The hills are not mere hills now
They are red warriors
The jungles are not jungles now
They are mass of peopleâ€™s armies
The villages are unified
In the camps of retaliation
In this peak of the land
Everest is glowing as red flags
Salute Jelbang, Krishna Sen Ichhuk
Chapter I: Remembering the rebellion
The student warrior – â€œIâ€™m ready to fight againâ€
In the suburbs of Nepalâ€™s capital, Kathmandu, a woman tends to vegetables in the farm that surrounds the humble tin-roofed home she shares with two former comrades-in-arms.
Spring is just around the corner and flowers have started to blossom in these fields, over which snow-capped mountains loom.
Sharmaâ€™s gaze drifts off towards the peaks. The 34-year-old really ought to be dead. During Nepalâ€™s 10-year long Maoists rebellion, she had a price on her head.
The government had announced that it would pay $10,000 to anybody who delivered her to them, dead or alive.
But she was lucky; she evaded arrest and, unlike the nearly 16,000 others who were killed during a conflict that lasted from 1996 until 2006, escaped death.â€¨â€¨ Nepalâ€™s civil war pitted the Maoist-led Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army (PLA) against state forces. Rekha was a member of the PLA.
But the gun she used has now been handed in to the government as part of the decommissioning process that began after the war ended. And the party she fought for now sits in the cabinet with those she fought against.
Still, Rekhaâ€™s belief in the communist ideals that inspired her then remains firm. â€œIf necessary, Iâ€™m ready to fight again,â€ she says. The two former comrades with whom she now lives – both women of a similar age – nod in agreement.
Like thousands of others, these women were drawn to revolutionary politics because they saw in it an opportunity to challenge a patriarchal system that considered them inferior to men.
About a third of the PLA fighters were women.
Rekha was born into an upper caste Brahmin family as Tika Bastola. Her father, a retired Nepalese army soldier, was a communist. As a child, his ideas inspired her.
She admired Mao Zedong, the Chinese communist leader from whom the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), also known as the UCPN (M), drew its inspiration. After several factions of the party reunited in May, the party was renamed the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre).
“An unjust state which wields weapons can be confronted only with weapons,” she says, her eyes still fixed on the distant mountains.
For many, the civil war – referred to as the Peopleâ€™s War by the Maoists – was a fight against discrimination and oppressive social hierarchies – whether based on caste, gender, wealth, ethnicity, religion or even region.
Â An unjust state which wields weapons can be confronted only with weapons
Rekha met her husband, a fellow fighter, during the war. But just 10 months after their marriage, he was arrested and “disappeared”. She blames the army, which is thought to have been behind most of the 1,400 suspected cases of enforced disappearances that took place during the conflict.
Rekha almost met the same fate.â€¨â€¨ She recalls one night in 2001, after the government had imposed a state of emergency, when the army raided her hideout in a busy Kathmandu alley.
With their hearts racing, she and a male friend pretended to be newlyweds enjoying a trip to the capital. The soldiers believed them.
Today, Rekha recalls the cruelty of the war, but also the camaraderie and love between the fighters.â€¨ â€œI am proud of my husband, he gave his life for the nation. He was a brave man,â€ she says.â€¨ She is still waiting to find out exactly what happened to him and the many others like him.â€œEven if we have to search for another 50 years for the disappeared persons, we are prepared to do that,â€ she says.
The teacher soldier – â€œWe will launch another revolutionâ€
Hundreds of kilometres away from Rekhaâ€™s farm, in Ghorahi – one of the largest cities in Nepalâ€™s midwestern region – Kesh Bahadur Batha Magar struggles to contain his excitement. He speaks animatedly when remembering the war, his stories jumping back and forth through time. But they all lead to the same point – for him, the fight is not over.
â€œWe will launch another revolution, but it will not be like the last People’s War,â€ he says.
His party, a breakaway Maoist group called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), enjoys the support of many former Maoist fighters who believe that the mother party, the CPN (Maoist-Centre), made too many compromises after entering government in 2006.
Kesh Bahadur remembers an attack on a nearby military barracks that he participated in. It was 2001 and the groupâ€™s first attack on the army. At least 12 soldiers, including the company commander, were killed.
