In a dramatic turn of events, Nepal’s Maoist-led People’s Liberation Army lifted a
blockade of the capital of Katmandu and announced a unilateral three-month ceasefire after politicians in the newly restored parliament agreed to elect a constituent assembly that would tackle the status of the country’s much-despised monarchy.
According to the Hindu, a daily in India, Maoist rebel leader Prachanda warned against any backsliding, however. “I wish to make it clear that if the first meeting of the (restored) parliament does not take a positive decision on the declaration of an unconditional constituent assembly, we will be compelled to reimpose the blockade.”
The move came after King Gyanendra restored on April 24 the very same parliament he dissolved four years ago in a lastditch effort to save his regime. Gyanendra had been isolated after a 19-day general strike that saw millions of Nepalese demand his ouster and the establishment of an assembly.
The king’s retreat came the evening after one million protesters, fortified by throngs from the countryside, pushed past Katmandu’s city limits and braved shoot-on-sight curfews, tear gas and mass arrests that had already left hospitals overflowing with thousands injured and at least 19 killed.
Amid popular jubilation, leaders of the “Seven Party Alliance,” independent of a loose pact with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), chose the infirmed octogenarian G.P. Koirala of the centrist Congress Party for his fifth stint as Prime Minister.
It was just 14 months ago that the king assumed emergency powers and established a brutal dictatorship in response to the Maoistled “People’s War” that had established effective control over 80 percent of Nepal’s Himalayan countryside.
The terror previously reserved for the Maoists was unleashed on the middle classes and their political representatives in the Seven Party Alliance. Thousands were arrested, tortured, raped and disappeared by the Royal Nepal Army. Freedom of assembly and the press were completely suppressed. The king’s foreign sponsors, the United States, Britain and India, which views Nepal as part of its regional sphere of influence, were forced to distance themselves from the regime they had armed and trained. The Hindu monarch, who claimed to be the living incarnation of the god Vishnu, withdrew into his palace while his army ran amok.
TOWARDS DEMOCRACY, UNITY AGAINST THE KING
With Gyanendra regarded by the vast majority of the population as illegitimate, the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance announced an alliance on Nov. 21, 2005, despite years of often lethal conflict. The Seven Party Alliance was party to the government’s counterinsurgency campaign, and the Maoists targeted the parties’ officials in kind.
The parties and the Maoists united behind a “12-point agreement” demanding a democratic constituent assembly to draft a new constitution and decide the monarchy’s fate.
The Maoists called a ceasefire and requested peace negotiations aimed at the king’s abdication. Gyanendra refused, and issued a call at the start of 2006 for municipal elections, which were boycotted by every party and flopped.
The Maoists went on the offensive militarily, scoring successive victories against the army, which was increasingly confined to the barracks.
In February and March, Prachanda and the unorthodox leader of the Maoists’ popular organizations, Baburam Bhattarai gave a series of interviews to the international press in which they pledged their respect for democracy and called for a “final blow” against the monarchy. This was the first time Prachanda appeared in public since the launch of the people’s war in 1996.
The Seven Party Alliance took responsibility for organizing the urban protests, which spread spontaneously. Schools were shut down, virtually all commerce stopped and the pro-democracy movement became the only order of the day. Young people dominated the bloody protests, and politicians kept a low profile.
For their part, the Maoists launched a renewed military offensive, attacking targets around the country, while sparing the capital. As the protest began, an army helicopter was downed by ground fire for the first time.
Revolution, a Chicago-based paper published by the Revolutionary Communist Party, reported, “On April 6, the PLA took over Malangwa, the district headquarters of Sarlahi [and the main trade link with India]. The action left dozens of security personnel dead, and dozens injured. Some 125 prisoners, most of them political, were released from the prison.”
By the denouement of the April protests, when it became clear the king had no domestic support outside the military, the U.S. State Department called for the king to step into a “ceremonial role,” restore the urban political class to power and, it hoped, forestall an insurrection that would upend the feudal order and leave the Maoists with a clear path into the capital. The State Department is hoping the Seven Party Alliance will save the state from the rising revolution and has offered aid.
SACRIFICE THE KING TO SAVE THE STATE
The king still stands in control of the military. The Maoists initially denounced the Alliance’s acceptance of the king’s terms as a “historic blunder,” only calling off their blockade on the promise of an immediate constituent assembly and that they would no longer be designated as a terrorist group, according to local media.
Koirala was set to be sworn in as prime minister on April 28, but he is reported to be too sick to leave his bed. Statues of the king are being ripped down throughout the country, with celebration and anxiety in equal measure.
As The Indypendent goes to press, the Maoists have announced a mass rally in the heart of Katmandu while the parliament they are not part of meets.