Nepal: King suspends constitutional rule

On the 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra of Nepal declared a state of emergency. In doing so he sacked the prime minister, suspended many constitutional rights, banned peaceful assembly and decreed that there could be no free speech or expression for at least three years, nor were the people allowed ‘free thought’ for the same period. The media in particular has been hit hard with all press freedoms suspended and any criticism of the King outlawed. Countless journalists have been either imprisoned or forced out of their jobs and the television networks can no longer broadcast news – just entertainment programmes.

As the King announced his totalitarian measures on television, his loyal Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) and armed police started arresting people and enforced a brutal and sweeping clampdown on the capital Kathmandu. Prime Minister Deuba was immediately detained and placed under house arrest along with other leaders of the parliamentary parties, including the Nepali Congress and the reformist Communist Party of Nepal (UML). Further sweeping arrests were made of student and trade union leaders in order to prevent demonstrations against the new measures.

This move by the King is the culmination of moves to reimpose autocratic rule in the country. He tried to win popular support by blaming corruption in parliament, but in reality his consolidation of power will only antagonise the Nepalese people further. Gyanendra is gambling that he can get away with such action because the imperialist states will side with him rather than with the Maoist insurgency, led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). On this point he is correct. Despite criticisms of his move by the US, Britain and India there will be no long-term consequences for the King.

However, it is a gamble that may well lead to the King’s downfall. The CPN(M) and PLA now have almost complete control of the countryside and they enjoy broad support not just from the peasantry but also, increasingly and crucially, amongst broad sections of workers in the cities. The harsh curtailment of freedom will generate sympathy for the democratic and revolutionary forces amongst the people.

The King has the same goal as the imperialists – to crush the revolution – but they are at odds on strategy. Many imperialist analysts have begun to state publicly that the PLA cannot be defeated militarily. If this is so, the greatest threat to the movement will come from the more opportunist parliamentary forces, yet the King’s move will no longer allow them to play their role.

On the day of the King’s new measures, Prachanda, head of the CPN(M), stated that the country had entered ‘a turning point, a decisive battle between autocracy and republic...our party forcefully appeals to all the country’s political parties, the intellectual masses, civil society and the masses of all levels and beliefs to create a storm of united countrywide rebellion, under the minimum common slogan of a people’s democratic republic and a constituent assembly, against the last lunacy of the feudal clique.’ The CPN(M) has called for an indefinite blockade and traffic strike throughout the country, which has so far been relatively successful. It has also managed to keep communication channels open, despite a clampdown on internet facilities in the country, and on 9 February, barely a week after the new measures, attacked a gaol near Kathmandu killing five security personnel and freeing 166 prisoners (many of them Maoists) in the process.

A reporter from New Delhi said of the King’s move that ‘this is a fairly disastrous decision, the worst possible option that will alienate the King from all of the nation’s major political forces even as it does nothing to strengthen his hand against the rebels’. The Indian government, more than any other, feels most threatened by the revolution in Nepal. The New York Times quoted C Raja Mohan, professor of South Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who pointed out that Nepal shares a border with China and borders three of India’s largest states, all of which are battling Marxist Naxalite insurgents who have links to the Maoist groups in Nepal. ‘Strategically,’ Mohan said, ‘you can’t get any bigger than this’.

The imperialists are now trying to force the King to hand back some power to the parliamentary forces. Both India and Britain have temporarily ceased all military assistance to the country. The US State Department demanded an ‘immediate move toward the restoration of multi-party democratic institutions’. However, while the imperialist countries voice their concerns, Pakistan has continued to equip the army.

Deuba has been released from house arrest after 38 days. He is now leading calls that ‘the King should enter into dialogue with political parties and give all executive powers to a new multi-party government’. Whether he will or not is still to be seen. With India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines all now experiencing revolutionary movements, the insurgency in Nepal is taking on increasing significance.

In Prachanda’s statement of 1 February he appealed to ‘the entire pro-people forces of the world to raise their voices against this autocratic step and in favour of the Nepalese people’s democratic movement’. It is our duty as socialists, especially here in an imperialist country, to show our solidarity with the Nepalese people.
Andrew Alexander

FRFI 184 April / May 2005

 

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