that for USSR: ‘Communism was Soviet power plus electrification’ to which Nepal’s unreconstructed Marxist-Leninists paraphrase the end as: ‘plus hydropower’; reflecting the importance of this power source for realizing an independent socialist Nepal. The PTA is described by patriots of left and right as yet another unequal treaty among the many that began with the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli imposed by the East India Company. This is now seen a British land grab that resulted in Nepal ceding one-third of its territory to the Company, including Sikkim and what is now called Uttarakhand. The reduction of ‘Greater Nepal’ to its present territory resulted from military invasion and defeat. Treaties covering trade and resources have been facilitated by the Nepalese ruling caste/class acting in collusion with first imperial Britain then Brahminical India . The Brahmin/upper caste supporters of the power deal tend either to not recognize or to remain oblivious to the idea that any treaty agreed with brother India has ever been ‘unequal’. The same political class once again faced a 2011 furor over by the ‘Bilateral’ Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) which allowed for greater penetration and increased security for Indian capital in Nepal. This sellout document earned the parliamentary apparatchiks, parties and the Bhatterai Administration who negotiated and agreed to it epithets from the stooges and hirelings of the extra-parliamentary Maoist opposition and royalist factions. The definition of unequal agreement is where an imbalance of power, political, military or economic, exists between the parties to the agreement. Chinese nationalists and communists in the 20th century used the term to describe all treaties extracted from China in its ‘century of humiliation’ at the hands of Western imperialists in the 19th century. These treaties between Nepal and India involved loss of Nepalese sovereignty over territory and domestic markets and facilitated imports of commodities, including, notoriously, opium produced by East India Company, accompanied by the threat or use of superior military force. The period also saw the emergence of indigenous merchants acting as East India Company agents/intermediaries described as ‘compradors’. Nepalese patriots use the term “unequal treaties” to describe a history that began with Sugauli, was carried over from the East India Company to the Raj and continued in postcolonial India with the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty formalizing Nepal’s neocolonial status by allowing India increased access and control of the Nepalese economy and veto over Nepal’s foreign relations with third parties. It guaranteed Nepal as a captive market for Indian commodities and along with further revisions and succeeding agreements allowed exploitation of Nepal’s natural resources, principally water as described above, and access to cheap Nepalese migrant labor. New Delhi was driven as much by geopolitical considerations; Nehru saw Himalayan Nepal as a bulwark on India’s northern frontier against Communist China, and serving along with Bhutan and Sikkim as part of a “chain of protectorates,” so described by Curzon, a particularly bellicose, expansionist Raj Viceroy at the turn of the 20th century. Nehru was a ruthless autocrat and saved his fine words regarding nonintervention and non-aggression for the Pansheel Principles set out as a stratagem to bamboozle Mao’s Communists, burnishing India’s Gandhian credentials and non-aligned status in 1954 Treaty with the PRC. Nehru accordingly extracted the 1950 Treaty from the last Rana PM three months before he authorized an invasion of Nepal from India by a joint royalist/ democratic army which signaled the beginning of the end for Rana rule. Independent India under the imperious Pandit owed more to the martial warrior spirit of the Maharbarata than it ever did to the myth of Hinduism’s essential ahimsa (pacifism) peddled by the casteist charlatan Gandhi. Recent information shows that Nehru may have slaughtered even more Muslims in Manipur in 1947 than Modi managed in Gujarat in 2001.
Constitution or Revolution?
The new Maoist party, the CPN-M, is extra-parliamentary and does not accord legitimacy to the present institutions of state, distinguishing it from the three major parties in the Constituent Assembly, who supported and negotiated the PTA. In descending order of electoral strength, they are: Nepali Congress, Unified Marxist-Leninist CPN; and Unified CPN (Maoist). The first two are in coalition government, with the NC leader GP Koirala as Prime Minister. Koirala’s family is a Nepalese political dynasty akin to India’s Gandhis. A split in the third biggest party, the UCPN(M), in 2012 led to the launch of the CPN-M by cadre led by veteran Maoist leader, Mohan Baidya (‘Kiran’) (12), increasingly disillusioned with perceived growing revisionism of the UCPN(M) under the leadership of Prachanda and Bhatterai. They concluded that following the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the UCPN(M)’s political practice had degraded into reformism, conforming to Lenin’s bitter reasoning for the ultimate treachery of the German SPD’s voting for war credits in 1914:
…by making a fetish of the necessary utilization of bourgeois parliamentarianism and bourgeois legality.
In the view of many cadre, the party had lost its revolutionary edge and has been remade to suit New Delhi’s requirements. The party was guided by two leaders, Dahal (Prachanda) and Bhatterai, reconnecting with their Brahminical caste roots. The final betrayal was the surrender by Bhatterai’s ostensibly Maoist-led administration of the People’s Liberation Army and its weapons to the Nepalese Army in 2011 after being laagered in UN cantonments following the 2006 CPA. In reaction to this and policies such as handing back expropriated land to the feudal landlords, the new CPN-M declared a return to revolutionary first principles and building on the foundation of the principle of People’s War as a precondition for future political work. A fourth political bloc represented in the Constituent Assembly (the National Assembly – an upper house created in 1990, was abolished in 2007, and Nepal now has a unicameral system) is the United Democratic Madeshi Front representing landed property class parties from the Terai, a region of flatlands in southern Nepal and topographically an extension of the Gangetic Plains of North India. Ethnically and culturally the Terai’s upper castes are closer to India, so this group’s political support for increasing bonds between the countries is guaranteed. The Terai was formally a NC fiefdom, but party membership collapsed when leaders and activists principally drawn from the Bhadraloks (Terai upper castes) deserted the party which they believed had become dominated by the Brahmins of the Kathmandu and the Central Hill regions referred to as Pahadis (Hill People). This political bloc, following the 2006 Peace Agreement, appeared to upper caste Madeshis to be too weak to stand up to the Maoists, perceived as all-powerful after ten years of People’s War and a real threat to feudal and zamindar (landlord) interests in the Terai. Madeshi parties subsequently emerged seeking either regional autonomy or direct integration with India. The more militant among them advocated armed struggle and were instrumental in driving the 2006/7 murderous conflict with the Maobaadi (Nepali for Maoists) in order to defend the status quo in the region. Indian security services were rumored to have been heavily involved in arming and funding these groups, signaling New Delhi’s growing alarm at the threat to Indian interests posed by the Nepalese Maoists as they stood on the verge of a takeover. There are 22 other parties represented in the CA, the largest two being royalist – the Rastriya Prajantra Party (Nepal) and the Rastriya Prajantra Party – representing the ancient regime and seeking in one form or another a return to divine Hindu monarchy abolished when the Prachanda’s 2008 UCPN(M)/UML coalition government declared the republic. However, many monarchists are patriots with a deep distrust of India to the extent that some prefer China in all circumstances. After the RRP(N) and the RPP, there are many small socialist, communist and peasant parties reflecting the patchwork and multirepresentational nature of Nepalese politics. This plethora of parties is also apparent among the forces outside the CA led by CPN-M in a 33-party alliance. The CPN-M (13) and its allies – other communist, socialist and social democratic parties along with Janjati (ethnic) organizations – came together in 2013 to boycott the November election for a second Constituent Assembly. They argued it was a ‘phony, rigged election’, promoted by the same forces that had blocked a progressive federal constitution in the first CA. Now the parliamentary ‘Four Party Syndicate’ was seeking a mandate to forge an anti-people constitution ensuring that power was retained by upper castes and that in any event, asserted the boycotters, would be written in New Delhi. Among the international supporters of the second CA election were the US, China, EU, India, the UN, NGOs like the Carter Center, ANFREL etc. 70,000 police, army and paramilitaries along with 50,000 temporary police personnel were mobilized to counter the campaign organized by the CPN-M, leading a 33 party alliance around the slogan:
Boycott this corrupt/so-called election (Kathit nirbaachan bahiskaar gare).
The election duly took place, pre-weighted through the creation of a High Level Commission that excluded all other parties, ensuring the ‘Four Party Syndicate’s unchallenged control of proceedings. Rs 30 billion was allocated to pay for it, a staggering amount considering only Rs 2.8 billion was spent on the 2008 election. The election was further tainted as turnout figures were disputed, with nearly five million voters disappearing from the 2008 election rolls. There was also no postal vote provision for the estimated two million émigré workers scattered through the Gulf States and South East Asia. Each side claimed higher or lower percentage turnouts, but the significant result was the major setback for Prachanda and Bhatterai’s revisionist UCPN (M). The party lost its place as the biggest party gained by a shock victory in 2008 election, where it garnered 40
In any event, the CPN-Maoist ‘Dashists’ did not halt the election, but held their nerve in spite of powerful domestic and international enemies, a sustained hate campaign from the Brahmin/bourgeois controlled media sequestered in Kathmandu led by the Kantipur Corporation, Nepal’s largest media house, and internal party tensions. Notwithstanding the final number of votes cast, the election showed that the boycotters represented a critical mass of the citizenry. Whatever the outcome of the charade, Kiran said emphatically, they would burn any constitutional declaration emerging from the new CA and “write one in the streets.”
The Caste System & Democratic Deficit
However, it may also be stated that most Dalit leaders are right when they blame the ‘Brahminical’ order of society for the grievous discrimination practiced against them…the reification of the caste system, even to this date, depends for its authority on the socioreligious observances of Brahmins, the high priests of Hinduism. – V. Rajan “Dalits” and the Caste System in India, p 3, 2010)
As in India, it is formally illegal under the Nepalese Constitution to discriminate on grounds of caste, and the education system is also nominally open to all. In reality though, the caste system remains pervasive with the upper castes constituting 70-80
The Kathmandu Valley Newaris, for example, form 3
A more recent study in 2004 showed little change. Brahmins, while forming 13
Nepalese Brahmins in politics, culture and business defer easily to fellow Brahmins ascendant in India, claiming a realism similar to the pragmatism of a small boy before a bigger sibling. This assumes that Nepal and India are ‘family’, albeit one where might confirms right. They also note admiringly that Indian Brahmins have since Independence retained power and privilege in alliance with the Kshatriyas, the military caste, and the Banyias, the commercial and merchant caste, making a mockery of the great Dalit scholar/statesman Ambedkar’s 1947 Constitution prohibiting discrimination on grounds of caste and guaranteeing equality for all citizens. Words were also cheap in the 1972 Amendment to the Indian Constitution that added the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ to the original declaration of ‘sovereign, democratic republic’. Against the evidence and from the beginning India was also touted in the capitalist West as rival to Red China’s ‘totalitarian ant heap’ and gushingly described as the ‘World’s Biggest Democracy’. Yet caste and democracy are mutually exclusive; caste rule is anti-egalitarian, and democracy requires equality. India and Nepal are clear examples, still controlled by the same caste configuration that in the political sphere refracts into parties and factions with acquired skills, resources and enough cohesion to collectively jump through regular electoral hoops. Effective democratic camouflage disguises elective oligarchy. A lesson well learned from the White Sahib’s mastery over and increasing sophistication in the dark arts of electoral manipulation and illusion, important because the popular mandate confers legitimacy to uninterrupted ascendancy of the bourgeois capitalism. The Dashists and their allies program the end of the upper caste monopoly of state power by establishing a New Federal People’s Democracy that represents the hitherto excluded Janjatis, Dalits, minorities, working classes and urban underclasses. Federalism is crucial to New Democracy as it means breaking up the centralized Brahminical state by devolving power to previously oppressed national minorities. It will correct the historic wrong that began with the autocracy founded by Narayan Shah and extended by the Ranas through King Mahendra’s Panchayaat and continued since 1990 with elective dictatorship coalescing around establishment parties as they cartelized political and state power. It was significant that one of the organized manifestations that followed victory in the 2006 Andolan was the mocking of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s statue in Kathmandu by Janjatis, indicating both that there is continuing antipathy to the oppressive central power he founded and that this historical wound remains very much open. The event was complemented by royalist outrage at such desecration, further testament to the irreconcilability of contending forces in Nepalese society.
Maoist “New Nepal”
…the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalist regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation… Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 73
To the present day:
Gender, Dalit and regional issues are important, and they are tied into the class struggle. But working to solve just these issues will not bring a full solution. This can only be reached by completing the class struggle. – KB Bishwokarma, Prakanda.
