When the first police station was attacked in Rolpa to mark the beginning of the 'people's war' in Feburary 1996, home minister in the NC government Khum Bahadur Khadka said: "I am confident that we will be able to bring the present activities under control in four or five days." Not much more needs to be said about how bickering political parties in Kathmandu underestimated and ignored the signs
Since 2000 there has been heightened academic interest in dissecting the conflict. Poverty and development experts suddenly found a whole new dimension to their research. In a way, the outbreak of violence was predictable. Given the contradictions inherent in Nepali society and the unfulfilled promises of the unfinished revolution of 1990 it was only a question of time before the lid blew off.
Five months after the royal massacre and weeks before the army entered the fray, the School of Oriental and African Studies organised a conference in London to find out why a discredited ideology had taken such virulent form in Nepal. Nepal experts and Nepali experts were flown out and Micahel Hutt's Himalayan People's War: Nepal's Maoist Rebellion is a compilation of some of the papers presented there. (Contrary to rumours, the book has not been banned in Nepal. We checked.)
Hutt is a reader in Nepali at SOAS and writes in the introduction: 'This book is intended to provide the contextual detail without which one is not really able to explain why the people of Nepal had to experience their beautiful country being torn apart by civil war.'
The various authors recap Nepali history, the saga of the leftist movement in Nepal, the ethnic and economic inequities within society and the inability of the post-1990 polity to show results fast enough. They provide the historical depth to understanding Nepal but things are changing so fast that any analysis has a very short shelf-life. Post February First, events in Nepal have gone into fast forward: just watch how the republican juggernaut has in the past two months become a runaway chariot.
The book's first chapter (by Deepak Thapa, author of two books on Nepali Maoism) is a historical overview of the cleavages among communists that lead to the launch of the 'people's war' in 1996 . Thapa tries to get to the bottom of why the comrades couldn't get along- was it personality or ideology, or both? There is no definite answer but it seems revolutionary leaders the world over are never satisfied with being top dog, they want to be only dog.
Journalist Sudheer Sharma looks at the Maoist internal structure, illustrates it with a chart, and examines how successive elected leaders in Kathmandu played the fiddle while Nepal burned. Political scientist Krishna Hachhethu takes apart the 'root cause' theory that the revolution was driven by poverty and argues that there are many districts much poorer than Rolpa. The answer can be found in other chapters, including the one by Philippe Ramirez who looks at the convergence of 'autonomous political networks' and the presence of ethnic minorities as the reason why the Maoists may have chosen the midwestern midhills.
There is the curious twist of why Pyuthan became the cradle of the revolution and Ramirez traces this to activists including communist pioneer Mohan Bikram Singh who set up the 'Progressive Study Group' as far back as the mid-1950s. Ramirez also looks into how despite repeated assertions the Maoists have perpetrated and justified annihilation of individuals, leading to the ominous conclusion that the revolution may be degenerating into using violence for violence's sake.
Anthropologists Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin look at the case study of Dolakha, Marie Lecomte-Tilouine at how Magar activism adjusted to the growing power of the Maoists in their heartland and Judith Pettigrew zooms in on a fascinating real-life account of a village she calls Maurigaun to see how families have endured and adapted to the conflict. One is struck by how just in three short years Maurigauns are multiplying all over Nepal.
Historian Pratyoush Onta looks at the 'duplicities' in post-1990 politics, civil society, media and business in Nepal that the Maoists have exploited to further their revolution. Activists Mandira Sharma and Dinesh Prasain detail how the Maoists drew on the 'widespread and legitimate discontent among rural women'. Sociologist Saubhagya Shah gazes south of the border at the ambivalence of the Indian state towards Nepali Maoists and the 'Legacy Raj' of post-colonial India that contributes to this perspective.
Anthropologist Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka's chapter deals with Nepal's democratic transition ('political take-off has been significant, but a strong headwind impedes efforts to democratise') and concludes that more radical efforts to pursue democratic reforms are needed outside of the Maoist vision. And if that doesn't happen, Hari Roka has dire warnings that ethnic, religious and communal tensions could replace the ideological class struggle and the country could be 'engulfed by even greater conflict'.