â€œI was fortunate I did not die,â€ he reflects.The last revolution was far from easy, he says. â€œWithout continuous training, it was very hard work to make people â€¦ ready for sacrifice.â€
We will launch another revolution, but it will not be like the last People’s War
Now his breakaway party, led by Netra Bikram Chand, better known by his nom de guerre, Biplab, is organising similar training, and their rallies in cities and villages across Nepal are drawing large crowds.
Fidgeting, the 50-year-old former mathematics teacher explains what drove him to communism.
Unlike Rekha, who joined voluntarily, he says he was pushed into the war.
He was teaching in Rolpa, the cradle of the Maoist rebellion. The terrain, with its rugged, inaccessible mountain villages, and its ethnic Magar residents, who have a history of grievances against the government, suited the Maoist purpose.
Clashes between communists and activists from the ruling Nepali Congress were frequent there.
Kesh Bahadur says that when a local politician falsely accused him of murder, he was arrested. When he was released on bail, he gave up his teaching job and joined the Maoists.
He rose through the ranks of the PLA, eventually commanding around 1,000 fighters.
The Maoists famously started their rebellion with just two old guns. Kesh Bahadur was one of those responsible for ensuring that they became better equipped. â€œIn the initial phases, I made the Sija gun and bombs,â€ he explains.As the war progressed, he says all of the Magar villagers in Rolpa were suspected of being Maoists. Many of Kesh Bahadurâ€™s students and fellow teachers felt compelled to join the war. Not all of them survived.The midwestern districts of Dang, Rolpa, Rukum, Pyuthan and Bardiya, which had sizable populations of minority ethnic groups like Tharus, Magars, and Dalits – the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy – became Maoist strongholds.Teachers, like Kesha Bahadur, who were respected by villagers, were well placed to propagate Maoist ideology and to train cadres.At the height of the war, the Maoists had de facto control over two thirds of the country, where they formed a parallel government headed by Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai.The war ended after a peace accord was signed in 2006. It allowed the Maoists to join the government and required the PLA fighters to submit to UN-monitored decommissioning.With 19,000 other soldiers, Kesha Bahadur spent the next five years in military camps as the powers in Kathmandu deliberated over their future. When the PLA was finally disbanded, he rejected an offer to join the army.â€œThe integration was not my choice,â€ he says, explaining his decision.In 2008, the Maoists won the countryâ€™s first Constituent Assembly elections, becoming Nepalâ€™s ruling party.In its first sitting, it scrapped the 240-year-old Shah monarchy.â€¨â€¨ The Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda, became the first elected prime minister of the republic. But he was forced to resign in 2009 over the sacking of the countryâ€™s army chief.Nearly two years later, the Maoists returned to power with Bhattarai becoming prime minister.â€¨â€¨ But ideological differences within the party tore it apart.â€¨â€¨ When the Constituent Assembly expired without a constitution in 2012, the Maoist party split into several factions. Recently, the major factions have reunited.
The war enhanced the political consciousness of the people. I feel proud of the war
When the second Constituent Assembly promulgated a new constitution in 2015 – a key part of the Maoist agenda – Bhattarai quit the party. He has since launched a new party, Naya Shakti (New Force).
Kesha Bahadur believes the dream of creating a society that will benefit the poor and marginalised is far from being fulfilled.â€¨â€¨ â€œThe constitution is promulgated but nothing â€¦ [has] changed in the lives of the common people,â€ he reflects.
“Government schools are under-resourced, health facilities are almost non-existent for the poor, and rural areas, where more than 70 percent of Nepalese live, have seen only negligible improvements in public infrastructure,” he says.
Still, he does not believe the uprising was in vain. â€œThe war enhanced the political consciousness of the people,â€ he says. â€œI feel proud of the war.â€
The sound of the revolution – â€œWe sang peopleâ€™s sorrowsâ€
Perhaps no instrument beats closer to the hearts of Nepalâ€™s hill people than the small drum known as Madal.â€¨â€¨ Early on, the Maoists recognised the importance of folk music in appealing to the masses.
Opposite the Maoist office in Libang, the administrative headquarters of Rolpa district, Sita Acharya sits on a raised platform in front of her mud and wood house. She has red vermillion on her forehead, smeared there by her mother to mark the full moon.
Libang, a town of about 20,000 on the banks of the tributary of the Rapti River and surrounded by mountains, was a military fortress during the war – a refuge for anyone fleeing the violence wrought on the villages. The Maoists, too, left it alone for the most part, since it was in a district that gave them shelter.