The CPN-M Dashists affirm their wish to break with global capitalism and establish economic autarky featuring tariff walls to protect infant industries along with land reform and infrastructural development, all through socialist state planning and ownership. Nepal, they argue, has failed to straddle the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and its traditional ruling classes have been incapable and unwilling to provide effective governance to tackle deprivation, poverty and inequality. Since 1990 it has increasingly aped India’s development, a huckster capitalism overseen by wholly corrupt caste elites dressed in “emperor’s new clothes” of bourgeois Western multiparty democracy. Maoists maintain that socialist transformation will improve conditions for the people and ensure genuine national sovereignty. Kiran, citing Mao and Stalin, argues that the national question in the case of Third World countries like Nepal is a class question. These weaker states have become subject to the interests of a dominant First World requiring them to be maintained in various stages of underdevelopment and to enable open markets for imported goods and foreign investment and to increase the plunder of their natural resources to feed insatiable Western consumer societies. Third World countries are further valuable sources of low-paid indigenous labor for production of cheap commodities intended for the Western market, dramatically highlighted by the 2013 Rana Plaza clothing factory tragedy in Dhaka. These nations also provide a reservoir of migrant labor for international capital projects, graphically exposed by the slave-like conditions endured by émigré workers, many of them Nepalese, on the notorious Qatar World Cup project. Even if not dramatically affected as migrant workers, neoliberalism, through international institutions led by IMF and World Bank, impacts on the Nepalese masses by shackling its government along with those in other impoverished, underdeveloped Third World countries to market-based austerity policies and denying whole populations benefits of modernity, decent infrastructure, modern schools, basic health care, access to clean water and sanitation, decent housing &c. Measuring everything by market criteria also blocked welfare programs, food subsidies and all state intervention aimed at reduction of poverty or stimulating domestic growth. In Nepal it has led to growing numbers of Sukumbasi (squatters), increasing, persistent mass unemployment, landlessness, rural flight to towns/cities, especially Kathmandu, exacerbating already high urban poverty, bonded, émigré and child labor; all salient features of a failed state, where a traditional elite continue to flourish, retaining social and economic privilege. This elite increasingly lives in ‘forts of gold’, while the world and the city outside crumbles over the head of the excluded and increasingly impoverished majority. Kathmandu is symptomatic, where, as in many Third World urban centers, the spectacle of private affluence for the few contrasts starkly with increasing public squalor for the many. Hope for a more egalitarian Nepal following the 1990 transition from monarchical absolutism to multiparty democracy was quickly dashed in the years of corruption and reaction that followed, when a newly empowered political elite proved even more venal than the Panchas they had supplanted. Ideologically colonized, like the Brahmins of Congress India, they were transfixed by western liberal democracy, whose representative institutions and personal freedoms, they were conditioned to believe, enshrined universally applicable and superior European Enlightenment values. Whereas imperialists once hawked a Christian Bible, their contemporaries now peddle the snake oil of capitalist democracy as salvation for, in Kipling’s infamous phrase from the poem Recessional, “lesser breeds without the Law”. Just as missionary societies once flourished, now Human Rights industries thrive and NGO’s promoting Western values and practices proliferate, employing some indigenous educated and enlisting them into the comprador class while sustaining patchwork schemes in a parody of development. From the beginning the conditioning of native elites through education invariably inculcated western values and ideologies which, on one hand informed and articulated claims to national independence and produced the leadership for anticolonial struggle, while one the other, ensured the same leadership was sufficiently psychologically colonized to slavishly adopt after independence the parliamentary model, including the flummery. An exotic plant in wholly unsuitable conditions. (16) As Franz Fanon caustically opined:
The colonialist bourgeoisie, in its narcissistic dialogue, expounded by the members of its universities, had in fact deeply implanted in the minds of the colonized intellectual that the essential qualities remain eternal in spite of all the blunders men may make: the essential qualities of the West, of course.(17)
Bourgeois parliamentary institutions emerged in the Europe of the Late Middle Ages as a revolutionary and contingent challenge to residual feudal control by divinely mandated monarchs scattered across the kingdoms of Europe. Increasingly, with bourgeois power assured, they became functional requirements for regulation of class interests and instruments of chauvinist aggression against other nations, initially in Europe. In their early gestation they provided an arena for systemic compromise where differences could be aired and reconciled by parties representing old and new forms of propertied ruling classes in given historical transitions. This occurred in England following the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, establishing a constitutional rapport between Whigs, the nascent bourgeoisie, and Tories, the old landowning class, but significantly this same transformation did not emerge from Les Etats Generaux of Bourbon France, making inevitable the 1789 Revolution and bloody, bourgeois victory over L’Ancien Regime. However, modern First World states, despite the potential democratic threat of universal suffrage, increasingly stabilized, and bourgeois capitalism established unchallenged supremacy. Parties are now even less class-based, representing sectional interests within the ruling class competing for control of the state apparatus, with elections determining which of the intraclass rivals accedes to government, enabling exercise of executive power and policy implementation until the next poll. Among the mature Western democracies this increasing homogenization of parties barely masks elective bourgeois dictatorship, now tricked out in ballot box ritualism, steeped in what Marx derided as ‘parliamentary cretinism’ and nailed by Engels as:
…an incurable disease, an ailment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by a majority of votes in just that very representative institution that has the honor of having them in the capacity of its members. – Frederick Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, 1852, ME Selected Works, Vol 1, p. 370)
Yet this system was adopted by the ex-colonies of the British Empire in Asia and Africa, all of which have signally failed. India is the worst example, especially after the collapse of Nehru’s dreams of socialist democracy involving state ownership, five year plans, and deficit spending within integument of a mixed economy, etc. all evaporated in the early 1960’s, following the disastrous defeat in the war of aggression launched against China in the Kashmir Aksai Chin. Nehru had always allowed for a degree of corruption, but after him it was unchecked; reflected in the Lok Sabha which degenerated into the kleptocracy presently extant. In Nepal, similarly, after 1990, the new democratic state institutions quickly became synonymous with cronyism, nepotism and carpetbagging. A pervasive corruption disfigured Nepalese society and subsequently Nepal scored 2.2 on the 2011 World Corruption Perception Index, where 10 is ‘very clean’ and 0 is ‘highly corrupt’. (18) The economist Arun Kumar further estimated that the Nepalese black economy, in 2006, accounted for $4 billion in contrast to an official GDP of $7 billion, an even higher percentage than India where the same phenomenon accounts for a still eye-watering 50
Like a fish stinking from the head, the godfathers or Thulo Hakimharu of NC and UML contributed to this state of affairs by pursuing a brazen policy of enrichessez-vous as vigorously as the state campaign of terror and foreign-funded mayhem they unleashed before and during People’s War against the Left and rural agitators who challenged the new corruption. Nevertheless, communists are not anarchists, grasping that participation in bourgeois elections is often a tactical necessity, so that if on occasion normative bourgeois control of electoral process as a result of political, economic or military crises is problematic, then communist parties should participate, particularly if it offers them the possibility of advancing proletarian interests. It was on such practical eventualities as well as principles that Marx and Engels campaigned for universal suffrage in the Communist Manifesto. They saw communists using the extended franchise to subvert the elective dictatorship of the bourgeoisie:
Transforme, de moyen de duperie qu’il a ete jusqu’ici, en instrument d’emancipation. (Changed by them from the usual means of deception, into one of transformation.) (K. Marx, Manifesto for French Workers’ Party, 1880. ME Selected Works, Vol 1, p. 546)
It was in this spirit that the CPN (M) following the CPA entered the 2008 election campaign for a Constituent Assembly from which it emerged as the biggest party with 40
The Maoists were aware that they had considerable support in towns and cities but could not connect with it as People’s War had reached military stalemate, with the PLA controlling the countryside and the RNA and Armed Police Force (APF) paramilitaries the urban centers, particularly Kathmandu. It was a logjam that had to be broken if the Prachanda Path strategy, the fusion of Maoist protracted rural struggle and Leninist urban insurrection, was to succeed and the revolution carried through. In any event, the CPN (M) formed an administration in alliance with the UML with Prachanda as Prime Minister. The administration’s first act was to abolish the monarchy and declare a republic, but an attempt by Prachanda to bring the army under civilian control by sacking the insubordinate CoS, Katawal and the royalist generals around him for refusing to integrate PLA ex-combatants en corps into the NA as per the CPA provoked a virtual coup openly orchestrated from New Delhi involving its Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) foreign intelligence service acting in collusion with NA officers and apparatchiks from NC, UML and UDMF. This resulted in Yadhev, Nepal’s first President, significantly one of the few remaining prominent NC Terai Madeshis, exceeding his constitutional authority and reinstating the insubordinate Katawal. The UML, following instructions from New Delhi, pulled out of the coalition, and with the Maoists now unable to secure a majority in the CA, Nepal’s first Maoist-led government collapsed after only eight months in office. What provoked New Delhi to act with such speed and malice was triggered by Prachanda’s challenge to India’s right of veto over Nepal’s foreign policy by ‘playing the China card’, repeating Birendra’s ‘mistake’ with an attempted arms purchase from the PRC. Any hint of a China/Nepal alliance was anathema also to the Nepalese officer class and high command, who were historically close to India, and had, post-9/11, forged a deep relationship with Washington and the Pentagon, based on dollars, weaponry and training in return for allowing Nepal to become another link in the US chain surrounding the People’s Republic. When Biplav (Netra Bikram Chand) was asked during the 2013 boycott campaign why he opposed elections, he replied that Maoists were not opposed to them per se as they were a ‘relative matter’. He opposed this specific one as political and financial larceny on a grand scale, attesting: “It is a criminal conspiracy against the Nepalese working class.” The 2009 coup showed that electoral results as democratic expressions of the popular will are also, when the occasion demands, a ‘relative matter’ even for those who peddle democracy as a universal panacea at least when it serves class interest but are as quick to ignore or subvert it when it doesn’t.
Class and Patriotism
It would not be incorrect, if very insulting, to say that Nepal’s top leadership vis-à-vis India, has been morally bankrupt, greedy, hypocritical and have served as no more than errand boys. People are tired of these slick, fast-talking politicians. In fact their reputation has gone down the drain. In a culture aimed above all at seizing power, with material motivations, political democracy and thereby sustained peace is unlikely. – G. Thapa, Republica, Nepalese daily newspaper, September 30, 2013.
Marxist-Leninists argue that nation and class are linked in Third World countries. In these countries, traditional ruling elites and the emerging bourgeoisie have been suborned by transnational capitalism and accept neocolonial status as preferable to revolutionary change and national independence. It is therefore not in their increasingly cosmopolitan class interests to seek genuine self-determination; only the exploited working and marginalized classes have a genuine interest in such an outcome. (19) The symbiosis of communism and patriotism is therefore contingent to the epoch of imperialism. The lack of concern of the present ruling elite for its people is shown in the case of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar, cited above, because their remittances contribute over 25
Aside from BOP advantages, the money sent back also reduces governmental responsibility for the alleviation of poverty, especially in rural areas. Consequently there has been little or no representation from successive governments for the rights and well-being of the estimated 2.2 million émigré Nepalese presently working in India, Malaysia and the Middle East. (20) This echoes an early initiative of Jonge Bahadur, who established Rana power after 1846 Red Kot Massacre by reducing the monarchy to titular status. He negotiated a payment per head for every Ghurkha recruited into the British Army. (21) This was one aspect of a new strategic alliance with the East India Company through which the new rulers began to draw material benefit from trading their subjects as commodities in the form of mercenaries, while being left unchallenged in Nepal to establish Rana monopoly control over all trade and to plunder state coffers and lands with impunity. The arc that connects the establishment of Gurkha mercenaries with migrant labor is one where benefit accrues to the same high castes exercising state power, albeit under superficially different political systems by different means of extraction in different epochs. Kiran’s Maoists, in this sense, expand the concept of patriotism beyond concern for territory and existing culture into one that includes the justice and welfare of the people. This criterion goes beyond but does not ignore traditional concerns: the defense of borders against constant Indian encroachments, ending the shameless political obedience to Delhi, the rolling back of foreign ownership in vital economic sectors, and protecting Nepal’s largely untapped vast hydro resources from continued Indian predation. The CPN-M Dashists are equally quick to point out that they are only anti-Indian to the extent that they oppose the Indian government’s neocolonialist meddling in Nepal. The hatred of Brahminical expansionist policies does not extend to the Indian people, who they argue have and are beginning to make their own revolution against the same enemy. This internationalist perspective is axiomatic for the patriotism of national liberation struggles in countries oppressed by imperialism and distinguishes it from bourgeois chauvinist nationalism that breeds racist hatred and jingoist aggression. This was the ideology that fueled rivalry between the nascent European states and then mutated into the racial superiority engendered by the subsequent colonization and subjugation of native peoples in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Imperialism no longer requires direct colonial occupation but operates in neo- or semi-colonial form. Exploitation of peoples and resources continue, and even intensify, but are now fronted by local ruling elites, comprador upper castes and classes, conditioned and rewarded to front for and spare imperialist powers from the obloquy and resistance engendered by 19th century European colonial empires. Mao described the modus operandi:
When imperialism carries on its oppression not by war but by milder means – political, economic and cultural – the ruling classes in semi-colonial countries capitulate to imperialism, and the two form an alliance for the joint oppression of the masses of the people. – Mao Zedong, On Contradiction, Selected Works, Vol 1, p.331
The present Nepalese ruling class, in this respect, cannot represent the national interest, Maoists aver, as they constitute an anti-patriotic bloc sustained by and servant to international capital and great power geopolitics. Kiran concluded:
Both the King and the Nepali Congress Party represent the feudal, bureaucratic and comprador bourgeoisie.
Patriotism in Nepal and similar Third World countries, is not, argue the Maoists, ‘a refuge for the scoundrel’, but rather a home for the homeless and the hope of the hopeless. In this regard Pushpa Lal, when founding the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) in 1949, absorbed Mao’s definition of patriotism and learned how the Koumintang degenerated from the patriots of Sun Yat Sen into the quislings of Chiang Kai Chek. He also derived lessons from the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War against Germany’s virulent, fascist imperialism. Patriotism in the modern age was, by these examples, anti-imperialist by definition. Therefore, in the epoch of imperialism, the mantle of patriotism falls upon the shoulders of the proletariat in the oppressed Third World. The bourgeoisie in the metropolitan heartlands invoke it to mask imperial aggression and aggrandizement, while the big bourgeoisie of monopoly financial and industrial capital have transcended the nation-state and its parochial ideology, instead pledging allegiance to the ascending global megalopolis of money.
