Himalayan crisis

At a lavish banquet on June 1, Nepal?s crown prince Dipendra shot dead his father, King Birendra, his mother, Queen Aishwarya, and six other royal family members. Now with Dipendra?s death - due to self-inflicted gunshot wounds - his uncle Gyanendra has become king.

Curiously, Gyanendra had been crowned king once before, as an infant in late 1950, during a brief power struggle between the royal family and the Rana nobles. India helped return his grandfather, Tribhuvan Shah, to the throne in 1951. New Delhi still regards Nepal as part of its near abroad: ie, within its sphere of influence. Another Indian intervention is therefore quite possible.

Evidently the monarchy system in Nepal is in profound crisis. Dipendra?s wild act undoubtedly had its internal psychological motivations. But his inner world was determined by wider social conditions.

Nepal?s 25 million people live in one of the poorest and least developed countries. Surrounded on both sides by a regional superpower - to the north China and to the south India - Nepal is far more a series of mountains than a nation. As a state formation it was only established in the middle of the 19th century. Each great valley has its own distinct people with their own language or dialect.

Self-sufficient agriculture, small-scale commodity production and traditional mercantile trade have been over the last two decades increasingly undermined by the growth of capitalist money-making - backed by the traditional tribal aristocracy, state bureaucracy and Indian big business. Members of India?s Marwari nationality have cornered whole sections of the economy - above all the lucrative tourism market.

As a result of capitalist progress old social relations are in visible decay. Kathmandu is now a typical ?third world? melting pot - with shanty towns and masses of semi-proletarians.

A constitutional monarchy was achieved - following a long struggle from below - in 1990. Prior to that Birendra, an old Etonian, had been an absolute monarch from the time of his accession in 1972, just like his recent ancestors; he was, supposedly, a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Ninety percent of the population are officially Hindu.

With the ?god? murdered late on Friday night, waves of ordinary Nepalese  people spontaneously flooded the streets of the capital from Saturday morning onwards. According to stupid reports in the western press they were disorientated, simple-minded monarchists. In fact they have their own agenda.

They demonstrated, sometimes violently, until curfews were imposed on Monday; politically they denounced the existing monarch -  and condemned the killing of Dipendra as part of a dastardly plot. Thousands later defied the curfew and crowds congregated around the hospital where the dead king?s body was taken. An attempt was made to set fire to Trichandra College and other symbolic buildings.

Television pictures of the new king?s coronation procession on Monday showed sparse, sullen crowds lining the route. The army was out in force. In the event, some brave militants shouted slogans against the new king as he passed on his way to the royal palace, as well as against his even more detested playboy son, prince Paras Shah, blaming them for the royal massacre. Paras has killed three pedestrians in reckless driving incidents over the last four years. Yet as a member of the royal family he always escaped prosecution.

While the Nepal Congress government remains tight-lipped and non-committal, the main opposition, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), initially pursued a studiedly moderate line. It demanded an ?impartial probe? into the royal slayings. The CPN (UML) issued a disappointing statement through its leader Madhav Kumar Nepal going along with the palace cover-up story that the killings were an ?unnatural, unanticipated, serious accident?. King Gyanendra quickly issued a statement himself agreeing to an investigation.

Fortunately this call by the CPN (UML) was withdrawn by its political bureau. They had no wish to share the blame when the expected whitewash came.

Clearly Nepal?s Shah dynasty and the Nepal Congress government can no longer rule in the old way. There is a pre-revolutionary situation. While the CPN (UML) may be prepared to play the role of Kerensky, an insurgency led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has grown in strength over the last five years and shows every sign of taking control of yet more areas of the countryside. In a statement carried by the independent, English-language The Katmandu Post on June 4, CPN (Maoist) leader Prachand blamed the shootings on political turmoil and castigated Nepal?s prime minister Koirala ?and the Indian capitalist, hegemonist rulers and other national and international fundamental reactionists [who] were not tolerating the late King Birendra?s liberal thoughts?.

Prachand also talked about a ?pre-planned massacre? (ie, a conspiracy) and suggested opportunistically: ?To think that King Birendra?s patriotic stance and liberal ideology were not the reasons for the royals? death would be big, misleading politics.? On the contrary, this ?liberal? Birendra was a tyrannical buffoon who reacted to being compared physically with Inspector Clouseau by banning all Peter Sellers films from Nepal. More importantly, Birendra?s government was responsible for answering non-violent calls for an end to the absolute monarchy in the late 1980s with bullets, teargas, and thousands of arrests; around 300 people were killed before grudging - partial - reforms were conceded .

In the 1999 general election over 40% of the Nepalese electorate gave their support to the CPN (UML), the Nepal Workers? and Peasants? Party, the Communist Party of Nepal (ML), the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist), the Communist Party of Nepal (United), and the United People?s Front/SJM. All six parties in the bloc are descended from splits in the Communist Party of Nepal, as is the CPN (Maoist). Either way, the desire of peasants and workers in Nepal for change is palpable and a real force.

Since 1996 the CPN (Maoist) has set itself the target of encircling the towns with liberated villages, emulating their Shining Path mentors in Peru and People?s War in India?s Andhra Pradesh. In classical Maoist fashion CPN (Maoist) units have attacked police posts, banks (for funds), and government offices, abducted officials, and executed many political leaders with the traditional kukri. Over 70 guerrillas have reportedly died in exchanges with state forces.

There is a real base of mass support for the CPN (Maoist) in the villages, reeling as they are under poverty and chronic debt. There are now large ?liberated areas?, especially in western Nepal, where CPN (Maoist) cadres help villagers plant and harvest crops, and local guerrilla commanders act as judges in people?s courts; human rights activists have reportedly found the Maoist judicial system to be speedy and businesslike. Two newspapers, Janadesh and Mahima, are sympathetic to the insurgents and allow them to air their views, as does The Katmandu Post.

The six leftwing - non-guerrillaist - parties have been cooperating with each other for some time. In April they staged mass rallies and meetings around the country to mark the 53rd anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Nepal. Part of an ongoing campaign to force the resignation of the corrupt Nepal Congress prime minister. They also organised a series of traffic jam demonstrations in over a dozen towns and cities, facing police tear gas and baton charges for their pains. Many, including MPs, were injured and many were arrested.

But while this bloc is discussing ever closer cooperation, even unity, their horizons are low and quasi-reformist. In their opposition to guerrillaist methods they ?forget? that the state must be destroyed - by the working class.

If the working class were to take a lead and challenge the Nepalese state now with the demand for a democratic republic, while the regime is punch-drunk and on its knees, it would stand an excellent chance of sweeping aside the ruling clique and putting itself at the front of the urban and rural poor. But it appears that the left groups are stuck in a Stalinite rut, seeking alliances with liberals and the ?progressive? national bourgeoisie. That hardly fulfils the needs of the working class and peasantry of Nepal. Nor can it act as a spark for the oppressed billions to the north and south.

The Nepalese left needs not only unity, but a programme of revolutionary democracy which brings the working class and its peasant allies into state power. If the political vacuum is left open there is a good chance that the CPN (Maoist) will fill it. A CPN (Maoist) regime in Nepal would not be a pretty sight, serving up yet another version of dictatorship over the proletariat.

Jim Gilbert