Sita Acharya was part of the cultural wing of the Maoist party [Prabhat Jha/Al Jazeera]
Sita was 20 when she joined the war, leaving her one-year-old daughter, Lichun, behind with her parents. Her task was to go village to village with her group, playing songs and staging â€˜song-playsâ€™ that depicted the valour and sacrifices of the Maoists, as well as their dreams for a better future.
â€œThe leaders told me it was easy to produce a leader, but it took special talents to become an artist,â€ she says.
It was the injustices she witnessed as a child – from the 30 years of royal dictatorship, that ended in 1990, to the confiscation of her fatherâ€™s land – that inspired her to join the Maoists.
Like Rekha, Sita comes from a Brahmin family, but the poverty of those from the lower castes – along with the discrimination against women – troubled her.
We turned whatever we saw in villages into songs. We sang of peopleâ€™s experiences. Their sympathy for us rose since we were singing their sorrows
She married a Magar man before joining the war. Inter-caste and inter-ethnic marriages are rare today, but they were even rarer then. She became â€œless pureâ€ in her parents eyes, she says, and her mother still refuses to eat food she has cooked.
â€œThe leadership to fight against the injustice came from the Maoists. Thatâ€™s why I joined them,â€ she explains, looking at the dilapidated Maoist office across the street.
As the war raged on, the need for propaganda that would resonate with the people grew greater.
â€œWe turned whatever we saw in villages into songs. We sang of peopleâ€™s experiences. Their sympathy for us rose since we were singing their sorrows,â€ she remembers. â€œChildren used to beg us to let them join us.â€
For 10 years, she saw her daughter only intermittently during ceasefires in the fighting. â€œA mother feels the pain the most when leaving her child. I didnâ€™t leave my child out of choice,â€ she says.â€¨â€¨ â€œA lot of friends made much larger sacrifices. Some children had both their parents die in the war.â€
She was reunited with her daughter after the peace process began in 2006. Lichun was 11. She is now 21, and while she shares her motherâ€™s looks, she has little interest in politics. Her ambition is to study agriculture and get a government job.
Lichun doesnâ€™t blame her parents for leaving her to fight. â€œIf they left a comfortable life to fight in the jungles, then there must have been some noble cause behind it,â€ she reflects. â€œI am proud of them.â€
But did the war bring about the change Sita fought for? She is unsure. She feels their leaders â€œkneeled and surrenderedâ€, she says.
â€œPeople thought the war will bring total change, especially for the poor, who would be guaranteed food, shelter, health and employment,â€ says Sita, who is now a member of the central committee of another breakaway Maoist party headed by Mohan Baidya, who is known by his nom de guerre, Kiran.Former Maoist fighters may have been divided among factions, but few seem to regret their role in the war. For as long as they were fighting, the hierarchies of class, caste, sex and ethnicity didnâ€™t matter.
A daughterâ€™s pain – â€œWe lost our neighbours and our kinâ€
When 37-year-old Shree Kumari Rokaâ€™s father died, the only thing she left Shree of her fatherâ€™s was his Khukuri, a sharp, curved knife.
Shree breaks down as she removes it from a bag beneath her bed. It was another Khukuri, wielded, Shree says, by Maoists, that beheaded her father, a cadre of the Nepali Congress (NC) party, in 1997.
â€œBut I never thought of revenge. If I had wanted revenge, I could have gotten Maoists arrested by reporting them to the armed forces. And the armed forces could have killed them,â€ she says as tears roll down her cheeks.
Shree says she worked with the people who killed her father and had normal relations with them.
Civilians suffered greatly during the war; caught in the crosshairs of the security forces and the Maoists. Rolpa suffered more than other districts as the rivalries between the Maoists and NC spiralled.
The rape victims have not made their cases public. Almost all such rape cases were committed by the armed forces
â€œWe lost our neighbours and our kin,â€ she says. â€œWe don’t want such conflict again. We want to live freely. â€â€¨â€¨After her fatherâ€™s death, Shree moved to Libang. These days she is an NC district leader.
The party dominated Rolpa politics before the Maoists, and is now second to them in popularity in the district.
Political violence became frequent when the Maoist United People’s Front (Samyukta Jana Morcha) challenged the NC after multi-party democracy was revived in 1990.
â€œBased on cases filed by NC supporters, police tortured, terrorised and killed some Front supporters,â€ Shree explains. And since the NC was identified with state power, their cadres and leaders became a target of Maoist attacks.