Communist Politics: 1949-2014
Inspired by China’s liberation in 1949, the newly founded Communist Party of Nepal took up arms against the Rana regime, which was in power via an alliance with NC led by the Koirala brothers and royalist forces under King Tribhuvan (Nepal’s Ivan the Terrible to the Ranas’ Boyars) Together they forged a Mukti Senaa (Liberation Army) which invaded from India in 1950/51. These activities were supported, with arms, funds and facilities and funded by Nehru’s Congress government, and even included providing officer staff from Bose’s recently demobilized Indian National Army. Nehru had already godfathered the creation of Nepali Congress in 1948 from progressive Nepalese democrats exiled in India, and wanted to settle accounts with the pro-British Ranas. In the final event India limited their support to the NC, forcing it into a three-way peace agreement with the Ranas and the King. There followed a short-lived NC/Rana coalition government, the collapse of which signaled a decade of political struggle between the NC and the King, followed by thirty years of monarchial executive government, with New Delhi steering a seemingly contradictory ‘Two-Pillar’ policy of supporting the monarchy and the aspiring democrats of Nepali Congress. Lal, who, in 1949 first translated the Communist Manifesto into Nepalese, linked armed struggle to a domestic program, principally advocating a ‘Land to the Tiller’ policy in tandem with breaking up big feudal estates and following the example of China’s ‘New Democracy’ also proclaimed the intention of promoting state-sponsored national capitalism. The party also advocated a Constitutional Assembly, which was agreed among all the parties, foreign and domestic, but reneged on by Tribhuvan’s successor, Mahendra, who, following the 1960 coup, replaced the parliamentary system with a feudal Panchayat, a series of interlocked consultative committees, starting at village level and ending with the King as final arbiter. It was in these conditions of a Shah/Brahmin autocracy and the international US-led post-1945 onslaught to roll back Communism that saw the Communist Party and movement grow, recruiting from the intelligentsia, disillusioned radical NC members, urban workers, Dalits and oppressed rural minorities. However, aside from having to operate underground, it faced the same problem as that of succeeding communist parties and cadre in maintaining a united revolutionary line. Lal’s CPN split in the early 1960’s between pro-Moscow reformists such as Tulsi Lal Amatya and pro-Beijing revolutionaries. There was a parallel split between the Rayamajhi faction which scuttled off to serve the Panchayat system and Puspha Lal, who remained committed to proletarian revolution against domestic reaction and international US imperialism, supported by Mao’s communist China, at least until Deng Xiaoping’s 1976 Rightist coup left the proletariat at home and abroad to its own devices. After the Japha Uprising in 1971, Nepal’s first communist armed struggle, the UML emerged. But by 1990, it was fully committed to multiparty democracy and conciliation with Delhi, following the lead set by its homologues in Communist Party of India (Marxist). Its transformation into a comprador bourgeois parliamentary party epitomized when the short-lived 1994 UML Adhikary administration instigated the Integrated Mahakali Treaty, which, under its NC successor, signed after an orgy of corruption, ceded sovereignty of the river to India. The UCPN (Maoist) path from People’s War into parliamentary politics and accommodation with Delhi has already been noted. However, Nepalese communism, while disputatious, has shown great vigor, and unlike the post-1945 Western communist parties has never surrendered intellectual or political hegemony to the bourgeoisie. Schisms and splits followed deviations, but the result always ensured that the torch of patriotic, anti-imperialist revolution was passed to a new generation and party. The CPN-M is the latest manifestation of this cycle of action and reaction and may not be the last, but it has inherited the legacy of Puspha Lal Shrestha at a time when Luxemburg’s historical option of ‘Socialism or barbarism?’ confronts with even greater urgency, a century after she coined her prophetic question.
Jo Chor Usko Thulo Sor (Proverb: ‘He Who Steals Shouts Aloud’)
The feudal system was by no means brought complete from Germany, but had its origin, as far as the conquerors were concerned, in the martial organization of the army during the actual conquest, and this evolved after the conquest into the feudal system proper through the action of the productive forces found in the conquered countries. – K Marx, Feuerbach – Opposition of Materialist and Idealist Outlook, Selected Works, Vol 1, p.72)
Nepal was unified in 1769 when the Gorkhali warrior state subdued the three kingdoms in the Kathmandu Valley and created a myriad of fifty or more smaller principalities under the leadership of Prithi Narayan, who became its first Shah and centralized royal power in Kathmandu. It was not an organic process with common national identity evolving from a shared history, economy, language or culture but one of force majeure that involved conquest and subjugation over many indigenous ethnicities, each with their own language and customs. Narayan Shah’s ruthless empire building was partly driven by desire to forestall the inexorable northeastern expansion of the East Indian Company, then easily colonizing small kingdoms in its path. The creation of a martial Greater Nepal did indeed halt the feringhees (foreigners) advance, which appeared unstoppable following Clive’s decisive victory at Palashi (Plassey) over the Nawab of Bengal in 1757. This battle secured Company rule over India until the precise centennial challenge of the first War of Independence in 1857, denigrated by the British using the euphemism, ‘The Indian Mutiny’. However, a decade after Plassey, in 1767, Narayan Shah’s Gurkhali army routed a British expeditionary force under Captain Kinloch at Sindhulighadi and kept the greedy, expansionist British in the guise of the East India Company out of Nepal until the second decade of the 19th century and, many claim, helped ensure that the country was never formally colonized. It necessitated creating a domestic power imbalance with a minority ruling a majority that, apart from some cosmetic modification, exists to the present day and for a century was marked by Rana regimes so servile to British interests that invasion and colonization were rendered unnecessary.
1769 – The Dawn of the Hindu Kingdom
The extent of dominion had been acquired entirely during the last fifty years, by the systematic prosecution of a policy likened by the Goorkhas themselves, and not inaptly so, to that which had gained for us the empire of Hindoostan. – HT Prinsep, The Goorkha War, p 9, 1825)
Prithvi Narayan Shah established a state in Nepal that in many way was analogous with those of European feudalism that emerged from the collapse of the Roman Empire and lasted until the rise of capitalism in the late Middle Ages. It also was an agricultural society presided over by a divinely ordained monarch, nobility and priesthood existing on the labor and produce of a mass of serfs. Even the manner of its inception by force of arms echoes Marx’s comments on the origins of feudalism in Northern Europe as a response to anarchy and decay of the times:
From these conditions and the mode of organization determined by them, feudal property developed under the influence of the Germanic military constitution. (Marx-Engels, Feuerbach – Opposition of Materialist & Idealist Outlook, p.23. ME Selected Works, Vol. 1)
In this respect, Narayan Shah’s unification of Nepal was similar to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, where advanced military forces involving disciplined infantry and cavalry in integrated battle tactics was decisive in sweeping aside patchy and ill-coordinated Anglo-Saxon resistance. In terms of comparative logistics and technical support, it was complemented by Narayan Shah’s adoption of modern weaponry and training of a third of his army along British lines that proved crucial to eventual success in a grueling twenty-year campaign culminating in the declaration of Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom in 1769. Gorkhalis and Normans conquered foreign lands and peoples, and Kings William and Narayan used countrywide grants of confiscated lands to their warrior and clerical castes as both reward for past service and to secure the future of the central regime. In each case repression was used to entrench the system and reduce respective populations to serf/Shudra servility. The speed and ruthless nature of Norman expropriations was such that by the end of William’s reign in 1087, 20
It was a more attenuated process in Nepal, but by the time of the Ranas in mid-19th century, similar patterns in ownership and access to land were firmly established that, despite some fragmentation and formal abolition of feudal land titles, remain into the 21st century for want of serious reform. A 2004 Human Development Report, UNDP, reported the top 5
From the birth of the new state, each of the subjugated peoples were subject to feudal rent in labor, goods or money in the case of Nepal where a sizable portion took immediate monetary form, while in Europe such remittance mode emerged gradually, attenuated by feudal society fragmenting under the impact of a growing urban society of flourishing markets and small-scale commodity production. In this situation money’s use-value as means of facilitating commodity exchange enriched and accelerated the rise of an increasingly prosperous merchant burger class that finally burst the constraints of European feudalism.
Land Tenure Post-1769
Should the direct producers not be confronted by a private landlord, but rather, as in Asia under direct subordination to a state which stands over them as their landlord and simultaneously as sovereign, then rent and taxes coincide, or rather, there exists no tax which differs from this form of ground-rent. Under such circumstances there need exist no stronger political or economic pressure than that common to all subjection to that state. The state is then the supreme lord. Sovereignty here consists in the ownership of land concentrated on a national scale. – Marx, Capital Vol 3, p 791, New World edition)
Aside from the geopolitical considerations of blocking the feringhees, the Gorkha state was driven by hunger for land, and Narayan Shah particularly desired the fertile Kathmandu Valley. Brahmins and Rajputs who had settled across Nepal, having being uprooted from North India by Mughal invasion and settlement, were also instrumental in securing the new system established by Narayan Shah from the Kathmandu center. They were particularly enthusiastic participants in the abolition of tribal land rights and the creation of a royal monopoly over all land under the Raikar Law. This allowed for individual/family use and transfer as long as taxes were paid to the King’s state treasury. Private ownership of land eventually mutated from this private use, creating a largely Brahmin landlord class. When Raikar was abolished in 1950, the system accounted for 50
The Guthi system further allowed for state or private grants of land to religious institutions and was free from tax and repossession by the donor. This continues to the present time but accounts for only 2
A specific subset of Birta was Jagir tenure, which was land in lieu of pay to army personnel, both officers and privates, which intensified expropriations of a scarce resource and entrenched the new order by, as one historian notes:
…granting of Jagir lands to such of them as received appointments in the government and army was an important factor contributing to the stability and organization of the newly established regime. Without the Jagir system it would have been virtually impossible for the government to distribute rewards to its nobility and military personnel. – Land Ownership in Nepal, p 74, MC Regmi).
Certain ethnic groups in Eastern Nepal had traditional rights to common land under the Kipat system. The Limbus in particular had these rights as quid pro quo for their agreement in 1774 to accept merger with Nepal under Narayan Shah’s sovereignty, which extracted a pledge that Kipat land would remain outside the Raikar system in perpetuity. This was never honored by succeeding shahs and particularly the later Rana regimes that relentlessly encroached upon these lands during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Limbus suffered especially as literate and legally informed Brahmins exploited their skills to dispossess them of their traditional lands. It was comparable to the enclosures of Tudor and Georgian England, where the gentry used Acts of Parliaments to dispossess an equally unwitting rural people of their common lands. Rai Kipat land was largely untouched, reflecting the uneven development in the extension of royal autocratic hegemony mingled with deliberate divide et impera strategy. It shows how oppression was relative, with some national minorities eventually binding to and serving Narayan’s state, even applying stratification by caste among their own peoples, acquiescent in their deities’ acceptance as avatars of the Hindu God, &c.
Caste and the Feudal State
When born in the same way – all are one. None superior –none inferior. What is the use of caste that discriminates between human beings? – From Basavanna’s Vachanas, written by a 12th century Indian philosopher/statesman.
The modalities of tenure imposed by the first Shah were pivotal in creating the economic and political sinews of a strong central state and went hand-in-hand with the imposition of the Hindu caste system throughout the country. This showed that feudalism in Nepal, while it shared features with the European variety, was deeply rooted in the culture of Indian tributary societies which flourished in the Middle Kingdoms between the first and thirteenth centuries. The caste system originated as a means for a colonizing group of light-skinned Indo-Aryans to distinguish themselves from the indigenous dark aboriginal peoples (Adivhasis) they were colonizing by establishing three Varnas (Varna denotes color) – Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishaya in order of superiority. However, according to scholars, by the time of Gupta Dynasty around 100 AD, this structure was recast as a socioeconomic hierarchy after large grants of land were given to the Brahmin priests, administrators, astrologers, temples and monastic institutions. This largesse had earlier been declared a sacred duty in the Dharmashastra, Hinduism’s foundational scripts where Brahmins are declared Pratigraha, the one caste entitled to receive gifts. There are further references along these lines in the epic poem Mahabharata. The fourth caste, Shudras, were called forth during this period as an agricultural labor force in servile symbiosis with a rapidly expanding landlord class. Slaves at worst, chattel at best; a Shudra could be killed by a Brahmin with impunity. They were untouchables, subject to enforced endogamy and exclusion. The peasantry of contemporary village India are their descendants. Eventually a fifth category evolved, Dalits (Hindi for oppressed) which took over menial tasks connected with bodily waste, pollution and dirt – they and other tribal subgroups became the ‘Untouchables’. This essentially was the system that Narayan Shah and his Gorkha warriors imposed upon Nepal, notwithstanding the Shah’s attempt at inclusivity by describing his Kingdom as ‘a garden of four castes and thirty-six subcastes’. No rosy description could, however, mask the reality of a ruthless struggle for land (intensified by salient, topographical fact that only 20
Janjatis were accorded the same status as Shudras and Dalits, and aside from extractions of surplus and rent, had to provide free labor for specified periods and military service as necessary, under the Jhara Code, comparable to Corvee Labor in European feudalism. Hindu patriarchal law deprived Janjati village and farmstead women of property rights. This was accompanied by a sustained campaign to ban ethnic languages and culture that culminated in the Panchayat slogan: ‘One nation, one king, one language.’
