Nepal: An encounter in Ghorahi

PLA (2005)

by Aditya Adhikari

The Kathmandu Post, 05-10-2011

After the end of the war, Saraswati Magar (name changed), a Maoist activist from Rolpa, built a single-story, two-room brick house on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Ghorahi, Dang.

The responsibilities given to her by the party require her to spend much of her time in Rolpa, but she has a nine-year old daughter in Ghorahi, and it is to be with her that Saraswati built the house. Having joined the movement when she was sixteen, even before the formal announcement of the People’s War, her primary life-experience has been of great strain and hardship.

On the run from the state authorities for many years, she abandoned her daughter to the care of relatives when she was only 21 months of age and was reunited with her only after the peace process began. Most of her friends and relatives from Rolpa joined the party. Her husband died during the conflict, as did two of her brothers.

Life is easier now for Saraswati. She looks back at amazement at the level of physical hardship and deprivation she endured so willingly during the war. Yet, she is restless. Political work does not offer her the satisfaction that it did before; yet it still obsesses her.

“When I come to Ghorahi,” she says, “after a few days I feel like going back to Rolpa, to work on the organisation. But when I go to Rolpa, there is not so much work to do and then I feel like returning to my daughter in Ghorahi.”

And then there is a deep disillusionment with the transition of the Maoist party over the past five years. Saraswati says she cried for hours at night when she heard the news that the party had handed over the keys to the weapon containers in the cantonments and that her nine-year old daughter cried with her. “Aama,” she apparently asked, “does this mean that the Maoist party is now finished?”

Frustration and disillusionment seem to be common to many of the Magars of Rolpa, the people who joined the Maoist movement in such large numbers through the 1990s and formed the rebel group’s core base. One morning last week, two of Saraswati’s close friends from neighbouring villages in Rolpa came to visit her at her house from the Dhaban cantonment.

One of them is a vice brigade commander. Initially reluctant to talk, he gradually opens up to speak of his experiences during the conflict. And then he starts speaking of his present life and the state of his party. He repeats a single sentence over and over again: “Living in the cantonments makes a person crazy [pagal].”

His conversation alternates between accounts of his views on history and politics and emotionally charged statements that express his frustration. He says that history had proven that no country can develop without completing a revolution. He speaks of a priest who he met when he was younger who, he was surprised to learn, was adept at Marxist theory.

In conversation the priest revealed that he had been an activist in the Marxist-Leninist party but had abandoned politics after becoming disillusioned by the trajectory of the UML. “The Maoists should not become like the UML,” says the deputy brigade commander. But other statements he makes seem to indicate that he already feels that his party is moving in the same direction. “There is no question that our party is becoming reformist and rightist,” he states. “When I see it degenerate, I feel only disgust.”

The other Maoist combatant present at Saraswati’s house that day holds the much more senior position of vice division commander. And although he makes clear that he largely agrees with what the vice brigade commander has said, he himself speaks in a cooler and more rational manner.

When asked what the combatants at his cantonment desire, he says that the majority of them are fed up of being in the cantonments and now seek only the conditions that will enable them to start a new life.

But this does not mean that he supports the party establishment’s efforts to seek a resolution to the integration problem. In his analysis, the manner in which the party leadership has been handling the peace and constitution drafting process is leading the party far away from their principles. He says that the new constitution will likely lead to an artificial compromise between various political forces just like the 1990 constitution and will not be able to resolve Nepal’s fundamental problems. Because of this, he says, it is likely that another mass revolt will arise in the future.

But he has no illusions that the Maoists will be able to lead such a revolt: if may occur, he says, in the time of our children or grandchildren. He thus appears to have abandoned the notion that his party will be able to bring much additional change to the nation, wishing, it seems, only for a political resolution on integration and rehabilitatison in which the Maoist combatants will be treated with respect.

He stresses that the hardened Maoist combatants are very different from those disqualified and that, being trained in creating and using various kinds of weaponry, they have the potential to create substantial chaos if they are treated in a way that is not acceptable to them.

These are the views of the Kiran faction of the Maoist party, of course, and not all Maoist activists share them. The supporters of the Prachanda faction seem to outnumber all others. But it appears that many committed and capable cadres are drawn towards the Kiran faction.

“While the Prachanda faction is stronger in numbers,” said a journalist in Libang, “the Kiran faction is stronger in the quality of its cadres.” Ideologically trained for decades to view all other political forces as the enemy and in the belief that only the establishment of a New Democratic State can solve Nepal’s problems, frustrated with their own limited role during the post-conflict transition and the excessive centralisation of political activity in Kathmandu, discontent is thus rife among the Maoist rank and file.

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