The violence continued throughout the war.
â€œThe state, mainly the armed forces, used to go into villages and torture, kill, threaten to kill the family members of Maoist members, PLA fighters, and their supporters just on the basis of information from their spies,â€ she says.
Shree feels the victims are still ignored, and that the true extent of the war crimes committed remains hidden. â€œThe rape victims have not made their cases public. Almost all such rape cases were committed by the armed forces,â€ she says.
â€œVictims have not come forward as justice is not guaranteed and there is the possibility of social exclusion if they speak out,â€ she explains.She has urged the government, and her party, to do more for the victims, including providing free education for their children.â€œSome â€¦ [people] lost everything due to the conflict,â€ she reflects.Did the war change the country for the better? Shree doesnâ€™t think so.â€œFirst, Maoists tried to win peopleâ€™s hearts. If they failed, they used force, such as kidnapping or killing,â€ she says.She believes that the Maoist leaders have been the only ones to benefit from the war, while the â€œcolourful dreamsâ€ of their cadres about ending discrimination remain unfulfilled.Many of Shreeâ€™s childhood friends joined the Maoists. She says there was a gulf between what the Maoists said they would do and what they actually did.
First, Maoists tried to win peopleâ€™s hearts. If they failed, they used force, such as kidnapping or killing
â€œMany things changed after the Maoist movement,â€ she reflects. â€œBut it is not true that Maoist action alone decreased social discrimination. The rise in education is another factor.â€
Her society has changed profoundly over the last 20 years, as has her life.â€¨â€¨ She now lives with her husband, who has returned after spending more than 10 years working in the Middle East. But jobs are still hard to come by in this nation of about 30 million, so he plans to return there soon – this time to Israel, where he hopes to find work on a farm.
Chapter II: The Human Cost of the War
The widow – â€œWhat happened to my husband?â€
Lautan Kumari Chaudhary remembers the knock on her door. It was 3am on April 11, 2002, and three people had come looking for her husband in Mangalpur, their village in Bardiya districtâ€™s Rajapur.
â€œWe were sleeping. Somebody called, ‘Comrade! Open the door!’ I opened the door. Three people – two were in army uniform – entered,â€ says Lautan, who, like her husband, belongs to the historically persecuted indigenous Tharu ethnic group.
If my husband is alive they should bring him here. If heâ€™s dead, they should show me where he is buried. They should show us his bones
Located on a dense delta created by the River Karnali and extending to the border with India in the south, Rajapur is predominantly populated by ethnic Tharu people. Until a year ago, the region could only be accessed by boat, but the government has now built a bridge.
Landlessness has long been common among the Tharus and, before the war, many worked as bonded labourers for upper caste landlords.
â€œThe Maoist war changed the landlord-labour relations. Tharus began to assert as Maoists raised their issues. Many of the Zamindars who exploited them fled the areas, selling their land,â€ explains local activist Bhagiram Chaudhary.
â€œThey tied both hands of my husband and took him away,â€ Lautan remembers. â€œMy [four-year-old] son woke up and started to cry. â€â€¨â€¨She never saw her husband again, and says he wasnâ€™t a Maoist.
Two other men were also picked up from the neighbourhood that night. They, too, never returned.
At least 15 members of the Tharu community – including Bhagiramâ€™s brother and sister-in-law – â€œdisappearedâ€ from the villages of Rajapur.â€¨ Bhagiram says the Tharus were â€œsystematically targetedâ€.
Nationwide, nearly 1,400 people were â€œdisappearedâ€ during the war. According to the UN, more than 250 cases of enforced disappearances were reported in Bardiya district alone – the highest number in a single district.
Nearly 85 percent of those who â€œdisappearedâ€ in Bardiya were Tharus.â€¨â€¨ Lautan, like many other war widows, was forced to fend for herself and her son after her husband, until then the only breadwinner in their family, â€œdisappearedâ€. She took up tailoring. Her son is now training to be a paramedic.The security forces assured Lautan, then 19, that her husband would be returned after â€œnormal inquiryâ€, but 14 years on, she has found no trace of him.â€¨â€¨ â€œNothing has been found,â€ she says, nervously scratching at the wooden base of her sewing machine.â€¨â€¨ Lautan says she just wants closure.â€œIf my husband is alive they should bring him here. If heâ€™s dead, they should show me where he is buried. They should show us his bones,â€ she says, wiping away her tears.