Religion in Tributary/Feudal Society
In Kalikot, Hinduism has incurred into disfavor after the Maoist uprising, temples have been abandoned or even demolished. There was no use for them after the upper castes lost their land and moved to the city. In this place we had a temple of Dedhedu, and we were not allowed to enter the temple from this area onward. If we are not allowed to worship the idols that we ourselves made, then there is no point. We came to understand this and stopped maintaining the place.” – Interview with Dalit Kalikot resident.
The Panchas did not add ‘One God’ to the attributes of the Khas nation as this was axiomatic to the state’s divine Hindu conception where religion was integral, functioning as means of ideological control over the laboring masses. It is strikingly similar to the role played by the pre-Reformation, Roman Catholic Church in European feudalism. The Church of Rome preached that serfs were chattel, a property category introduced into the world as divine retribution for the original sin of Adam and Eve and carried from birth by their descendants. However, by virtuously accepting his/her lot and offering it up as penance in this life, a serf could attain a ‘state of grace’, ensuring admittance in the next life to Heaven at Dies Irae (Judgment Day). The Church was also a great land and serf owner and had a vested material interest in the temporal status quo. As is so often with organized religion, the basest of motives were tricked out as divinely inspired credo by ferocious, proselytizing clergy. Their Hindu Brahmin homologues achieved the same end by teaching Shudras, Dalits, and other lower castes that their reward for accepting low caste in this life and creating good karma would be reincarnation into a higher one in the next. There is a potentially endless cycle of life, death and rebirth expressed in the concept of Samsara until the totality of Karma, achieved by soul’s migration through various physical manifestations is sufficient to achieve final mukti (liberation). There are, of course, significant differences between Catholicism and Hinduism – one a transnational, centralized, corporate entity, the other a syncretic, subcontinental, decentralized network, but in credal terms of ‘justifying the ways of God to Man’ as mechanisms for strict hierarchical control, they were equally prescriptive. The Brahmins are as fanatical about prohibiting intercaste marriage or upholding Sati as Catholic clerics were about burning heretics for denying the Trinity or Transubstantiation doctrines. Each presented priestly castes functioning to reconcile the exploited and submerged masses to their inferior position by rationalizing the respective socioeconomic systems as ‘divinely ordained’ and eternal. The historian Kosambhi’s assessment below on role of caste in Hinduism could be equally applied to that of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe.
Caste is class at a primitive level of production, a religious method of forming a social consciousness in such a manner that the primary producer is deprived of his surplus with the minimum of coercion. – D. D. Kosambhi, Combined Methods in Indology, p 59.
Consensus and Conquest
Whatever the arguments concerning the urban genesis of Indian feudalism (25) in the Gupta period (300-600 AD), there is no doubt that in Nepal it was driven from a central urban power in Kathmandu. Whereas towns and cities in Europe rose in opposition to the feudal countryside, in Nepal the city of Kathmandu was instrumental in superimposing a unified feudal system in a region, and the process was marked by an uneven impact upon urban and rural populations. For the former it was consolidation or even preservation, for the latter – a ’Big Bang’ whose reverberations, like the cosmic microwave background, are still detectable. In this regard, the unification of the petty principalities, city states and major kingdoms within the Gandaki Basin of Central Nepal ranging from Pokhara to Kathmandu was facilitated by shared Indo-Aryan ethnicity, religion and language among the various protagonists. The regional ubiquity of Hindu upper castes – Brahmins, Chetris, Newaris, Thakuris and Rajputs – in various independent micropolities, petty principalities and kingdoms thus enabled Narayan Shah to develop a strategy that allowed for guile, diplomacy or force of arms to be juggled as necessary on a shared terrain as predominantly a manageable political or dynastic problem. Most of the town and city statelets absorbed were, nolens volens, either feudal or proto-feudal, with rural lower castes and untouchables producing the agricultural surplus appropriated by urban higher castes. Devout Hindus obviously welcomed the extension of the caste system that underpinned their privileged conditions of existence but were also roused by the Gorkhali King’s call to defend Hinduism against the Christian feringhees’ inexorable advance – Bible in one hand, rifle in the other. The warrior castes, forged in the wars against Buddhism and the later Mughal incursion, responded with particular fervor, ensuring them an influential position in the ruling elite thereafter. For the Janjati Tibeto-Burman (26) peoples it was a military conquest by Indo-Aryans subjecting them to economic exploitation and cultural coercion. It created multifaceted oppression based on ethnicity, caste and gender that intensified under the Ranas who, led by Jonge Bahadur Rana, seized power in 1846. The Ranas were Rajput warriors (the name means, ‘field of battle’) raised originally by Narayan Shah, and their century-long rule was marked by persecution, corruption, and debauchery. In return for being left alone to plunder the country, a succession of mostly Shamsher Ranas developed a neocolonial relationship with the British that began seriously starting with the 1857 War of Independence. Domestically, they used the Birta system extensively in order to seize more land, which increased rural deprivation and landlessness. Birta was particularly applied to award large tracts of the fertile Terai Plains to the Rana clan and other upper castes such as Thakhuris, Brahmins, Chhetris and Rajputs. The 1854 Muluki Ain (Country/Civil Law) was essential to the process of freezing Nepal in the Middle Age. This set of laws derived from orthodox the Hindu sanctions and laws of the Dharmashastras, giving legal validation to the caste system by, inter alia, prohibiting intercaste mixing, regulating submission of peasants before landlords, and generally preserving the sociocultural and economic status quo. It also continued the tradition of Brahmins being exempt in law from capital or corporal punishment. There was always resistance in some form to Rana autocracy – for example, the Gurung and Magar Risings in the 19th century and the mass movement inspired by a young widow, Yog Maya, a campaign for rural justice and against caste discrimination which lasted for two decades until the early 1930s. The response to any challenge to the existing order, whether socioeconomic or political, was always repression. In 1940 activists from the Prajaa Parisad (Citizens’ Council) Party were hung for daring to advocate a constitutional monarchy. While the Ranas’ political grip was loosened after 1950, it has maintained military influence in the officer class and high command of the Nepalese Army, with the present Chief of Army Staff, J. B. Rana, one of the seven Ranas out of eleven occupants of the post since 1974.
Failure of Post-1950 Land Reforms
Towards the end of the uncertain 1950s’, Nehru’s duplicitous Delhi Compromise disintegrated, with the Ranas retiring from political, but not military, power. Nepali Congress and King Mahendra entered a struggle to determine ascendancy, as the democratically elected 1959 Koirala government tentatively began land reform with the twin aims of raising agricultural productivity and alleviating rural poverty. This was undermined in 1960 by Mahendra’s military coup, proroguing parliament, banning political parties and trade unions, and beginning direct monarchical rule through a Panchayat system of ‘managed democracy’, and in 1962 implementing a pro-landlord program. This provoked the American agronomist who had helped draft the previous NC administration’s progressive legislation complaining, in a 1963 letter,that landlords were an obstacle to reform because:
They opposed any attempt to improve the situation of tenants. They were content with low productivity because it generated enough surplus that would be at risk from reform. They were pursuing narrow caste/class sectional interests at the expense of national prosperity and advancing the forces of agricultural production. (27) Garibiko Bahas. Discussion on Poverty
However, by this time Mahendra had consolidated power with help of a ruling elite that included a significant tranche of landlords and therefore substantial reforms such as setting upper limits on land ownership, increasing access to land for marginalized groups, and greater legal protection for poorer tenants were rejected. Subsequently, his successors, kings and democrats alike, emulated this approach, paying lip service to land reform and radical transformation of the agricultural sector. Probing Mahendra’s support for the landlords encapsulates the premise of this essay, limning a ruling elite that established its caste predominance by force majeure in 1769 and was still clinging to political power and economic privilege. Looking at the composition of the landlord class extant at Mahendra’s accession provides a microcosm of Nepalese history, with soldiers and high civil servants from established Brahmin and Chetri castes forming a core of absentee landlords. This was leavened by in situ landlords who became the activists and officers (Panchas) of the Panchayat system and were instrumental in implementing the 1967 ‘Back to the Village’ campaign and generally eliminating rural opposition to the absolutist regime. From 1964 on there were a succession of five Land Acts, none of which led to any perceptible change to the basic inequities suffered by the rural masses. Hopes for restructuring the sector were dashed when both NC and UML’s ‘Land to the Tiller’ policies failed to survive the transition from underground to legality, following the 1990 Andolan that humbled King Birendra and established for New Delhi a more amenable multiparty system. The short-lived 1996 Adikhari UML-led coalition administration tried to pick up the pieces and set up the Badal Commission which recommended measures to increase access to land by hitherto marginalized rural peoples. Its recommendations fell with the government that commissioned it, and reform was off the agenda, as successive administrations preferred stasis to reform. The NC-led Deuba regime, in 2002, did propose a program of radical change, ostensibly to aid poor farmers and tenants but which in reality turned out to be a political stratagem rather than a serious reform initiative, the purpose of which was to neutralize and outbid support for the Maoists’ truly radical rural agenda at the height of People’s War. The only changes attempted by the many governments from 1990-2006 were guided by neoliberal policies enforced on loan-dependent Nepal by the IMF and World Bank. Permitting only market mechanisms, they enabled the landlord-moneyed class to acquire even more land through a Land Bank. Furthermore, land registration and government improvement grants were designed to benefit big Hindu landlords. Meanwhile, the governments resisted ceilings on land ownership aimed at sharing land more equably by creating tenancies among the hitherto landless and marginalized rural populations and also rejected improving rights and security of tenure for existing small and single family tenancies.
Failure of Post-1990 Land Reform
It was significant that the landlord class, following the collapse of the Panchayat system in 1990, flocked into the ranks of Nepali Congress, entrenching it further as a formidable conservative bloc, winning the 1991 election that, after a hiccup, saw the ferocious anti-communist GP Koirala installed as Prime Minister. He needed little urging to launch a harsh campaign of state repression against the urban Left and their Janjati allies in the countryside. This commenced in April 1992 with police shooting demonstrators in Kathmandu and led remorselessly to the notorious 1995 Operation Romeo which subjected the western district of Rolpa to sustained police terror, lasting weeks and featuring arbitrary killing, rape and mass arrests, followed by detention and often torture. This insensate, brutal operation was decisive in swelling the ranks of a nascent Maobaadi (Maoist) PLA, and provided the spark that ignited a prairie fire of rural revolution marking the decade following 1996. Dr. Bhatterai provided an overview:
The most disadvantaged regions within the country include those inhabited by indigenous people since time immemorial. These regions, which were independent tribal states prior to the formation of the unified state in the latter half of the 18th century, have been reduced to the most backward and oppressed condition due to internal feudal exploitation and external semi-colonial oppression. They have been left behind in the historical development process because of the blockade of their path to independent development and the imposition of sociocultural oppression along with economic oppression with the backing of the state, by forces that came from outside. B. Bhatterai, Political Economy of People’s War, 1997, from PW in Nepal, Seddon-Karki, p 153)
It was no accident therefore, that the Maoists in 1996 chose to launch People’s War from rural West Nepal, beginning with the ransacking of an Agricultural Development Bank office located, with appropriate historical symmetry, in Gorkha District. Loan agreements lodged there, which extracted rent from tenant farmers by usurious repayments, were seized and torched, while ownership documents, held as collateral against the loans, were carefully retrieved and returned to respective titleholders. It was no accident that land reform was a key element in 2006 negotiations for CPA, where Maoists wanted further confiscation of land from the big landlords without compensation and the application of ‘scientific management’ to agriculture. In so doing they were echoing longstanding communist aims of land reform, highlighted in the 40 demands promulgated in 1996 by CPN (M) and whose anticipated rejection was the trigger for People’s War. Communists and anti-imperialists argue land reform is crucial for underdeveloped Third World countries if they are to gestate into modern genuinely independent societies. Forgetting the propaganda about it being the ‘world’s biggest democracy’, India is presently the world’s greatest failed state, with staggering levels of poverty and deprivation. This stems from the failure to transform its inefficient feudal land system after independence, because, prior to it, Gandhi and Nehru had made an alliance with the feudal landlords and guaranteed their property and privilege. The much vaunted ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960’s came and went without altering the systemic depressing reality noted by a leading economist:
Famines in India were very frequent during the period 1940’s to 1970’s. Due to faulty distribution of food and because farmers did not receive the true value of their labors, the majority of the population did not get enough food. Malnutrition and starvation were a huge problem. Sen, A. Poverty and Famine, 1981
In 2008 the World Bank estimated the global poor at 1.29 billion, of whom 400 million were in India. Communist China by contrast expropriated its landlord class and created over 70,000 communes that overcame residual difficulties and not only eliminated famines by 1970, but also, against the background of the mid-1960’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, provided the springboard for Deng Xiaoping’s launching China in the direction of state capitalism (28) after 1976. Other socialist countries have followed this path: DPRK, Vietnam, and Cuba. Even Japan, post-1945, under MacArthur’s US imperium – initiated land reform clearing away feudalism as precondition for a capitalist future and a bastion against the march of communism in Asia. In all cases it was intended as precursor to industrial development and national autonomy. It is the only way for semi-feudal (29) and feudal societies to advance beyond subsistence agriculture – by planning, collectivization and ‘scientific management’ in order to expand reproduction and accumulate the surplus necessary to feed the urban populations. It is especially crucial in supporting a growing working class engaged on infrastructural projects or in domestic industries that hopefully flourish when protected behind tariff walls. The nature of the society shapes its revolution’s priorities; as Dr Bhatterai, then in camp of revolution, detailed:
In a semi-feudal agriculture based economy like Nepal, the New Democratic revolution means basically an agrarian revolution. Revolutionary land reform, is, therefore, the biggest and the most important economic program of the New Democratic revolution. (B Bhatterai, ibid, p 158)
Summary – Historical Constituents of Discord
