Apocalypse Mao?

As we all know, supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony, nor indeed from the divine right of a self-proclaimed Hindu God-King and supposed avatar of Vishnu. So it’s good to see the masses of Nepal taking to the streets to bring down their tyrannical king/dictator and reestablish popular democracy.

For those who haven’t been paying rapt attention to the recent political upheavals in this tiny Himalayan nation, a brief blow-by-blow: in 2001, the crown prince of the then constitutional monarchy went ape-shit and blew away his entire royal family in their palace before turning his majesty’s murder weapon on himself – all this, apparently, because his parents didn’t approve of his choice for wife. By default, the king’s shifty brother Gyanendra took the throne, making various attempts to get his grubby hands on power and finally dismissing the democratically elected government and imposing an absolute monarchy in early 2005, the bastard. On the pretext of suppressing a bloody ten-year Maoist rebellion, Gyanendra became increasingly tyrannical and the conduct of the Royal Nepalese Army and his security forces increasingly more brutal.

In response, opposition groups formed a seven-party alliance and brought their supporters onto the streets in mass protests – a development known as the Loktandra Andolan (“democracy movement”). Gyanendra then proceeded to piss his royal breeches, declaring on April 21st that he was handing power “back to the people.” Having reconvened parliament, the new government procedurally bitch-slapped Gyanendra by stripping him of all his powers – including command of the military – and of his divinity by declaring Nepal a secular state. Speculation is now rife that the monarchy will be abolished altogether, which would force Gyanendra to make do with his second fanciest title – Knight Grand Cordon of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant (awarded by the king of Thailand in 1979, possibly for shooting one but not really sure).

All’s well that ends well? Well, not exactly. There’s still the problem of those pesky Maoists. While it’s probably true that the democratic revolt could not have taken place without their support, the Maoists did start their uprising as an effort to overthrow a democratically-elected government in 1996. Given their devotion to a murderous totalitarian ideology, their commitment to democracy and human rights remains a tad questionable. Granted, the seven-party alliance did extract some useful promises of good behavior through its twelve-point agreement with the Maoists: recognition of elections results and a commitment to multiparty democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But then again, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have been begging the Maoists to make good on similar commitments for years, with little success.

To be fair, the Royal Nepalese Army has practiced routine abduction and torture in the course of its counterinsurgency campaign, merrily kidnapping and raping children and committing all manner of similar atrocities (supported by the United States and other western governments in the name of anti-terrorism mind you). Whether the army will be any less brutal and vicious under the new democratic government is an open question. But none of this excuses the equally egregious acts of the Maoists – targeting civilians, abducting and killing children, assassinating election officials and murdering human rights activists. Amnesty has called on Maoist leaders repeatedly to uphold the public commitments they have made in the past to abide by fundamental human rights standards, to no avail. The Maoists have now agreed to a three-month cease fire, and have promised to abide by the democratic process. One has to wonder, though, how seriously to take their commitments. Their military leader takes the nom de guerre of Prachanda (“the fiery one”) and has a seriously itchy revolutionary trigger finger. The interviews he has given are rife with creepy talk of developing “the correct line” and how “thousands and thousands of people will have to be prepared to be sacrificed.”

Multi-party democracy? “We have always explained to the people that nothing can be achieved from this multi-party system-that it is fake, it is imperialist, it is feudal.” And Maoist political leader Sharad Singh-Bhandari rhapsodizes about the wonders of Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution, making both unsettling statements as to its efficacy: “As far as the Cultural Revolution, it was good since it was only the rich that were dealt with”; and blanket denials that anyone was murdered as a result: “No, people weren’t killed during the Cultural Revolution.” For the record, estimates of the number of people killed during the cultural revolution run into the millions. But I quibble. We wait to see how the Maoists’ commitments hold up once the cease-fire ends with breathless interest.


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