The son and activist – â€œWe have died many timesâ€
Ram Kumar Bhandari, whose father was â€œdisappearedâ€, has travelled across the country, bringing together families of victims of atrocities committed by both sides in the war.â€¨â€¨ He says 90 percent of â€œdisappearancesâ€ were carried out by the police and army.Last year, the government established the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), beginning a long-delayed process of providing transitional justice.But in April this year, when the two commissions finally began registering complaints from victims, Ram Kumar says some of those who had filed cases were threatened by the accused.He believes the Maoists have â€œbetrayedâ€ the victims of war crimes by promoting security personnel suspected of involvement in enforced disappearances once they were in government.That impression was further compounded when, in May 2016, the Maoists, led by Prachanda, prevailed upon the then government to provide amnesty to alleged perpetrators. The move has been criticised by human rights organisations.â€œIf the existing law is not amended, if there is no significant pressure from all sides, including the international community, then I am personally not much hopeful that justice will be served to conflict victims,â€ explains Rameshwar Nepal, the national director of Amnesty International Nepal.
I openly challenged them. I am not afraid to die. We have died many times
So far, the government has provided compensation of $500,000 Nepali rupees (around $4,705) to the affected families and scholarships to the children of the â€œdisappearedâ€.
But today, relations between Tharus and people from the hills of Nepal, known as Pahadis, who have traditionally been better represented by the ruling elite, remain fraught.
In 2015, protests by Tharus who were dissatisfied with the countryâ€™s new constitution, in the district of Kailali, resulted in the deaths of eight police officers. In response, a Pahadi mob burned down dozens of Tharu houses, as security forces looked on. Thousands of Tharu men fled their villages fearing retaliation.
Ram Kumar says taking on the powerful has not been easy, and that he has faced intimidation from the security forces and the Maoists.â€œI openly challenged them. I am not afraid to die. We have died many times,â€ he says.â€œI know the perpetrator of my fatherâ€™s disappearance, even the National Human Rights Commission named him. My father did not take up arms and was not an active member of the Maoists.â€Tara Bahadur Karki, a spokesperson for Nepalâ€™s army, says: â€œThe army has provided all the material it has concerning disappearances to TRC through the defence ministry.â€¨â€¨â€œThe army has helped fully to support TRC and the investigation of the disappeared from its side and will continue to do so.â€
Chapter III: The Leaders
Prachanda was [a] master tactician, the pragmatic politician, the charismatic but mysterious leader, the motivator-in-chief, the lead military planner â€“ all rolled into one – of the Nepali revolution
Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal
The strategist – â€œIf we had not compromised, it could have ended very badlyâ€
The mild-mannered man sitting on the leather sofa in a blue suit and tie barely resembles the image of a feared and mysterious military leader. But that is what he once was.â€¨â€¨ Sixty-one-year-old Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is better known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda, is the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) and the current prime minister of Nepal.â€¨â€¨ He led the Maoists during the war and, for decades, lived in hiding.
But in 2006, he embraced multi-party democracy, signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord.
Now he explains his partyâ€™s change in tactics. â€œStruggle is necessary but the form of struggle should be changed in a peaceful and democratic way,â€ he says, smiling.
But 10 years after the war ended, the hopes of millions of Nepalese who rallied behind the Maoists, have given way to pessimism and distrust, as their demands for a more inclusive economic and political structure remain unmet.
Ethnic minorities, such as the Madhesis and Tharus, say the new constitution, passed in September, ignores their demands and that the Maoists have betrayed them.
But Prachanda defends his partyâ€™s position on the constitution. â€œThe issue of constitution is republicanism, federalism and secularism and inclusive representation of the marginalised people; all these major issues have been addressed in the new constitution,â€ he says, adding that the constitution could still be amended to address the grievances of those dissatisfied with it.
In 2008, the Maoists, who dominated the first Constituent Assembly (CA), removed the monarchy in its first sitting and declared Nepal a secular republic. But since then the wheels of change seem to have stalled.
â€œThe new democratic revolution was meant to smash feudalism and imperialism, but we could not completely smash feudalism,â€ Prachanda admits.
The Maoist leader has been accused of compromising on a number of the partyâ€™s wartime demands. But, he says, â€œIf we had not compromised, signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and entered electoral politics, the communist movement could have been sabotaged, or it could have ended very badlyâ€.