The imposition of a feudal system from the urban center created unresolved contradictions in Nepalese society. These contradictions are intensifying under pressurized conditions effected by the modern global capitalist market, but their provenance lies in Narayan Shah’s successful, ruthless unification campaign. More conquest than consensus, it seeded the antagonisms that continue to flourish in a divided, heterogeneous society and are recapitulated below. 1). The urban and rural paradox, which saw an urban center dominating the countryside as was touched on earlier, was an inversion of European feudal experience where towns and cities grew in dynamic opposition to the stagnant nature of rustic society. This caused Marx to remark in the Communist Manifesto that the one thing you could thank the bourgeoisie for, was that they built cities and rescued the mass of the people from ‘rural idiocy’. On the contrary in Nepal, unification and comprehensive extension of Hindu feudalism/Brahminism was driven by an autocratic, central state that remains largely intact and unreformed. As with many capital cities in the developing world, Kathmandu has also come to epitomize uneven development, with the city growing into a First World citadel, in a Third World society, a progression expedited because its ruling elites in politics, the civil service, the armed forces, business and, increasingly, the media have been suborned by global and regional imperialism, manifested in mixtures of military, economic and cultural Soft Power. In today’s Nepal, continuing resentment of central power, even dressed up as ‘democracy’, is revealed in dissension between those defending it against federalists seeking to liberate national minorities in the regions. The CPN (M) placed decentralization among its 40 demands in 1996, and it has since provided detailed policy necessary to establish a federal state. The major parliamentary parties are opposed, wanting to either retain power in the Kathmandu center or gerrymander a federal state that ensures continuing upper caste/class hegemony. 2). Narayan Shah’s triumph is echoed in the confrontation between Hindu Khas chauvinists and Janjati national minorities, with the former from the outset dressing up socioeconomic oppression of the latter in religious and linguist garb. The Rana record of attempting to stamp out the many ethnic languages and cultures is attested, but successive Shahs and soi disant democratic politicians were no better. As late as 1994, the Adhikari UML administration launched a Sanskrit radio station and tried to make its teaching compulsory in schools. Something to note – Sanskrit, the root of all Indo-Aryan languages as Latin for the European ‘Romantics’, has no linguistic connection with any ethnic minority language in Nepal, and the strategy of its imposition was another cultural humiliation, provoking an anti-Sanskrit campaign led by Janjatis. This event was a particularly salutary example of the gulf between the UML’s communist appellation and its political practice, which in this case was distinguished by arrogant, implicit Hindutvaism. Reflecting back to the 1066 conquest of England, Marx, quoted earlier, noted that the Norman system was grafted onto a pre-existing embryonic form of Anglo-Saxon feudalism. It could also be said that the two peoples shared the Catholic faith, perhaps offset by the Papal blessing given to William, rewarding his Ultramontanist credentials and the Church’s temporal interest in extending this more efficient and proven pious Norman feudalism and its own theological-political hegemony. However, even points of concurrence did not disguise a brutal invasion followed by a century of military oppression at the hands of a French-speaking army and a new nobility ensconced in castle, on expropriated land. The evolution of feudalism into the more benign form of manorialism and the consolidation of Royal and Papal power in England was greatly facilitated by fact that within four generations, the hitherto alien invaders, kings and nobles alike, had abandoned the French language for an evolving English one. This linguistic event was crucial to the formation of the modern English language and vital in establishing a cohesive national identity. It was not, therefore, unification by force-of-arms at the behest of foreign invaders that has precluded a similar Nepalese national identity from appearing; rather it is the failure to heal the original divisions created between vaunting conqueror and resentful conquered. 3). Landlord and tenant antipathy is rooted in the appropriation and expropriation of land that continued until the second half of the 20th century. The abolition of feudal land tenure and its subsequent mutation from private use to private ownership under market conditions benefited upper caste landlords by enabling them to consolidate their lands, with access to capital giving them immediate preference in acquiring released former royal/state lands. As shown previously, the pattern of land ownership has scarcely changed since the covetous Ranas and upper castes used the state and its repressive apparatus to monopolize swathes of it. Reforms such as setting ceilings on land holdings were either resisted or circumvented. Small tenants were given few protections, and they either fell prey to usurers or were driven into sharecropping and landlessness. This last group have swollen to include almost 30
4) The crucial component defining the relations of production in the tributary system established by Prithvi Narayan Shah was the rigorous application of the Hindu caste system and the enforcement of it on Buddhist, pantheist, or shamanist Janjatis. The ideas of the ruling class, as Marx observed, tend to constitute the dominant ideas in any society, and in the subcontinent, caste was the Brahmin elite’s mechanism for maintaining and rationalizing oppression and exploitation. It expressed a fusion of ideological and economic function in a society characterized by the rigid hierarchy of caste and rendered immutable by divine genesis and command:
The rich man in his castle The poor man at his gate God made them high and low And ordered their estate
This Christian hymn’s maxims are paralleled in the precepts of Hindu casteism as set forth, among other sources, by the God Krishna in the Bhavagad Gita:
“The caste system has been created by me…According to the differentiation of…Karma” Ch 4, Verse 13 “…of (the castes) the duties are distributed according to the qualities born of their nature” Ch 18, Verse 41
The continuing grip of this system, however informal, is evidence of residual feudal mindset and practice. A contemporary Brahmin is just as likely today to be a newspaper editor, political boss, professional, or civil servant, as a Pujaari (priest) or Jyotisi (astrologer), but this has not diluted the influence of the caste; rather it has equipped it to expand into the many crevices of power in contemporary civil societies. In all events, the secular opinion-former or the Thulo Hakim (party godfather/boss), laagered in Kathmandu, is no less the arrogant, prescriptive Brahmin, than is the cleric, functioning as interlocutor between humanity and God, under the gold roof of Pashupatinath Temple, on the banks of the Bagmati River that flows through Kathmandu and from where Dalits, as with all temples, are barred from entering. Caste in Nepal often overlaps with class, with Brahmins and Kshatriya morphing into bourgeoisie, and Dalits in their designated laboring and semi-skilled occupations recalibrating as workers and forming unions. Whatever the taxonomy, caste discrimination remains deeply ingrained in a society dominated by upper caste Hindus, despite the advent of multiparty democracy. Dalits and their organizations and unions have consistently supported the Maoists, seeing the revolution as the means of consigning the system into the dustbin of history. In this respect the CPN (M) were decisive in purging caste-discriminatory practices in liberated base areas, setting an example that stills cries out for general application. 5). The creation of Nepal under the auspices of deeply patriarchal culture was a qualitative setback for gender equality as post-pubertal females under Hinduism were regarded as domestic chattel to serve and gratify male needs and reproduce the species. This conflicted with the more liberated mores of Janjati societies based the villages and valleys of the hinterland. They represented the close-knit, gemeinschaft ideal, where survival in a harsh, unforgiving environment, was problematic for both sexes, precluding prejudice and requiring cooperation and mutual respect. Consequently women were influential in the community and could obtain and inherit property. This was prohibited under Hindu religion and law; women were also stopped from working in the fields under this rubric and generally subject to humiliation and constraints that marked their low status. They suffered the twin oppressions of class and gender, expressed in economic, social and political forms. The Maobaadi slogan was:
Working Women of the World, Unite. You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Double Chains!!
There is also significant empirical evidence that discrimination has deleterious health effects, especially to lower-caste women. Nepal is unique because female life expectancy has always lagged a few years behind that of males, an inversion of the normative death rate gender differential obtaining in most societies. Up to 2000, the country had one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world – 875 per 100,000, and it is little better now. Lower caste women suffer further sexual oppression, are subject to rape with impunity by high caste males and are forced into sex slavery and prostitution. Hindu women, especially in urban centers, are made to observe Teej (husband worship), and the fifth day Tihar (Nepal’s Deepawali) is set aside for Hindu sisters’ Bhai Tikka (brother worship). However, People’s War raised a challenge to the subordination of women in Nepal; the CPN (M) was committed to female liberation, from Marx to Mao a consistent communist principle, and proved this in the red base areas. There were dramatic effects on women in these zones, both indirect and direct. In the first place the conflict caused male displacement into PLA and militia and accelerated the increasing flight of men into migrant work, leaving the work traditionally assigned to them, from plowing the fields to repairing roofs, to be carried on by females. That many women enthusiastically took up these challenges and supported the revolutionary cause is further demonstrated by the fact that by the time of CPA, one-third of the 30,000 PLA ranks were women serving alongside men in the front line. As with caste, the Maoists promoted and enforced equality, in stark contrast to the patriarchal and chauvinist Hindu culture of towns and cities. Even these urban centers were affected, as there was an increase in women’s’ organizations and agitation which owed as much to the impact of cosmopolitan petit bourgeois feminism as it did to urban Maoist women engaging in those legal or semi-legal campaigns for women’s rights that were open to them. However, there remains a long struggle for full equality between the sexes on the subcontinent. The appalling treatment of many, especially Dalit, women in India, highlights the worst effects of Hindu male chauvinism. It is also apparent in culture with the Soft Power of Bollywood and in politics with the election of a Hindutva BJP government showing that patriarchalism is systemic and pervasive on the subcontinent. For Nepal, it forms part of Narayan Shah’s enduring legacy, and for those of Indo-Aryan stock, secular or Hindu, male chauvinism is reinforced by cultural and political mores emanating from ‘Mother India’.
Patriots and Compradors
The major divide between patriots and compradors is not directly attributable to the first Shah but began with the deliberate neocolonialist turn taken by the military clan he had called forth as the monarchy’s Praetorian Guard, the Ranas. Following Jonge Bahadur’s precedent, their subservience to the British rendered direct colonization unnecessary. In the light of the post-1857 rebellion which the Ranas helped the British put down, the new Raj was more concerned with consolidating what he held than advancing into new territory and he actually returned to Nepal parts of the Terai seized following the 1814-16 Anglo-Nepalese war and Sugauli Treaty. While the Ranas suffered for their pro-British proclivities in 1950, with Nehru aiding the King and NC invasion, the returned Shahs from Tribhuvan to Gyenendra were always ambivalent towards India. Mahendra, for example, was quite willing to play the China card after its decisive military victory over India in 1962 by securing Peking’s aid in constructing a modern highway from the Tibetan border to Kathmandu. Birendra’s humbling in the events of 1990 Andolan was precipitated by an Indian blockade on Nepal that closed four out of the five major roads and quickly brought hunger to Kathmandu. This was prompted by the King’s attempt to purchase anti-aircraft equipment from China without consultation with and the agreement of New Delhi. These and other royal stratagems were nevertheless exercises and attempts at national sovereignty opportunistically exploiting interstices in the bedrock of Nepalese general political, cultural and economic deference to India and pragmatic royal acceptance of India’s strategic interests as the regional superpower. This ambivalence continues today as even the two RPP royalist parties are divided by pro- and anti-Indian sentiment. It is all the more surprising that, from Nehru onward, Indian administrations maintained a ‘Two Pillar’ policy towards Nepal following the collapse of the Delhi Compromise which supported the king and the political parties. It was never a rational option; attempting to balance the conflicting interests of Royalist absolutism and popular democratic sovereignty was destined to end with the victory of one group or another. Tigers want blood – not grass, and New Delhi appears naïve not to have understood this. It was especially puzzling that it involved India, as mentioned, supporting frequently freewheeling monarchs and marginalizing its natural allies in NC, and latterly UML, who had followed their Indian CPI comrades onto the parliamentary road and establishment status. New Delhi had a major geopolitical stake in ensuring a compliant regime in Nepal as a bulwark against the threatened proletarian expansionism of the PRC and yet tolerated often opportunist, awkward Nepalese monarchs who, in their turn, were trying to maintain neutrality and pursue and independent foreign policy. They were conscious of Narayan Shah’s warning that: ’Nepal was like a yam between two stones’, therefore, cunning and room for maneuver was required to avoid being crushed. Why successive Indian administrations continued to tolerate an, at best, ambivalent monarchy, when it had much more congenial partners in waiting is puzzling, especially given that the policy was not abandoned until 2005, when New Delhi finally lost patience and facilitated talks in India allowing the prorogued seven parliamentary parties and the Maoists to forge an anti-Gyanendra alliance. NC, after all, was created under Nehru’s aegis, and he effectively betrayed the party in the aftermath of the 1950 invasion, with first the Delhi Compromise and next with the subsequent Two Pillar policy. It may be argued that as the supreme arbiter of power on domestic and international issues, Nehru’s quixotic and capricious nature – if not Brahmin presumption – led to unchallenged contradictions. But even that does not fully explain the persistence of this approach post-Nehru, especially after the 1990 Andolan, which New Delhi precipitated and again drew back from by agreeing to having King Birendra stay on condition of accepting constitutional status (yet crucially allowing him to keep control of the army) in a ‘parliamentary democracy’. A former Indian diplomat turned critical establishment sage noted in exasperation in 2003:
“There is a serious inherent conflict between the interests of multiparty democracy based on the concept of popular sovereignty and the King’s political aspirations and self-perceived divine role to rule. Even in 1990 the coexistence between the King and the political parties was neither natural, nor sincere nor honest.” (31) – S. D. Muni
As this essay has argued, it was obvious from 1990 on that the parliamentary parties, governments and upper castes were either supine or in active collusion with Indian interests against the interests of the nation. They stood in even greater neocolonial submission to India than the Ranas before the British Empire. Their anti-national character was reinforced by functioning as agents/functionaries/transmission belts for imperialism in all its manifestations. There is no role for independent states under the present global imperium. The modern state was called forth by the European bourgeoisie during the early progressive birthing struggles against feudalism. These states later degenerated into a struggle between these new nations across the European continent. It was nationalism distinguished by a xenophobic hatred, intensified when rivalry spread from the continent to a world stage in the age of mercantilism and colonialism as each European power fought rivals for a ‘place in the sun’. The aim of these various rampaging states was to either exterminate or exploit native peoples and by blocking independent development maintain their subjugation. The aim of the First World has always been to kick away the ladder of protection it climbed up, from under Third World countries preserving them as arenas for super-exploitation. If there are domestic capitalist sectors in underdeveloped countries, they are crushed by unfair competition or leveraged out by multinationals using the dominant financial and political institutions and instruments of international capitalism. Since national capitalist sectors are not permitted in underdeveloped countries like Nepal, no national bourgeoisie can exist. Only one that is comprador can flourish. Individuals from upper caste/bourgeois backgrounds do at times betray their caste/class interest and join the struggle for national liberation, and their contribution is not negligible, but patriotism finds critical mass among the rural and urban working masses because it is materially intertwined with class interest and takes political counteroffensive against oppressive conditions created by international capital. For the ‘wretched of the earth’, Fanon’s memorable, passionate characterization, in Nepal and other Shudra states of the present global dispensation, there is no ‘trickle-down’ from the engorging imperial heartlands. The much-touted benefits of capitalism are chimerical, a Coca-Cola sign on a Third World shanty mocking poverty inside. The gap between a banker on Wall Street and a sharecropper in an Assamese paddy field is as wide and unbridgeable as that between a patrician Brahmin or Newari Thulo Hakim in the gated Lazimpat area of Kathmandu and a barelegged Dalit sanitation operative sifting city filth and inhabiting a hovel in a less salubrious quarter. Capitalist imperialism has overseen Brahmin and bourgeois class rule equalized by mutuality of greed and hierarchical praxis.
