The legacy of the decade-long ‘people’s war’Former fighters don’t deny the gains of the sacrifices but wonder whether the political achievements have indeed brought socio-economic transformation in the country.
Laxmi Darji was 11 years old in 2000. It had been four years since the Maoists had launched the “people’s war”, an armed struggle against the state. When she joined in, she remembers the older ones talking about “mukti wa mrityu” (liberation or death), she said.
A few years later she was told that they were “fighting for a better life”.
“It took us a few years more to understand what that ‘liberation or death’ refrain meant–or at least we thought we understood,” said Darji, now 32.
The war, the struggle and the liberation dream, however, was short-lived.
A year after the Maoists joined mainstream politics in 2006, Darji was one of hundreds of those who were disqualified as Maoist fighters under the verification by the United Nations Mission in Nepal. When she returned from a camp where the verification process was conducted, all that she had with her was the tag of “a minor.”
She currently lives with her younger brother, who works as a security guard, in Koteshwor.
“I was probably the youngest to be injured in the Maoist war–I had just entered my teenage,” she said. She was injured twice during as many battles with security forces—in 2003 in Khimadi in Kailali district and in 2005 in Manma of Kalikot.
Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the “people’s war” which ended after at least 13,000 deaths and thousands of disappearances.
While the transitional justice process to deliver justice to the victims of the armed conflict has been dragging on for the last 15 years, for people like Darji, who were part of the war and were later disqualified, everything looks bleak.
Both of their top leaders–Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai–became prime ministers. Dahal led the government twice. Many other leaders have held various ministerial portfolios in the last one and a half decades, but for many of those who were part of the war, life continues to be tough, said Darji.
The Maoists launched their “people’s war” on February 13, 1996 to what they called establish “a rule of the proletariat”. The Maoists called for a secular republican state, and a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution. At the heart of their agenda was socio-political transformation of the state.
Darji does not say that the “people’s war” was a waste, as it helped bring massive changes in the society. But she denies that the state has achieved the desired socio-political changes.
Bishwo Bhakta Dulal, a former Maoist leader, who deserted the Maoist party after Dahal decided to merge it with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s CPN-UML, said except the republic set-up, the Maoist war failed to achieve anything else.
“Other political demands with which the party had waged the war–concerns and plight of peasants, workers, janajatis–are yet to be fulfilled in a true sense,” Dulal told the Post. “Now the republican set-up and the already distorted secularism are also under threat from Oli.”
Dulal has now joined hands with former Maoist leaders Mohan Baidya, Netra Bikram Chand and Rishi Kattel and announced a “strategic united front” to fight for “people’s republic/scientific socialism” which calls for shunning the existing parliamentary system.
Baidya and Chand left Maoist party in 2012, accusing Dahal of leaving the “people’s war” halfway and deviating from the Maoist ideology and forming CPN-Maoist. Two years later, Chand parted ways with Baidya and formed his own Communist Party of Nepal, in which he does not have the “Maoist” tag, to launch “unified people’s revolution”. Kattel has his own Nepal Communist Party registered with the Election Commission.
After the party joined mainstream politics, the Maoist movement lost steam. Their demand of a new constitution through a Constituent Assembly was fulfilled, but when it was promulgated in 2015, the society was largely divided. Sections of the Nepali society opposed the constitution. Bhattarai, one of the key figures of the Maoist movement, left the party and broke away with Dahal a week after Nepal announced its new constitution.
Today, Bhattarai faces the wrath the most for the bloody “people’s war”, which left many dead, disappeared and maimed.
Bhattrai, however, defends the need of the war.
“The people’s war was one of the historic events that brought significant changes in modern Nepal that ended the 250-year-old monarchy and established a federal democratic republic. And for the first time, the constitution was promulgated through the Constituent Assembly,” Bhattarai told the Post. “People have differing views on certain incidents, but we should consider this as the continuation of revolutions that happened in the country.”
On the miserable lives of some former fighters, Bhattarai, who currently chairs the federal council of the Janata Samajbadi Party, said as per the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it's now the responsibility of the state to look after the fighters.
“But due to the delay in concluding the peace process, they are having trouble,” said Bhattarai. “The commissions formed to look into war-era cases should complete their work at the earliest.”
Samjhana Gharti of Thawang in Rolpa lost her husband Dil Kumar Pun, who was vice-commander of the Mangalsen First Brigade, in a battle with security forces Arghakhanchi Khanadaha on June 25, 2005.
Thawang, known as the hotbed of the revolt, for the Maoists launched their war from here, celebrates February 13 every year organising different activities.
Gharti is currently close to the Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal.
“I won’t say the country did not achieve anything from the people’s war. But the question is whether these [political] achievements mean anything to the working class people,” said Gharti, who herself was a Maoist fighter. “I cannot find any solace anywhere. How is my husband’s sacrifice justified?”
As transitional justice continues to be on the backburner and former Maoist fighters struggle, Maoist leaders blame other parties and the subsequent governments for proper implementation of what the country achieved because of the “people’s war”.
“Our major political objectives, save some, were fulfilled. We were in the phase of implementing them as we continue to strengthen the constitution,” said Janardan Sharma, a deputy commander of the Maoist army who served as minister twice. “But unfortunately due to the leadership who could not understand the spirit of the people’s war, there were serious obstructions in implementation.”
According to Sharma, since it took a long time to complete the peace process, many fighters are still having problems.
“But the party will look into their issues,” said Sharma.
After seven years, around 1,460 Maoist fighters, of the 19,600 total, were integrated into the Nepal Army.
Many former Maoist leaders admit that a section of the Maoists started to behave like those they once fought. According to them, for Dahal, his pressing issue is not the goal of the “people’s war” but power.
A little over two years after forming the Nepal Communist Party, Dahal fell out with Oli. Ever since Oli dissolved the House on December 20, Dahal, along with Oli’s long-time bete noire Madhav Kumar Nepal, has been busy protesting on the streets.
Darji said she often finds herself at her wit’s end and wonders how her leaders’ big dreams of social justice, equity and equitable society just failed.
“I have my personal plights, but I often think about others who were part of the war but are living a miserable life,” said Darji.
Darji used to receive Rs 12,400 per month as an allowance until last year.
But Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, one of the prominent leaders during the Maoist war and Dahal’s comrade-in-arms, scrapped the allowance.
Thapa is now with Oli even though Dahal left the party in December.
Now Oli of late has been trying to woo some former Maoist fighters including those who were disqualified.
Darji, however, has not joined in.
According to analysts, Maoist leaders, including Dahal and Bhattarai, are to be blamed as they could not institutionalise the Maoist movement. Nor could they come up with concrete plans to reform the existing political setting, hence they failed to bring significant changes in the lives of the general people, according to them.
“They [the Maoist leaders] forgot, they became negligent about those who made sacrifices for them” said Hari Roka, a political economist. “The Maoist movement lost its way. Many of those who fought for the Maoist leaders are living a miserable life… some landed in the Gulf and Malaysia.”
But for people like Darji and Gharti, there are hardly any options. Now they believe all politicians are the same and they say they have no hope and expectations from the top leaders at whose orders they once were ready to die.
“What to expect from them now?” said Darji. “But there is nothing I can do. I don’t know where to go and what to do. We were told we were fighting for a better life, but look at my life now. I have to borrow just to survive.”