Nepali Times
"Development" vs the Maobadis

It seems that Nepali Times wants the US Ambassador and other donors to move to Maoist-affected areas with development packages, and the US ambassador said he and other donors are ready to do that (#29). Both agree that the Maoist-affected areas desperately need donors. Nepali Times would like them to take action immediately, while donors want to wait until Maoist issue is resolved.

I strongly believe that donors, including Americans, should not be allowed to operate in the poverty-stricken rural areas of Nepal, not before the Maoist issue is solved to the government's satisfaction, and not even after the issue is solved as desired by the donors. And the reason I say so is because of what we saw of the USAID-implemented Rapti Zone Rural Area Development Project. That project, and its second incarnation, the Rapti Development Project, aimed to fulfil the basic needs of the poor majority, the farmers of the mid-hills. The programme spent about $50 million in "improving household food production and consumption, improved income generating opportunities for poor farmers, landless labourers, occupational castes, and women". In short, the project's overall goal was to increase the well-being of the people.

The Americans thought they'd need 15 years to achieve their objectives. And, going by their reports, they worked "hard" for those 15 years. The project started in 1980 and ended in 1995, just a month and a half before the Maoists began their armed movement. Everyone knows Rapti Zone is the stronghold of the Nepali Maoists. In mid-1998 Maoists declared nine districts as their base-three of these are in Rapti Zone. Of the 26 Maoists killed by the police between February 1997 and March 1998, 22 were from Rapti Zone. The government and donors both say development packages will help eliminate the Maoists. If that were true, why was Rapti Zone so favourable for the development of the Maoist movement? If that is what you get after after 15 years of American-funded development, we were perhaps better without it.

Nepali Times and the Nepali government should not search for assistance from donors to solve the Maoist issue. The right solution was prescribed by R Andrew Nickson of the University of Birmingham in his paper "Democratisation and the growth of communism in Nepal: A Peruvian scenario in the making". Nickson wrote in 1992 (long before the Maoists began their armed struggle): "The future prospects of Maoism in Nepal will similarly depend largely on the extent to which the newly-elected Nepali Congress government addresses the historic neglect and discrimination of the small rural communities which still make up the overwhelming bulk of the population of the country. .Successful implementation of such a programme would mean a radical shake-up of the public administration system in order to make it both more representative of the ethnic diversity of the country and more responsive to the needs of peasant communities."

The ruling party has done little in that direction. As Nickson continued: "However, such a scenario is extremely unlikely, given the entrenched power of the landed aristocracy supported by the armed forces, the highly traditional and Brahmin-dominated public administration and the shallow and ambivalent ideology of the Nepali Congress Party itself. If, as seems extremely likely, the Nepali Congress Party fails to deliver serious structural improvements in land tenure and in service delivery by the public administration, then, in the face of deteriorating living conditions in general, and growing unemployment of secondary school leavers in particular, the fragile centre-ground of Nepali politics may well begin to disintegrate, thereby widening the degree of tacit support for revolutionary solutions such as that proposed by Masal." [The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is one of the offshoots from Masal.]

Things have turned out as Nickson feared. The only way out of the Maoist insurgency is a political force ready to create a democratic Nepal. So far, neither the Nepali Congress nor the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal (UML) has shown true commitment to democracy. The Nepali Congress has stood against kamaiyas. Chandra Shumsher proved much more progressive than the Nepali Congress if we compare the abolition of slavery and of the kamaiya system. The Nepali Congress supported 'high-caste' groups in their conflict with dalits in eastern Nepal. And on the issue of women's property rights, the Congress stance can be compared to the Taliban's. For its part, the 'pro-poor' UML too has supported the cause of big landlords when the commission it set up recommended doing away with the rights given to tenant farmers by King Mahendra in the mid-60s.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)