Material Basis of Social Contradiction
Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history; the simple fact hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even on ideas of religion, have been evolved,…..” – F. Engels, Speech at the Graveside of Marx, 1883, Selected Works, Vol 3, p 162.) “…an economic rationale can be provided for the origins of the Indian caste system as it can for European feudalism. All the great Eurasian civilizations being dependent on plow intensive agriculture needed some institutional means to tie labor…..Serfdom, indenture, slavery and the caste system were all ways to do so.” D. Lal, The Abuse of History, p. 2.
The genesis of Nepal’s divisions principally lies in the system imposed by Narayan Shah after 1769. This was an economic process galvanized by political means, with a ruling elite extracting surplus from downtrodden peasantry in an agricultural society through control of the land. Following Professor R. S. Sharma’s taxonomy (32) of this phenomenon in India during the first millennium AD, the appellation feudalism is used. Asok Rudra created the term ‘Brahminism’ (33) to emphasize the unique nature of the Indian system, rejecting parallels with European feudalism. What unites them, however, is mutual recognition that, whatever its discrete mechanisms and subsequent nomenclature, this was a tributary society. In other words, a type of pre-capitalist economic formation marked Eurasian history in this period. It was characterized by two main classes – first, a peasantry deployed in communal production, and second, a ruling class comprised of a priesthood, a nobility/military and an absolute monarchy that appropriated the surplus product/labor through control of land by repressive and extra-economic mechanisms There were marked divergences in the forms taken by these societies in Europe, India and China, but all instantiate the level of class struggle at this historical stage, albeit subject to differential momentum, development trajectories and cultural configurations. This is applying the methodology of historical materialism, précised in Engels’ quote above, which posits a sociopolitical superstructure arising from and sustained by an economic infrastructure which is appropriate to specific historical stages and the development of the forces of production therein. These successive modes of production encompass therefore not just the technological level of the productive forces but the corresponding relations of production under which they operate. The conditions under which social formations organize immediate physical necessities such as food and shelter shape their culture and provide a dominant worldview consistent with specific modes of reproduction. There have been qualitatively distinct historical stages in systematizing preconditions of physical existence, each sustaining its appropriate ideology. Marx reasoned:
“The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist. The same men who establish social relations in conformity with their material productivity, produce also principles, ideas and categories, in conformity with their social relations.”(34) – Karl Marx.
Therefore European feudalism gave rise to Roman Catholicism with all souls subsumed in the Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) and with divinely ordained functions complementing hierarchical society. Capitalism, for its part, produces bourgeois individualism as an appropriate ideology for a dynamic or even unbridled society that is in constant flux. Similarly the caste system on the Indian subcontinent, as has been argued earlier and noted by Lal above, is a socioeconomic phenomenon brought forward by exploitative elites applying superstitious doctrine to rationalize and mask their extraction of surplus. It is, as Dr. Ambedkar rightly concluded, a mechanism for the ‘social division of labor’ within an ’unequal hierarchy’. Just as Hindu metaphysics spawned numerous avatars and manifestations of Para Brahman (the Supreme Being), increasing refinement in allocation of fixed, discrete socioeconomic functions gave rise to a plethora of subcastes and Jatis that remain determinate to this day, despite the impacts of urban cosmopolitanism and the phenomenon of many Dalits and lower castes forming their own organizations and joining trade unions. Hinduism’s credal syncretism contrasts strikingly with the rigidity of its hierarchical stratification by means of caste. Religion is an ideological component within a general culture and along with political and legal systems is a constituent element of the superstructure which consistently corresponds to the economic base. It is called forth and shaped by ruling classes to serve the base and changes accordingly as it does. It cannot be otherwise. It is not economic determinism, acknowledging there is a reciprocal relationship between the two. So, for example, changes to the social relations of production in the base give rise to distinct world views; while conversely, political activity in the superstructure such as revolutionary upheaval can transform the base. Feudalism gave way to capitalism, which reduced religion to residual role and developed education as mode of enculturation. These are Blake’s “mind-forged manacles,” prefiguring Gramsci’s concept of hegemony in civil society, showing how a dominant class maintains ideological control over exploited classes and thereby complements its monopoly of the physical means of repression. Human societies have always commingled consent and coercion in varying combinations according to circumstances and history, but all rest on specific, sequential economic infrastructures that are ‘determinate in the last instance’:
“… According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimate determining factor is the production and reproduction of life.” (Engels to J. Bloch, 1890. ME Selected Works, Vol 3, p.487)
The ideal for any ruling class is where its ideology takes root and is accepted by the subordinate classes as expressing normative, eternal human verities. The lower classes then, as Marx held, “…share the illusion of that epoch” (35). In this essay I have argued that the brutal genesis of modern Nepal continues to engender resistance that precludes mass popular consent to such ‘illusion’ because its inceptional arrangements remain largely intact. The caste system therefore remains pervasive and influential, if sotto voce, because the upper castes it benefits retain political and economic power, despite changes in polities from monarchy through the Ranas back to the return of monarchy and finally culminating in the multiparty parliamentary system, with each in turn representing a different modality of Brahminical predominance. This elite has lasted nearly two-hundred and fifty years, and it has managed to preserve a feudal/tributary mode beyond its epochal termination elsewhere. Although circulation of money, small scale commodity production and burgeoning private property penetrated this society assisted by inherent Brahmin avariciousness mediated as hucksterism, it did not produce a strong national capitalist sector. Therefore, it was easily sold out by entrenched upper caste interests ready to accommodate the socioeconomic and geopolitical authority and objectives of India’s Brahminical oligarchs and international capitalism’s power elites and institutions. Consequently the heirs of Narayan Shah via the neocolonial Ranas have mutated into today’s comprador ruling class, equally marked by cupidity, corruption and cultural capitulation. The Seven Party Alliance was squeezed between Gyanendra’s royal coup complete with dissolution of parliament and banning of parties on the one hand and the Maoists, strengthened by the gains of Protracted People’s War, on the other. The parliamentary parties in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement gave formal assurances to the latter in order to defeat the former regarding restructuring the state and army. In the following years, re-energized as a reactionary bloc and assisted/prompted by New Delhi and Washington, the same parties, led by NC and UML, decisively reneged on those commitments which they had conceded in a moment of weakness. Those promises, if translated into effective policies, would have effectively ended their role as Nepal’s traditional governing class functioning from the Kathmandu center. Thus discord continues to disfigure Nepalese society and is characterized by a plurality of contradictions reflected variously as antipathy between landlord and tenant, Brahmin and Dalit, Khas Hindu and Janjati, comprador and patriot, casteist and egalitarian, capitalist and worker, patriarchalist and feminist, centralist and federalist, Maoist and Status Quoist. They are all aspects and expressions of fundamental class antagonism, with a ruling elite on the right confronting the interests of the popular masses on the left. Finally, I will conclude with a quote from an assessment made just after the 2006 CPA outlining the steps necessary to avoid a repetition of Protracted People’s War. It encapsulates the arguments made at greater length in the preceding pages. It is not from class warrior ‘usual suspects’ or any of more erudite and equally committed Nepalese specialists, but it hails from a well-meaning and of course well-funded Norwegian ‘Conflicts Resolution’ NGO:
The long-term conflict trends in Nepal are linked to whether or not one succeeds in replacing social, political and economic exclusion with more inclusive institutions, processes and practices. Continued exclusion on the basis of caste, ethnicity, gender or other means of distinction will provide the basis for continued armed conflict, including the possibility for further violence. In political terms the key issue revolves around the ongoing efforts to establish legitimate political institutions accepted by all groups in society. In socioeconomic terms, this system will also have to, over time, succeed in becoming more genuinely redistributive that the current system. In the short term, several factors might trigger increased violence in Nepal, including: Increasing poverty: As noted above, the poverty and exclusion issue will remain central, in particular for the new regime when it will be established. Meanwhile, the government should succeed in providing at least some symbolic progress on the economic front in order to encourage belief in the system and indicate the way forward. Ethnic mobilization: With widespread exclusion and discrimination still the norm across Nepali society, the danger will remain that some groups may mobilize on the basis of violence. This danger will grow unless the government and Maoists succeed in driving the negotiations forward and ensure redistribution in broad terms. (36)
These aims, necessary for Nayaa Nepal (New Nepal), have been either ignored or had their implementation blocked by a revived Brahminical status quo that despite its rampant corruption and its inability to provide functional government or generally represent the national interest still clings to power and privilege. Meanwhile the country decays and the people grow poorer while a younger generation takes up the challenge of the unfinished revolution.
“The old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters.” (Gramsci, A. State and Civil Society, Prison Notebooks, p 276)
Gramsci’s apercu applies to the present right/left impasse in Nepalese society – for the moment.
