Nepal’s Maoists Still Pursue Far-Left Social Program

Leaders describe the peace treaty as a compromise and insist that their agenda remains intact.

The Comprehensive Peace Accord between Nepal’s Maoists and the seven-party coalition government gave the Maoists much of the political agenda they demanded – shared power, a new constitution, declaration of Nepal as a secular state and elimination of special privileges for the royal family – but it included very little of their social agenda. In appearances over the weekend the two top Maoists, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known by his nom-de-guerre of Prachanda, “the fierce one,” and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, said they still stand behind their original platform and will work for social change.

In a speech at a program of the National Forum Against Ethnic Discrimination on Saturday, Prachanda made it clear that ethnic autonomy and a federal-style state remain top priorities for the Maoists. “Ethnic issues are the real issues to be addressed at this time,” he said. Those issues were not mentioned in the peace treaty, Prachanda said, because “the document was a compromise we had to make to defeat the actors who did not want to see an agreement of that sort reached… We will address these issues in the interim constitution.”

Prachanda drew the strongest applause from the audience when he said, “People took part in the people’s movement in April this year to put an end to the centralized feudal state.”

During an interview on Sunday with newspaper reporters, Bhattarai also spoke to the Maoists’ social agenda, declaring radical land reform and the end of “absentee landlordism” the key to a new Nepal. “The land must belong to the people who till it,” he said, echoing one of the 40 demands the Maoists made at the beginning of their insurrection in 1996. He said that profits earned from the land should be returned to the land and local communities.

Bhatterai also promised transparent investigations of corruption and the confiscation of “all property that cannot be accounted for” by politicians. He also said that the Maoists would target politically influential businessmen who have defaulted on large loans from state-owned banks. It is widely believed that these loans were made on the basis of little or no collateral, with the connivance of political appointees at the banks.

Bhatterai reiterated the Maoists’ longstanding disdain for capitalists, particularly in the service sector, and maintained that agriculture and indigenous manufacturing would drive Nepal’s growth, with hydropower development and tourism key to earning foreign exchange.

But despite their far-left social program, both leaders continued to speak of compromise and of working with other parties, with Prachanda saying that peace accord was a “victory for the people because [the Maoists] defeated regressive and reactionary forces by showing flexibility.” And Bhatterai, when pressed on his economic program, said that his party would build a “common minimum agenda” with other parties on economic issues and would support compromises on labor-management issues, “for the time being.”

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.