5-11 February 2016 #794

What was it all for?

Revisiting the 40-point demand of the Maoists 20 years later
Om Astha Rai

CHANGING TIMES : Baburam Bhattarai during an interview with Kantipur four days before the Maoists launched their armed struggle against the state in February,1996 (left). Bhattarai at the official announcement of his new political party, Naya Shakti in Kathmandu last month.

A gaunt, bearded man was trying to enter Singha Darbar, but was being forcibly held back from the gate by policemen guarding Nepal’s centre of power.

He was soon joined by a woman with short hair who was similarly stopped. But, to the astonishment of onlookers, she proceeded to the middle of the road and sat cross-legged in front of the wrought iron gate. She refused to move, and a minister’s flag-festooned car was blocked.

The minister called the Prime Minister on the phone and the two were finally allowed in. The bearded man was Baburam Bhattarai and the woman was Pampha Bhusal, the only female member of the original central committee of the underground Maoist party.

It was 4 February 1996, and Bhattarai was at Singha Darbar to present Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with the threat of a violent insurrection if his party’s 40-point demand was not fully met in two weeks. As Coordinator of Samyukta Jana Morcha, the electoral front of the under-ground Maoists, the 40-point demand was Bhattarai’s handiwork.

Deuba, preoccupied with dealing with rivals within his Nepali Congress party, did meet Bhattarai and Bhusal in his office, but did not take the ultimatum seriously. He flew off to New Delhi on a state visit that week.

Pampha Bhusal recalls: “After Bhattarai read out all the 40 points, Deuba just said ‘Ok, Ok, we will see’. I sensed that he was in hurry and just wanted us to leave.”

As it turned out, the Maoists did not even wait for Deuba to respond to the demands. Even before the two week ultimatum had expired, Maoist guerrillas launched their revolution with attacks on a police post in Holeri of Rolpa district.

“We knew the state was not capable to address our demands,” Bhusal told Nepali Times, “so preparation for a protracted people’s war was underway even before we went to meet Deuba.” Bhusal is now the spokesperson of the CPN-Maoist, the breakaway hardline faction.

We asked Deuba whether he had indeed dismissed the 40-point demand and why. “It included demands like curtailing royal privileges which was not in my power to do,” he said. “Other demands like land reform and rights of the marginalised were my agendas too. But the Maoists did not give me enough time to negotiate or fulfill those demands.”

On the night of 13 February 1996, a group of Maoist guerrillas led by Barsha Man Pun crept up a mountain and attacked the Holeri post. They just had one World War I vintage .303 rifle and some knives. They also raided posts in Gorkha, Kavre, Sindhuli and Bhaktapur districts, and declared that they had launched their revolution.

What the state initially treated as a minor law and order problem soon escalated into a full-scale nationwide war resulting in the deaths of 17,000 Nepalis by the time it ended in 2006. There were serious human rights violations by both sides, the economy was devastated, development was pushed back decades, investors fled, and the delays in hydropower and highway projects are still plaguing the country.

It has been ten years since the conflict ended, but the wounds of war remain fresh. And till today, Nepalis are still asking if the war was worth it. Some of the 40 demands, like secularism, a new constitution and civilian control over the army, were met.

But other demands relating to livelihood, citizenship, the economy, land reform and human rights remain unaddressed despite the fact that the Maoists have led the government twice since 2008. The Maoists had also demanded the removal of ‘unequal’ clauses in the 1950 treaty and nullification of the Tanakpur Agreement. Neither Bhattarai nor Pushpa Kamal Dahal pushed these issues when they were prime minister.

Hari Bhakta Kandel, one of the original 19 central committee members of the Maoist party, says: “Our demands were genuine, and the war was necessary to achieve them. But the Maoist leadership deviated from our ideals and failed to address the demands.” “

Kandel, who like Bhusal also joined the breakaway CPN-Maoist, shared a room with Dahal in Kathmandu during his college years. He says Dahal was a simple and idealistic man back then. “But once in power he forgot what we fought for,” he says. “We wanted to strengthen nationalism and raise living standards of ordinary Nepalis. But our nationalism is now weaker than ever before, and we are poorer than we were before the war.”

Political scientist Krishna Khanal says revisiting the 40-point is pointless. “The Maoists never fought to get them fulfilled,” he told us, “a faction of Nepali communists always thought they could overthrow the state and seize power through violence, and the war was just an experiment to test that idea. It was all for power.”

Twenty years down the line, Bhattarai does not even own up to the 40-point demands which he scripted. He is no longer a communist, and is setting up a new party called the New Force which aims to develop the country by attracting foreign investment – something he was dead against in the 40-point demand.

The 40 points

The 40-point demand put forth by Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai on 4 February 1996 before launching the armed struggle against the state.

  • Removing unfair clauses in the 1950 Treaty

  • Nullification of the Tanakpur Treaty

  • Restricting Indian trucks to protect domestic industry

  • Closing Gorkha recruitment

  • Work permits for non-Nepalis

  • Restriction on flow of foreign capital

  • Raising import tariffs and restricting imports

  • Ban on Hindi films and newspapers

  • Restriction on civil society groups like NGOs

  • Electing a constituent assembly for a new constitution

  • Removing royal privileges

  • Civil oversight of police activity. Bringing army under the civilian command.

  • Repealing the Security Act

  • Freeing political detainees

  • Curbing police brutality

  • Compensation for the families of political detainees

  • Compensation for the families of martyrs of Jana Andolan

  • Declaring Nepal a secular state

  • Property rights for daughters

  • Ethnic autonomy

  • Ending caste discrimination against Dalits

  • Ethnic languages and bilingual instruction

  • Freedom of press

  • Intellectual freedom

  • Decentralisation and local autonomy

  • Devolution of power

  • Giving land to landless tillers

  • Seizing land from feudal capitalists

  • Guaranteed employment. Providing unemployment compensation.

  • Setting minimum wage

  • Land for landless squatters

  • Debt relief for farmers

  • Subsidies for farmers

  • Relief for drought-hit farmers

  • Free health care and education. Regulating private education

  • Guaranteed low inflation

  • Building roads, water and electricity facilities in rural areas

  • Protection for cottage industries

  • Controlling corruption

  • Safety net for homelessness, orphans, and the elderly

Read also:

20 years wasted, Editorial

Warriors in peacetime, Gopal Gartaula

The new farce, Foreign Hand

Coils of fear, Rameswor Bohara

Half widows of war, Trishna Rana