In these poor, underdeveloped countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty, the army and the police constitute the pillars of the regime; an army and a police (another rule which must not be forgotten) which are advised by foreign experts. The strength of the police force and the power of the army are proportionate to the stagnation in which the rest of the nation is sunk. By dint of yearly loans, concessions are snatched up by foreigners; scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nests, and there is not a soul down to the simple policemen or the customs officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption. – F. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961, p. 138)
At the turn of the millennium, the Royal Nepalese Army had a complement of approximately 35,000 front line personnel, and bolt-action 303 rifles (first issued to the British Army in 1892) were the standard infantry rifle. Now, post-2008, as the Nepalese Army is 105,000 strong the and standard issue weapon includes the much more deadly American M-16 fully automatic, state of the art, high-velocity, assault rifle, replacing the substandard, fault-prone INSAS light machine gun, India’s generic AK-47. This results from Washington’s geopolitical strategy of encircling a rising China with a chain in which Nepal forms an important potential link. Egyptianizing the Nepalese Army was important in advancing this aim. Under the pretext of post 9/11 ‘War On Terror’, following the 2002 Powell mission to Kathmandu, Washington agreed to help Gyanendra by equating Maoist rebels with Jihadis in a spurious world ‘crusade’. In the following years, except for the brief blip of Gyanendra’s absolutist rule, guns, guidance and greenbacks have flowed in to the army as US military advisors implemented a strategy of re-equipping the army. The US has supplied the army with improved weaponry. In the air, the US is supplying aerial reconnaissance and attack capability with helicopters and short take-off-landing aircraft (STOL). And the US has introduced counterinsurgency training. All of this for an army that, prior to being sent into serious action against the PLA following the pro-Maoist King Birendra’s assassination, was only experienced in UN peacekeeping duties in various hotspots. Through the Office for Defense Cooperation, Nepal’s top military convene monthly at one of the two US Embassies in Kathmandu under the auspices of the US Commander in Chief – Pacific (CINPAC). (37) Many of the NA high command and officer class are Sandhurst trained, and like their Indian Army homologues are willing Koi Hais, the Indian colonial term for a native servant. Collusion with Uncle Sam, allowing him a forward base in Nepal in return for practical assistance turning the NA into a primarily domestic counterinsurgency force, came easily with this pedigree. Aside from the Pentagon’s infantry weaponizing of the NA, most of the army’s supplies have come from India. In 2013, India resumed its role of supplying most of the army’s other military requirements, including means for ground and air mobility. This followed an eight year break that had begun in protest against Gyanendra’s coup but was also motivated by suspicion and resentment at growing US presence in India’s traditional sphere of influence. The recent unity of purpose between Washington and New Delhi in regard to Nepal is evidence of a broader and deeper economic and strategic partnership between the two countries. This has been extended into the military sphere with the Pentagon providing guidance for Operation Green Hunt, a counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2009 aimed at defeating Maoist and Adavasi rebels who are resisting the plunder of resources and destruction of their traditional lands by insatiable multinational corporations in the five states comprising India’s ‘Red Corridor’. There is also a 40,000 strong paramilitary group, the Armed Police Force (APF). This group was originally set up under Deuba’s NC 2001 administration to offset Gyanendra’s NA monopoly of state repressive potential. With the advent of the republic, it morphed into common purpose with NA, giving the state nearly 150,00 armed personnel at its disposal. The UK, with twice the population of Nepal, has an army half its size of the NA. Further, Britain’s imperial heritage marks it as a singularly bellicose state, permanently at war with someone somewhere, usually as faithful deputy in various American campaigns of international aggression. Apart from the People’s War, the Nepalese Army fought a minor war in the 1970’s, routing a marauding Khampa rabble in Mustang Province that had been trained and primed by the CIA to cross into Tibet and continue America’s war-by-proxy against the People’s Republic. Nepal is not threatened by imminent military invasion from either of its neighbors and has a particularly casual arrangement of an open border with India without even a dedicated border guard. The Nepalese Army’s UN peacekeeping duties involve 4,000 personnel at most at any one time. It is obvious that the NA and APF are primarily intended as forces for domestic repression; they are ostentatious and ubiquitous across the country, with six fixed army divisions straddling the regions, backed up by three mobile specialist brigades. They have used the years since 2006 to improve fortified positions and entrenchments in rural areas and are everywhere in urban centers. Katmandu City itself is like a military camp, with never less than 20,000 personnel in barracks dispersed across the City like chocolate chips in a cookie. Soldiers regularly patrol streets and thoroughfares, man major chowks (public squares and intersections) and parade in Tudikhel Park, a private army marching ground in the center of the city which, apart from the national football stadium is the only grass covered area in Kathmandu. Strutting their stuff, the soldiery are designed as much to intimidate as impress. The army is the elephant in the room in the Nepalese situation, and has been referenced throughout this paper for its role and influence at key points in Nepal’s history from its birth under Narayan Shah, to the early years of the 21st. century. In the last decade it has become bigger and better armed, equipped and trained than at any point in its history. It proved politically decisive in forcing Gyanendra’s surrender that signaled the victory of the April 2006 Andolan, and crucially succeeded in overthrowing Prachanda’s administration when it attempted to enforce the CPA provision that the PLA regulars be integrated as a corps into the NA. The further seizure of PLA weapons from the UN cantonments in 2011 on paper cemented the Brahminical state’s monopoly of violence in Nepal. Its comprador officer corps and high command, well-groomed by American and Indian patrons, have demonstrated in such interventions decisive executive ability; dumping a malfunctioning, hubristic King, blocking army reform, martialing the phony 2013 election, and holding an informal veto over policies or proposals inimical to the status quo. The officer corps is dominated by Chetris and Thakuris and represents a military ascendancy formed under the banner of Narayan Shah. It stands ready for counterrevolution either as a state of emergency or military dictatorship as possible options should the existence of the state be problematic or in imminent danger of collapse. The State’s political class presents no coherent power, and in any event is presently sunk in corruption, paralyzed by the specific difficulty in getting the existing order ratified in a bogus constitution and its sheer general uselessness in providing clean, functioning government.
War hath determined us, and foil’d with loss Irreparable: terms of peace yet none Vouchsafed, or sought: for what peace will be given To us enslaved, but custody severe, And stripes, and arbitrary punishment Inflicted? And what peace can we return, But, to our power, hostility and hate, Untamed reluctance, and revenge though slow Yet ever plotting how the Conqueror least May reap his conquest, and may least rejoice In doing what we most in suffering feel? Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 2, lines 330/40.
However, the People’s War may resume in some form based on the announcement in early December that barely two years after the CPN-M (Dashists) broke from the UCPN(M) (Cashists), the CPN-M (Dashists) haves also split, with a faction led by Biplav (Netra Bikram Chand) forming the CPN Maoist. At the time of writing, the Two-Line Struggle’s policy differences that prefigured the rupture are not fully understood, but the new party is driven by what it perceives as the treachery and reversals of the eight wasted years since 2006 and declaring that if provisions given by SPA on behalf of the status quo are not honored then struggle will resume, and organs of dual power will be revived in re-established liberated zones. The split does not appear as politically and ideologically rancorous as that between the Cashists and Dashists and may exhibit a generational difference regarding timing; Biplav and many around him are in their forties but have considerable battlefield experience from the People’s War. On the other hand, Kiran’s close comrades are in their fifties and sixties, and while many are primarily political figures, they also include active-service veterans. Each party recognizes that the stalled revolution is certain to recommence at some point, but the lack of technical support makes any attempt in the short term to ‘go back into the jungle’ or resume any form of armed struggle against a new, domestically refocused, re-equipped, and expanded state repressive apparatus militarily inadvisable if not suicidal. A more immediate likelihood is military and police repression of the party that, whatever its evident caution, has openly declared the task of completing the revolution, sooner rather than later. That is why its launch was held at a secure location in the Kathmandu Valley, but there was still a palpable sense of urgency behind Biplav’s opening statement that, failing the NC-led elite unblocking and implementing the reforms of the 12-point agreement of 2005 between the SPA and CPN (M) that were ratified the following year with the post-victory CPA, there would be a return to:
Armed struggle in order to protect national unity, integrity, sovereignty and rights of people. (38)
The Nepalese security establishment and its foreign advisers have every reason to take Biplav seriously. He was an effective military leader during the People’s War. With his close ally Khadga Bahadur Bishwkarma, Prakanda (Mighty) offered a vision of a reformed PLA with the creation of a youth wing in the CPN-M, the National Volunteers, that made a strong impression during the 2013 election boycott with uniform red T shirts and formation marching. It is a proto-army and significantly, most of its cadre have gone over to the new party. State surveillance agencies will also note Kiran’s statement:
We will meet if Chand will raise arms and fight for people (39).
All of which makes a pre-emptive strike by security forces a rational option. It also demonstrates that the understanding that ‘political power comes out of the barrel of gun’ is the one point of agreement between implacable enemies. This is not only perceived in abstraction, an axiom that distills a precondition for establishment and maintenance of power in human society from its tribal origins to the contemporary nation-state, but it is directly informed and shaped by Nepal’s recent history since unification in the late 18th century. The major and inescapable lesson is that violence was the midwife of the new state and has marked every significant subsequent upheaval since. From Prithvi Narayan Shah to Jonge Bahadur’s seizure of power in the Red Kot Massacre that established a century of brutal Rana despotism to the NC/Royalist 1950 invasion and uprising to Mahendra’s 1960 feudal coup to the People’s War and Andolans of the last decades to the 2001 assassination of Birendra which paved the way for Gyanendra – all of these events combine to confirm that there has never been any significant change in Nepal without the use of physical force. All of the present political parties have their roots in violence; the RPP, NC, UML, UMF, and UCPN(M) all emerged sequentially from Nepal’s history through force of arms. This paper commenced with Machiavelli’s comment on the right of the people to engage in struggle against the ruling class nobility of his time and so will conclude with an equally apposite rubric from the first great European political scientist. It expresses a truth understood by revolutionary communists everywhere on necessity for the revolution to have an experienced, disciplined, combat-ready armed wing, and is reflected in the author’s his rueful conclusion on witnessing the execution of the charismatic Florentine preacher Savonarola in 1498 following Rome’s condemnation of heresy:
That is why the visionary who has armed force on his side has always won through, while unarmed even your visionary is always the loser. – Machiavelli, The Prince, p 23, Penguin ed.
Peter Tobin, December 2014
(1) Index Mundi, Nepal Economic Profile, 2014. (2) Karobar National Economic Daily, 05/10/2013. (3) Economist, “The Trouble With Ghee”, June, 2008. (4) A political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and restore the power of economic elites. See A Brief History of Neoliberalism, D. Harvey, p 19. Harvey provides further elaboration of neoliberalism’s elevation of market criteria over all aspects of life, particularly the shrinking of the state’s responsibility for welfare, economic planning, subsidies, &c. From the 1970’s on, it began dethroning Keynesian policies, with neoliberals believing that the Keynesians’ emphasis on state deficit spending as means of stimulating employment and production distorted the market and lacked fiscal rectitude. The phenomenon has also been described in popular parlance as, “Capitalism with its gloves off.” (5) OPHI Country Briefing: Nepal, 2010. (6) B. P. Bhurtel. 17/10/2013. “Rich Man’s World as Wealth Gap Grows in Nepal.” The Nation/Kathmandu Post. (7) However, it can be argued that the link between bourgeois capitalism and bourgeois democracy is purely contingent, with neoliberal capitalism flourishing equally in dictatorships and democracies both. It is worth noting in this respect that Pinochet’s Chile was chosen by Washington as an experiment in extreme free market capitalism, dispatching Friedman monetarist acolytes of the ‘Chicago School’ to Santiago and placing them in charge of the Chilean economy. This is not because contemporary transnational capital is neutral but because it has become a superior executive power reducing political systems and governments to irrelevance. A review in Le Monde, 10/10/2014, of the German scholar Wolfgang Streeck’s Du Temps Achete – La Crise Sans Cesse Ajournee Du Capitalisme Democratique (Borrowed Time – The Postponed Crisis of Capitalist Democracy) quotes his comment describing advancing global capital as class avatar:
“…elles est inapte a tout fonctionment democratique, par le fait qu’elle pratiquee en tres grande parti, en particulairement en europe, comme une politique international – sous la forme d’une diplomatie financiere interetatique.” – Wolfgang Streeck. Borrowed Time – The Postponed Crisis of Capitalist Democracy.
A rough translation of which argues that it is incapable of functioning democratically, because it is, in fact a politically dominant power, especially in Europe, in the guise of interstate financial diplomacy. He uses the word ‘post-democracy’ to describe this stage of the present era. (8) K. P. Prabhakaran Nair. February 2006. Grist for US Mills. GMWATCH. It is salutary to note that up until 2014, over 250,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide as a result of such policies reducing rural populations to immiseration and destitution. (9) Republica (English language Nepalese daily newspaper) 07/09/2014. (10) D. Gywali/A. Dixit. April, 2000. “How Not to Do a South Asian Treaty.” Himal South Asian. (11) H. Yami/B. Bhatterai. 1996. Nationality Question in Nepal. (12) ‘Kiran’ is a nom de guerre for Mohan Baidya. It means Ray of Light. All Maoist leaders adopted one during People’s War. ‘Prachanda’ (P. K. Dahal) means ‘Fierce’, ‘Biplav’, (N. B. Chand), means ‘Revolt’, &c. (13) Colloquially known as ‘Dashists’ because of the –M in their name. Conversely, the UCPN (M), the party the Dashists split from, are called the ‘Cashists’ by their opponents because their leaders and many cadre were accused of falling before ‘sugar-coated enemy bullets’ after ‘coming out of the jungle’ and decamping to Kathmandu and corruption in 2006, following the CPA. (14) 1991. “Caste and Ethnicity,” Ch. 7 in Nepal – A Country Study. (15) R. Dangal. Administrative Culture in Nepal, p.95, Table 9: Caste Distribution of Higher Civil Servants. 16) This needs an essay in itself! Briefly parliamentary/presidential, multiparty systems emerged as systems to meet needs of emerging bourgeois capitalist society in the West. The various parties represented class interests devising contingent institutional solutions. Part of Western hubris is claim their necessity in all circumstances. It was applied unilaterally by an indigenous elite in many postcolonial situations. Apart from a democratic deficit, adoption of this project indicated loss of nerve and residual ideological colonization among otherwise resolute anticolonial political leaders of independence struggles such as Nehru, Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Kaunda, and Bandaranaike, &c). But the main reason it proves ‘wholly unsuitable’ is total failure to provide effective governance in postcolonial situations anywhere and to have descended into nests of thieves and similar mechanisms of naked class aggrandizement when not replaced by sanctioned western ‘strongmen’ or red revolution. Going hand in hand with capitalism and its contingent institutions demonstrated how indigenous elites were fostered and suborned by their colonial masters. Marx, enthused, saw the inception of the program:
From the Indian natives, reluctantly and sparingly educated at Calcutta, under English superintendence, a fresh class is springing up endowed with the requirements for government and imbued with European science. – Marx, Future Results of British Rule in India, 1853, M/E Selected Works p. 495.
Nehru is an exemplar of the success of this project:
“By education I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim and Hindu only by an accident of birth.”
He epitomized Macaulay’s ‘Brown Englishmen’. His pretensions, along with his secularization of Hindutva, are set out in his 1943 magnum opus, The Discovery of India, (written in English of course) where he establishes the existence of a precolonial Hindu ‘golden age’ civilization and his particular ancestral call to restore its historic harmony expressed in language reflecting his Cambridge education in the classics with references to Pericles, Demosthenes, et al, although when required he could refer to:”..the old Vedantic spirit of the life force.” (17) Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, p. 36. Marx benignly notes emerging use of education as conditioning and improvement mechanism, A hundred years later Fanon is responding to its deleterious postcolonial effect as the ideological component of a comprador class. Vide (16) above re Nehru shows how this strata were eventually conditioned to reproduce bourgeois polity, albeit in ersatz, parodic form. (18) WCPI, 2011. Transparency International, (19):
…the peasantry constitutes the main army of the national movement…there is no national movement without the peasant army, nor can there be. That is what is meant when it is said that, in essence, the national question is a peasant question. – J. V. Stalin, The National Question in Yugoslavia, Works, Vol 7, pp. 71-72.
