Nepali Times Asian Paints
The rise (and fall) of the people’s war


Splits and amalgamations of communist parties are so common and confusing that it's almost impossible to examine them as independent institutions with different sets of distinct belief systems. There isn't much in the formal declarations of the UML that makes it any different from, say, the Maobadis.

The shroud of ideological ambiguity covering the entire utopian spectrum of the left makes objective assessment of any discrete movement extremely complex. Editors of The People's War in Nepal: Left Perspectives have chosen to get around that challenge by asking leftists themselves to asses a 'war' that threatens to make many of them politically irrelevant.

The book begins with an introduction, and is divided in three parts: an overview, Maoists perspectives and left perspectives. For Nepali readers sick with the ventriloquism of the Maobadi leadership and the verbosity of other leftist luminaries, there is nothing new here and they can skip quite a bit.

Despite the editors' claim that they have "tried to maintain a light touch as regards matters of writing style", the volume is no more lucid than any other hazy harangues that routinely fill up the pages of Nepali publications like Drishti and Janadesh. The sole exception to the overdose of ideological swearing is Comrade Mohan Bikram Singh's convincing indictment of "The Royal Palace Massacre and the Maoists' Pro-King Political Line" in Part Three of the book where he swears at his former comrades. Compared to what has gone before, Singh's piece reads like a thriller.

Now that Baburam Bhattarai and his team of negotiators are sharing the stage with Lokendra Bahadur Chand, the ideological underpinings of the Maoist uprising may have receded into the background. All that remains is the claim of an armed group of insurgents that they be given a fair share of the spoils of state power. The sartorial elegance of Bhattarai and Comrade Ram Bahadur Thapa notwithstanding, the Maobadi leadership started losing its revolutionary sheen as soon as it surfaced in Kathmandu's polluted air. Now, they are just another bunch of political manipulators.

The demise of left extremism was formally announced the day Krishna Bahadur Mahara proudly proclaimed in front of business bigwigs that his outfit was all for the free market. The book compiled by Karki and Seddon is an intellectual tombstone of a dead war that consumed nearly 8,000 Nepalis. For students of the communist movement in Nepal, this book can be is a useful primer. Perhaps the biggest weakness of this collection is the absence of any useful conclusions, or an exploration into the relationship between Nepali and Indian Maoists.

The last issue (Oct-Dec, 2002) of Dialogue can be cited here as 'further reading' for the Karki-Seddon collection. This journal of Astha Bharati, New Delhi, gives what can perhaps be termed as the Right Perspective on the "Maoist Insurgency in Nepal and India". Articles by Parmanand, Deepak Thapa, General Ashok Mehta and Chandrasekharan are directly about the Maoist insurgency in Nepal while Prakash Singh, a former Director General of Border Security Force of India, explores their cross-border nexus.

Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca made it clear that the Maobadis of Nepal were still on her watch list. Unfortunately, most assessment of the phenomena of left extremism in South Asia still has to be based on newspaper reports. These two volumes-along with an earlier publication of CNAS that explored Domestic Conflict And Crisis of Governability in Nepal in an eponymous title (Nepali Times #40)-will help broaden the horizon of scholars interested in the rise (and fall?) of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. Such publications also inform inquisitive decision-makers about the ground realities that give birth to issues they are expected to address.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)