The former guerrilla leader who once led a simple life in the hills of Nepal has been criticised for allegedly developing a taste for luxury in the years since the war.
His mansion in the upscale Lazimpat area of Kathmandu is guarded by commandos from the same army that for 10 years he fought.
If we had not compromised, signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and entered electoral politics, the communist movement could have been sabotaged, or it could have ended very badly
Born into a lower middle class, upper caste Brahmin family in Kaski district, Prachanda had once toyed with the idea of joining the Royal Nepalese Army after completing his secondary education.
But, instead, he attended an agriculture college in Chitwan. There, he was influenced by the writings of Marx, Stalin and Mao.
He became a teacher, and like many of his comrades joined an underground communist movement that wanted to abolish Nepalâ€™s repressive feudal structure.
In 1979, he left his teaching job and became a full-time political activist. Seven years later, the Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal), of which he was a member, launched an armed attack against the government. But with few military capabilities and little experience, it failed.
Kiran, the then leader of the party, resigned and nominated Prachanda as its new leader in 1989.
When Prachanda took over the reigns, the party was a marginal political player. But his organisational skills and revolutionary rhetoric helped to galvanise thousands of Nepalese, particularly those from minority ethnic groups, behind it.
â€œThere was little understanding that all these ethnic and cultural groups were severely underrepresented in the state structure,â€ explains Aditya Adhikari, author of The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of the Maoist Revolution.
Adhikari says the Maoists exploited the historical grievances of ethnic minorities that traditional democratic parties had failed to acknowledge.
Inspired by Peruâ€™s Shining Path guerrillas, the Maoists launched the war on February 13, 1996. They had just two guns at the time – rifles that had been supplied to Tibetan rebels by the CIA in 1961.
In 2012, Kiran told journalist and author Prashant Jha why heâ€™d chosen Prachanda to replace him: â€œHe was a young revolutionary talent. I recognised it.â€
But post-war, Prachanda developed serious ideological differences with his political mentor Kiran, who left the party in 2012. The Maoist leader finally managed to bring other factions back in May of this year, when some splinter groups reunited under his leadership.
There was little understanding that all these ethnic and cultural groups were severely underrepresented in the state structure
Heavily influenced by Chinese leader Mao Zedong, Prachanda advanced his own ideology, called Prachandapath, which was adopted as the official party line in 2001.
But his transition from leading a successful armed rebellion to the messy and often divisive politics of Kathmandu has been anything but smooth.
He became prime minister after the first post-war election in 2008, but his decision to sack the then army chief saw his tenure end abruptly the following year.â€¨â€¨ What many considered the two most urgent tasks facing the new government – settling the fate of thousands of Maoist combatants and writing a new constitution – seemed to take a back seat as Prachanda and the party became embroiled in one controversy after another.
In 2013, when the second post-war Constituent Assembly elections were held, the Maoists lost.
â€œIf Prachanda had focused on trying to complete the peace process and then work to complete the constitution, it would have sealed his place in history,â€ says Prashant Jha.
â€œTheir mistake was why did they open so many political fronts up. They picked the wrong battles. What was the reason to sack the army chief?â€ he asks.
The Maoists may be down but Prachanda believes they are not yet out.
â€œImplementation of the constitution and initiating the process of economic development is our top priority,â€ he says.
The Ideologue – â€œNepal will be the most developed country in South Asiaâ€
On February 4, 1996, Maoist leaders Baburam Bhattarai and Pampha Bhusal met Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in Kathmandu. They handed over a letter containing 40 demands and set February 17 as the deadline for the government to accept them or face war.
But four days before the deadline was to expire, the Maoists launched a series of attacks on police posts across Nepal, initiating the decade-long armed rebellion that was to follow.
â€œ[The] Maoist party was a vehicle to wage war against the old feudal autocratic state,â€ explains Bhattarai, who was the Maoist partyâ€™s theorist and ideologue during the war, from his residence in the Lalitpur area of Kathmandu valley.
Like many of his comrades, Bhattarai was deeply concerned about debilitating poverty, economic inequality and mass illiteracy in the country.
Two years into the war, Bhattarai wrote a paper – The politico-economic rationale of peopleâ€™s war in Nepal – in which he criticised the countryâ€™s highly unequal land distribution and mass poverty.