(20) Prachanda’s short-lived 2008 administration might be excused, as it was forced out by a military coup orchestrated by New Delhi in league with NC & UML. But Bhatterai’s second ‘Maoist’ administration, 2011-13, had less excuse for being so supine. (21) Ghurkhas are not an ethnic group but, according to their websites are a warrior caste claiming descent from the Hindu Rajputs and Brahmins of Northern India. Their valor, tenacity and loyalty deeply impressed the British enemy. After a successful invasion and defeat in 1814-16, the East India Company began recruitment into a specially created regiment that, in modern times, has been mainly drawn from the Rai, Limbhu, Magar and Gurung ethnic nationalities. The added glory of Hindu provenance (possibly a retrospective embellishment), but their cry “Jaya mahakali – Ayo gurkhali!” (“Glory to great Kali – Gurkhas are coming!”), shares an evocation of Kali as the goddess of destruction and death with the Rajputs, belonging to the Kshatriya warrior caste, spread across Northern India, many driven into Nepal by the Muslim invasion of North India. In the Terai they became one of the ruling Bhadralok castes mutating into professional occupations as doctors, lawyers &c. Also Narayan Shah was from a Kshatriya jati, although he was pragmatic enough to recruit given national ethnicities into his army while raising up Hindu upper castes and establishing a divine Hindu Kingdom. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymological root of Gurkha as:
ORIGIN name of a locality, from Sanskrit goraksa ‘cowherd’ (from go ‘cow’ + raks – ‘protect’), used as an epithet of their patron. – Oxford English Dictionary
This lends credence to Gurkhas’ claims of provenance from Hindu warrior castes. (22) J. Adhikari. 2008. Land Reform in Nepal, p. 23. (23) CPN (M). 1997. One Year of People’s War in Nepal. GS’s Report. (24) J. Adhikari. Land Reform in Nepal, p 39. (25) The early Marx claimed centralized despotism as the essential feature of the Asiatic Mode of Production – a pre-capitalist form that he believed existed in static, ossified, oriental societies. He infamously commented:
Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. Marx – Future Results…ME Vol 1, p. 494. 1853.
and, while acknowledging the base motives of the English colonizers, he thought that imperialist incursion would, nolens volens, drag it into the modern world. However, after the first War of Independence in 1857 and subsequent study he revised AMP and undermined the despotic, stagnant society premise by declaring the uprising a ‘national revolt’, and expressed support for the insurgents. Though he never accepted that India, precolonial incursion, was feudal, he conceded that it could be described as in transition to feudalism. In this respect he wrote in 1859:
In broad outlines, Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. Marx – Preface to Critique of Political Economy, ME Selected Works, Vol 1, p. 504, 1859
The concept has been an issue for polemic and debate among Marxists and communists and survives more as an analytic than a descriptive term. Whatever the taxonomy, Marx, by looking at the relations of production, outlined how an elite could appropriate surplus using the state as a mechanism for generalized exploitation. Dalits and Sudras stood before their Brahmin masters in the same relationship as a slave before a slaveowner, a serf before a lord, or a worker before an employer. (26) These are linguistic categories used by modern ethnographers, and while there were obvious physical differences between the two groups that added to perception in the case of Nepal, they are not a racial classifications. For example, the other linguistic group in South India is Dravidian, with minimal physical differences between its speakers and those of the Indo-Aryan bloc. (27) J. Adhikari. 2008. Land Reform in Nepal, p. 25. (28) ‘State capitalism’ is as fraught a term as feudalism, with multiple definitions, inspired by political polemics not only expressed between left and right but also a lively source of debate within the left denoting ultimate political allegiance . For the right, it can mean any state intervention either through ownership or control such the post-1945 policy of Dirigisme in France where, apart from extractive and heavy industry, private ownership dominated in a free market but was subject to indicative planning from a government setting national objectives. It could also be applied to the Scandinavian and British mixed economy model that was discarded after the 1980’s. In the case of France, state intervention predated capitalism and the rise of the bourgeoisie, and in the form of Colbertism, was initiated under Louis IV’s first minister, J. B. Colbert. The concept of ‘state monopoly capitalism’ has also been applied by left wing and extreme rightwing free marketeers to describe the state protection and support for the big corporations in the USA. The Military-Industrial Complex that emerged in the new triumphal global imperium following the Second World War is often cited as example because huge contracts are awarded rather than won, characterizing a cozy symbiotic relationship between business and the political functionaries of the American ruling class. For anarchists, Neo-Trotskyites and the Ultra Left, it is what happened after 1917 in Russia and 1949 in China, or indeed anywhere else there has been a socialist revolution. It assumes that party apparatchiks and bureaucrats inevitably become a new ruling class, owing to their control of the means of production and the appropriation and direction of the resulting ‘social dividend’ (surplus value). For Marxist-Leninists/Maoists it is what occurred in the USSR after Stalin’s death with Khrushchev’s failed attempts to follow Yugoslavia’s ‘market socialism’ and re-occurred with a vengeance in the PRC after Deng Xiaoping’s seizure of power in 1976. Apologists for China’s system describe it as a ‘socialist market economy’, where the commanding heights of the economy, the banking sector and land are state owned and where the state is responsible for macroeconomic policy with microeconomic decisions left both to management of state enterprises and licensed capitalists operating as private companies in designated Special Economic Zones. Therefore the political decision to allow free market mechanisms to determine price and allocations of goods and services with retention of profit by private companies, commentators opine, is more indicative of state capitalism especially when set against the background of scrapping the egalitarian, ‘Iron rice bowl’, full employment guarantee from the heroic period of socialist construction and mass mobilization. Therefore, it should be said that, like feudalism and indeed semi-feudalism, the concept of state capitalism is often used subjectively, indicating class or political orientation. See following note. (29) ‘Semi-feudal’ obviously relates to accepting the thesis of pre-existing feudalism on the subcontinent, Samantabaad is the Hindi and Nepalese word for feudalism and derives from the nobility of the Gupta Period, which some historians claim led the emergence of feudal society in India. The Samantas were also influential during the Licchavi Dynasty (400-750 AD) who established the first central state in Nepal. Even those who do accept the taxonomy applied recognize that it was a tributary society of a type that flourished the early city states, empires and later, nascent nation-states. European feudalism was one type of tributary society, with the exception that it enabled the growth of classes and productive forces that eventually burst its integument and established the capitalist society and mode of production. Marx did not recognize this dynamic in the Orient, and his AMP was his initial response in distinguishing its ossified despotisms with those of medieval Europe. It was this formulation that, while recognizing the utter venality and brutality of the British, nevertheless led him describe them as unwitting agents of progress, in breaking down the ‘Chinese Walls’ of societies incapable of generating internal change. Subsequently it has been argued that Indian society, pre-colonization, was subject to change, but that compared to Europe’s historical transformation it was imperceptible (as indeed was most of its history at that time). This had important political ramifications for Indian communists because they refused acknowledging any positive results from imperialist incursion and applying the term feudal to describe periods of Indian history implicitly underpins this position. Plus ‘Down with feudalism’ is less of a mouthful than, ‘Down with the Asiatic Mode of Production! The notion of semi-feudalism follows this thesis because it posits transitional developments. In the case of Nepal, it is marked by backwardness of the productive forces, sharecropping, increased tenancies and the growth of usury. The last are linked, representing the dominance of money payment in feudal rent, reflecting generally growth of a market economy but specifically the transition of feudal owners into capitalist rentier landlords. Semi-feudal is also used to describe relations of production continuing after their originating conditions of existing have changed, as expansion of agricultural capitalism has led to increasing numbers of landless and sharecroppers, who are objectively proletarianized but are learning to recognize residual feudal deference as subjective flight from their objective class reality. As descriptive tools, these terms are a continued source of argument not only between Marxists and bourgeois, but also intestinal within these respective groupings. As a slogan, however, ‘Down with Feudalism’ and the commitment to abolish ‘neo/semi-feudalism’ is a political call to the oppressed to break free of feudal/exploitative relations in order to confront the reality of capitalist modes of employment and exploitation in the agricultural sector. (cf: Pushpa Lal’s CPN’s program and Mazumdar’s for the Naxalite struggle in 1960s.). (30):
The informal rural credit markets of Nepal seem to be characterized by an aggregate constraint at the village level and oligopolistic collusion on price discrimination. Entries of new lenders are likely to be rare, due to high initial information cost. Lenders need to interact with the borrowers for a long period to be able to screen the borrowers and enforce payments…. Although it is reasonable to target poor households, the analysis indicates that one may as well target the higher priced segments. The analysis thus supports credit programs that target low status castes. Examples from Nepal are programs that target ethnic groups living in Terai. These households pay real interest rates that are almost double of the rates paid by high castes living in the hills. – M. Hatlebakk. 2000. “Will More Credit Increase Interest Rates in Rural Nepal?” Technical Report and Recommendations, pp. 42-43. Nepal Rastra Bank.
(31) S. D. Muni. 2003. Maoist Insurgency in Nepal, p.61. Muni is perhaps too close to see the Brahminical tree from the wood, he is a pragmatic, secular ex-diplomat critical of and puzzled by the ambivalence of Nepalese policy that allowed King Mahendra, e.g. to block: “India’s legitimate and enlightened interests in Nepal.” (ibid, p 62). His views are an apologia for Indian expansionism, pitting progressive capitalism against residual feudalism, which synchronically informed the position of Dr. Bhatterai, earning him the sobriquet of ‘Mr. India’ in anti-revisionist Maoist ranks. I would also speculate that the attitude towards the last divine Hindu monarchy was schizophrenic, with even ostensibly Westernized secularists like Nehru acknowledging the weight of Brahminical Chaturvarna tradition and unconsciously deferring to caste supremacy, however apparently exotic and uncongenial to a Cambridge-conditioned cosmopolitan world statesman. Nehru was a Hindutva with an occidental humanist face. Successive Indian administrations, particularly Rajiv Gandhi’s administration, elided further into more open Hindutvaism, which, mixed with growing accommodation with Western capitalism in triumphalist form following the suicide of Gorbachev’s USSR and collapse of Soviet Bloc, was Modiism avant la lettre. (32) R. S. Sharma, Indian Feudalism, 1965. (33) A. Rudra, Non-Eurocentric Marxism and Indian Society, 1988. (34) Marx. 1847. The Poverty of Philosophy, p.105. (35) Marx, Feuerbach. 1846. Opposition of Materialist and Idealist Outlook, ibid, p 43. (36) NORAD. 2007. Report on Conflict Sensitivities, pp. 67-68. (37) Tobin, P. 2011. “Balance of Military Forces in Nepal” Beyond Highbrow – Robert Lindsay, website. (38) http://www.ekantipur.com, Chand Announces CPN Maoist, 02/12/2014. (39) Republica, D. B. Chhantyal, 06/12/2014.
Adhikhari, J. Land Reform in Nepal – Problem & Prospects. Bhatterai, B. Monarchy vs. Democracy & Articles, Essays from People’s War. Dangal, R. Administrative Culture in Nepal, 1991. Fanon, F. The Wretched of the Earth. Karki/Seddon, (eds.) The People’s War in Nepal – Left Perspective. Kumar, A. The Black Economy in India. Lecomte-Tilouine, M. (ed.) Revolution in Nepal, Collected Essays. Marx/Engels, Selected Works. 3 Vols, Poverty of Philosophy, Anti-Durhring, Capital, Vols 1 &2. Maxwell, N. India’s China War. 1970 Muni, S. D. Maoist Insurgency in Nepal. Nehru, J. The Discovery of India. Prinsep, H. T. The Gurkha War – 1814-16. Regmi, M. C. Land Ownership in Nepal. 1976 Sharma, R. S. Indian Feudalism. Thapa, D. A. Kingdom Under Siege – Nepal’s Maoist Insurgency – 1996-2003. Upadhyaya, S. P. Indo-Nepal Trade Relations – 1858-1914 .
Rough Guide to Nepal. Studies in Nepali History & Society, Vol. 15.
NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) Report on Conflict Sensitivities in Nepal – 2007. Transparency International. “Nepal.” World Perception Corruption Index – 2011. UN Human Development Report – 2014.
Ambedkar, R. B. The Annihilation of Caste. Basnyat, P. S. Nepalese Army in the History of Nepal. Dak Bangla, Nepal’s Civil and Military Relations and the Maoist Insurgency. Habib, I. Kosambi. Marxism & Indian History. Lal, D. The Abuse of History. Puniyami, R. Hiding the Truth About Caste. Rajan, V. ‘Dalits’ and the Caste System in India. Tobin, P. Balance of Military Forces in Nepal – in Relation to PLA Integration – 2011.
Dak Bangla – website. Democracy & Class Struggle – website. Economist – magazine. Himal – South Asia – magazine. Himalayan – newspaper. Kathmandu Post. Nepal Monthly – magazine. Red Front – One-off English language version of Krambaddha (Continuity) Pro-Kiran 2012 journal, editor, Prem Darnal, Bikalpa (Alternative). Republica, newspaper. Worker, English-language journal of CPN (Maoist).