Book: The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of Nepal’s Maoist Revolution
Author: Aditya Adhikari
By Rajesh Singh
Many epochal developments have happened in Nepal over the last few years, from the dismantling of a decades-old monarchy to the swift and almost sudden rise of ethnic-centric parties, until recently best seen as bit political players. But perhaps none has been more dramatic in its flourish and more potent in its lasting impact than the arrival of the Maoists on the country’s electoral map. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Maoists, now led by the formidable Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Baburam Bhattarai, both former prime ministers and one-time frontline leaders of the dreaded armed rebels who had waged a 10-year long bloody People’s War against the state of Nepal, influence the course of Nepal’s political destiny. Their Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has ended in a true sense the monopoly of the centrist Nepali Congress and the leftist Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The Maoists, or at least those large sections of the former rebels who have become part of the political mainstream, have re-written the rules of the game to a great extent. They have arrived, and are there to stay.
Journalist and author Aditya Adhikari’s book, ‘The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of Nepal’s Maoist Revolution’, is a comprehensive account of the phenomenon, and is written in such a scintillating style that it could well be the script for a racy film. Maybe it is not a bad idea for some film-maker to undertake the venture. The fast-paced character of the book does not take away from the loads of scholarly research that has gone into the project, nor does it seek to hide the many personal observations – subjective yet insightful – the author has made in order to contextualize the developments and offer a perspective. If the Maoist movement in Nepal over the decades were to be depicted through forms in a political museum, then Adhikari’s book would be the definitive guide the eager visitor to the place would have in hand.
The author appropriately begins from the beginning, with a few lines from the revolutionary Bishwa Bhakta Dulal ‘Ahuti’, a member of a Communist outfit, the Unity Centre. This Unity Centre later splintered to create an, ironically, larger organisation which came to be called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and thereafter the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). “We are nations. Give us liberation. We are the people. Give us revolution”, he wrote in the beginning of the 90s. The Maoists brought both liberation (from the monarchy, if not single-handedly definitely by leading from the front) and revolution (by crafting a new people-centric political narrative that compelled the establishment to take notice).
If the book begins with Ahuti’s stirring lines and the beginning of what eventually morphed into the People’s War, it ends with the family members of those who had been killed in the Maoist violence or disappeared, waiting for a closure on their grief. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement which had prompted the Maoists to give up armed struggle had promised a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (much like the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission established in Sri Lanka after the LTTE was wiped out) to investigate the disappearances. There is unanimity among the political parties, the Maoists and the army on amnesty for crimes committed during the conflict; while Western regimes and human rights organisations are pushing for prosecution. The sum total is that the commission has been a non-starter. Adhikari observes, “The intractable nature of this dispute illustrated the challenge of coming to terms with the history of armed conflict.”
The book has interesting insights on the tussle between Bhattarai and Prachanda, not so much on the ideological nature of their war but on the way ahead during and after the monarchy. The author writes: “Although he depended on the party chairman, Baburam Bhattarai in turn had reasons to be wary of Prachanda. After King Gyanendra took over power, Prachanda gave the impression that he fully backed Bhattarai’s political line directed towards establishing a democratic republic. But occasionally Bhattarai suspected that the chairman had been giving similar reassurances to party leaders who opposed that line.”
At another place, Adhikari informs the reader, “Although Prachanda continued to support Bhattarai’s political line, and the party resolutions continued to uphold it, Prachanda worried that he was alienating too many of his old comrades. In February 2002, during a long conversation in Delhi, Prachanda told Bhattarai that he could not go on antagonizing so many top leaders of the party. Bhattarai was disheartened. He felt that Prachanda was gradually shifting towards a more conciliatory position vis-à-vis King Gyanendra.”
These are interesting observations. One is tempted to wonder what shape politics in Nepal would have taken, had the King not gone back on his assurances for genuine and greater democracy and suspended the Constitution in early 2005. That decision instantly united all parties across the political spectrum and even led New Delhi to distance itself from the monarchy and, in an indirect way, promote the eventual rise of the UCPN (Maoist) to power in mid-2008.
Aditya Adhikari’s book, therefore, traverses a broad and sweeping canvas of the Maoists’ armed struggle for ‘justice’ outside the political system, their transformation by a set of circumstances into a non-violent political entity, their arrival as a government, their faltering steps, the fall and the recovery – and their ongoing battle to sustain and expand their political base.
(Rajesh Singh is Opinion Editor of The Pioneer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)