The establishment of a new democratic socio-economic system and state, he wrote, was the goal of the war.
But did it achieve those goals?
â€œI think we achieved something and could not achieve some other things. So, in balance, I think it was a positive development in the history of Nepal,â€ Bhattarai reflects.
â€œWith the passing of the new constitution through the Constituent Assembly and declaring the country a federal democratic republic, most of the political demands were fulfilled,â€ he explains, adding that â€œthe economic part of the revolution is still to be completed.â€
Bhattarai began to gravitate towards left wing politics after reading communist literature. It was a gradual process.
He was born in 1954, the same year as Prachanda, in Gorkha district, to a poor agricultural Brahmin family. Education was then mostly the preserve of the urban elite, but he was fortunate to be sent to a Christian missionary school.
A brilliant student, Bhattarai earned a scholarship to study architecture in the Indian city of Chandigarh. He completed his Masters in New Delhi, where he met his wife and future comrade â€“ Hisila Yami.
I think we achieved something and could not achieve some other things. So, in balance, I think it was a positive development in the history of Nepal
But it was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where he completed his PhD in 1986, that he began to move towards Marxism.
His PhD thesis – The nature of underdevelopment and regional structures of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis â€“ became a political and economic manifesto for the â€œPeopleâ€™s Warâ€.
While in India, he formed the All India Nepalese Studentsâ€™ Association.
In 1991, when Nepalese democracy was revived by King Birendra after street protests, he became the leader of Samyukta Jana Morcha â€“ the overground front for the Maoist party.
Prachanda, then a mysterious figure, anchored the Maoist partyâ€™s military strategy. After war was declared, both moved to neighbouring India, only to return in the last phase of the conflict in 2004.
During the war he was also the Maoist partyâ€™s main interlocutor and a conduit to Kathmanduâ€™s media.
Bhattarai believed the monarchy was the crux of the countryâ€™s problems. His public opposition to many of Prachandaâ€™s ideas, such as opening communication with the monarchy during the war rather than forging an alliance with traditional democratic parties, did not go down well with the hardline faction of the party leadership.
In 2004, he was suspended from the party and put under house arrest, allegedly at the behest of Prachanda.
The following year, the Maoists suffered a huge military setback in Rukum districtâ€™s Khara village. The losses prompted Prachanda to make peace with Bhattarai.In October 2005, Maoists met in Rolpa districtâ€™s Chunbang, where the partyâ€™s political objective was changed from forming a peopleâ€™s republic to a democratic republic in line with what Bhattarai had been advocating.Prachanda was a man of action while Bhattaraiâ€™s strength stemmed from his deep theoretical understanding of Nepalâ€™s socio-economic situation. Together, they led one of the most successful revolutions of modern times.â€œIt was a relationship of cooperation and competition, a relationship in which both deeply resented each otherâ€™s qualities but recognised that they were incomplete separately,â€ wrote Prashant Jha.Bhattarai was one of the key negotiators for the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord and it was under his prime ministership that the peace process – primarily the integration of the Maoist fighters – was finalised.He served as finance minister in the first Maoist government, which was led by Prachanda.When the countryâ€™s new constitution was passed under his chairmanship, he admitted that ethnic and indigenous minorities had been given a raw deal.He has spoken out publicly in support of the agitation by the Madhesis, when most parties have either dithered or resorted to nationalistic rhetoric in response.Bhattarai quit the Maoist party after the constitution was passed, stressing that the biggest challenge facing Nepal is economic prosperity.â€œTo bring about economic development â€¦ the Maoist vehicle is not very appropriate given the national and international situation,â€ he explains, looking at a framed portrait of Lenin in his living room, which declares in Nepali: â€œFinal victory will be ours.â€Bhattarai has formed a new party called Naya Shakti (New Force) that he believes will â€œembark on a path of fast economic developmentâ€.â€œThough there are certain challenges right now, if we succeed in mobilising a large section of people and unite them under the banner of [an] alternative new political force, in a few decades Nepal will be the most developed country in South Asia,â€ Bhattarai says forcefully.
The Chronicler – â€œThe Peopleâ€™s War was a dream that the Maoists made a realityâ€
At a roadside cafe in Kathmanduâ€™s Chabahil area, Khagendra Sangroula sits alone at a table, smoking and sipping tea.
Sangroula is Nepalâ€™s leading Marxist literary figure. His books, essays and columns have been widely read and he has received literary accolades.
