Maoists poised to take power - by free election or force
Rebel leader says attempts by the US government and royalists to sabotage the election process in Nepal will not work
In recent weeks, Pushpa Kamal Dahal - better known as Prachanda - and Baburam Bhattarai - respectively the Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai of Nepal's Maoists - have presided over massive political rallies that culminated in a day-long demonstration at a park in central Kathmandu on March 16.
The rally, featuring revolutionary songs, dance and speeches, was unprecedented, and a potent demonstration of the Maoists' political power and networking abilities.
The imagery was equally vivid: a flame lit by Prachanda for martyrs who died fighting the monarchy; village girls dancing in a fusion of traditional and revolutionary gestures; and guerillas demonstrating karate and knife moves to the beat of drums amid a sea of red flags and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
The inescapable conclusion is that Nepal's Maoists are poised to take power - either through popular election or, if voting is derailed by royalists or external interference, by force. Either way, they are organised, resourceful and determined.
Nepal has seven political parties in addition to the Maoists, who are seeking legitimate entry into a coalition interim government which will draft a constitution to be followed by elections for a new parliament. But no other party leader could stage a demonstration as impressive as the Maoists or command onto the streets such numbers. There is a growing sense that the Maoists' rise to power is inevitable. The only question is when and by what path?
The March 16 rally was organised by the Newar National Liberation Front, a grass-roots organisation under the Maoists (Newar is an ethnic group concentrated around the Kathmandu Valley).
The Maoist forces consist of nine 'liberation fronts', organised around either a caste or ethnic group. This makes the Maoists representative of these once-marginalised social and economic interests that they have empowered politically through organisation and collective strength.
For example, 40 per cent of the Maoists are women. Traditionally encumbered and subservient, women have been empowered politically by the Maoists and in turn have given strong support nationwide.
'People respect Prachanda,' said one Maoist at the rally as dancers paraded past the chairman seated on a stage with Dr Bhattarai. 'They feel he is our leader.'
Prachanda can work a crowd and speak to their aspirations. 'We can achieve leadership of the country,' Prachanda said. 'But we support doing so through negotiating with the other parties and absorbing different trends into a coalition.
'The peace process can resolve poverty, do away with feudalism and assure sustainable peace for a sustainable government.'
As for success of the peace process, Prachanda is aware that 'obstacles are there'.
'The US administration is the main one, while the feudal class within our country remains the other. They are both aligned and trying their best to sabotage the election process,' he said. 'The US media does not try to understand us. The US administration has been trying to sabotage the peace process by preventing the Maoists from participating in the coalition government.'
The US has labelled the Maoists terrorists. The irony is, the Maoists have volunteered to surrender their arms to the UN, enter mainstream politics in a coalition within a multiparty democratic framework, embrace religious freedom and adopt market economics. But the US still refuses to communicate with them.
'After one year of this peace process they [the US and Nepali royalists] have tried to sabotage this process,' explains Prachanda. 'We are going to manage anyway. We will succeed, either through negotiations or armed struggle. We can only ask, why is the US leadership against us?'
The election of an interim government, scheduled for March 17, was postponed at the eleventh hour at the request of US diplomats pressuring the current government and monarchy, fearing Maoists might enter the government popularly.
Ominously, Prachanda had warned that failure to hold elections might force the Maoists to return to the jungle.
Dr Bhattarai believes: 'The US will continue to postpone elections to keep the monarchy and ultimately rely on the royal army.'
Ironically, the Maoists could respond to continued delays by themselves interfering in the electoral process, with mass protests.
'Millions of people will take part,' Prachanda warned. 'And the leader of the masses will be the Maoists. Through the multimedia controlled by the US leadership, they have waged a war of massive propaganda against us. Unfortunately [for them] based on Nepal's concrete conditions, they will not be able to control our mass movement.'