â€œI was inspired by communism and began writing,â€ he explains.
â€œIn the beginning I wrote about Dalits, the poor and backward,â€ he continues, the cafeâ€™s makeshift tarpaulin roof flapping vigorously in the wind.
From the excesses of the monarchy during the Panchayat era to the revival of democracy in the 1990s and from the armed Maoist rebellion to the overthrow of the king in 2008 â€“ Sangroulaâ€™s pen has documented it all.
He has written 14 books, including three novels that have told the tale of Nepalâ€™s oppressive caste hierarchy.
He has also translated Marxist literature into Nepali, including the works of Mao, which inspired thousands of young Nepalese, particularly those from marginalised communities.
In his book, Prashant Jha explained how Prachanda used to say: â€œDai (Brother), we grew up reading your work.â€
Born in 1946, in the Panchthar district of eastern Nepal, Sangroula moved to Kathmandu in 1967 to pursue his studies. It was there that he was drawn towards anti-monarchy activism.
His interest in Marxism developed in the capital as he came into contact with other young leftists. Global events, such as the war in Vietnam and the experience of communism in Russia and China, helped to mould his perspectives.He started working with Niranjan Govind Baidya, a senior communist party leader who also ran a bookshop in Kathmandu.Sangroulaâ€™s first novel, Chetana Ko Pahilo Daak, (The call of first consciousness) which he wrote in 1971, dealt with the theme of communist ideology and revolution.Since 1971, he has translated 30 books into Nepali. The first was a novel by Ngoc Nguyen set in Vietnam called The Village That Would Not Die.Most of the books he has translated have been Russian and Chinese revolutionary novels that have played a role in propagating communist ideology in Nepal.â€œMao Zedongâ€™s New Democracy was the holy book of Nepalâ€™s communists,â€ he says, adding that Leninist and Maoist literature first came to Nepal – in the Hindi language – via India.â€œThe Chinese and Russian communist literatures were translated into Nepali much later,â€ explains the bespectacled septuagenarian writer.Sangroula describes how a communist armed rebellion in India, called the Naxalite movement, influenced Nepalâ€™s communists.â€œKP Sharma Oli, the former prime minister, came from that movement of [Nepalese inspired by the Naxalites in] 1971,â€ he says.His 1999 novel, Junkiriko Sangeet (Music of Fireflies), depicted relations between Dalits and upper caste Nepalese during the Panchayat era. It was praised in literary circles but wasnâ€™t warmly received by the Maoists.â€œJunkiriko Sangeet was on the plight of Dalits,â€ he explains.â€¨â€¨ But the Maoists felt that it gave too much credit to NGOs for helping the marginalised and oppressed.â€œ[It seems it was] written to make fun of Marxism, the communist party, class struggle, peopleâ€™s resistance and revolution,â€ wrote Prachanda of the book.But, Sangroula insists, the communists did not address the everyday issues facing the people, such as health, education and employment opportunities.
Mao Zedongâ€™s New Democracy was the holy book of Nepalâ€™s communists
â€œThey only talked about big political agendas. Communists want to capture the state and they think that everything will be solved after that,â€ he says with a smile.â€¨â€¨ But, he adds of the communist parties and their grassroots work, â€œthey made people aware of their rightsâ€.
Despite his close relations with many communist and Maoist leaders across generations, he hasnâ€™t been hesitant in critiquing them.â€¨â€¨ â€œI never formally joined any party. I always worked from the side. Thatâ€™s why I had the space to criticise the communists,â€ he explains.
â€œIn some places they call me a friend of Baburam and Prachanda. They think I am also a Maoist,â€ he says, smiling.
But in his long career as a writer and activist, Sangroula has always been on the more moderate side – and has sometimes been attacked by Maoists for that.
â€œI never was extreme in my ideas, thatâ€™s probably why I have still survived as a writer,â€ the 70-year-old reflects.
Still, the Marxist author acknowledges the contribution of Maoists.
â€œA lot has changed,â€ he says. â€œThe Peopleâ€™s War was a dream but the Maoists made it a reality.â€
â€œDalits, Tharus, Janajatis, women and Madhesis rose against the state for their rights, which they could have never imagined doing before.â€
But, Sangroula believes the Maoists were coopted after coming to power.
â€œMaoist are no longer Maoists,â€ he concludes. â€œThey are nationalists.â€