Will Nepal play China's game?
The elections in Nepal are historic. For the first time a Maoist organization entered a democratic election and swept to power. Fears have been expressed that Nepal will become China's instrument and move towards constitutionally manipulated dictatorship. Comrade Prachanda had consistently urged a presidential form of government in Nepal. He had predicted he would become the President. Events appear to be vindicating him. He has announced that despite winning an absolute majority his coalition with other parties would survive till the new constitution is introduced.
To conclude from this that Nepal will now create problems for India at China's bidding would be hasty. Prachanda has recalled the close historical and cultural relations ties between India and Nepal. He has said he would seek a new relationship with India. He has said Nepal will remain politically equidistant between India and China. To understand what all this means one must assess Prachanda. To do that one must appraise the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
In 1984 Prachanda's CPN (M) joined the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) with its headquarters in the USA ' very soon after the party had been created. Earlier, in 1983, the Communist Party of Nepal (Mashal) was a founding member of RIM. But it soon parted ways due to policy differences. The central figure of RIM is Bob Avakian, who heads the Revolutionary Communist Party of USA which he founded in 1975.
Avakian gained prominence with Deng Xiaoping's visit to meet President Jimmy Carter in 1980. As a staunch Maoist, he led protests against the visit and became violently embroiled with the police. Along with others he was arrested and charged with several counts of assault. After a court granted request of the activists to be charged and tried together, the total punishment for the seventeen defendants was over 241 years. As a result, Avakian fled to France in 1981. Surprisingly, all charges against him were dropped in 1982! Nevertheless he purportedly stayed on in Europe. His current whereabouts are seldom known.
For Avakian and leaders of RIM, Prachanda's party is their most prized possession. In May 2004, commemorating the 20th anniversary of RIM, Revolutionary Worker, edited by Avakian, wrote: "Today, the RIM's accomplishments, and the challenges before it, can be seen right in the immediate situation in Nepal, where the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a participating party in the RIM, has led an eight-year-long people's war which is now approaching a struggle for countrywide power. Nepal, a small country, threatens to shake the South Asian subcontinent by inspiring hundreds of millions of oppressed. This revolution in Nepal is viciously opposed by reactionary states worldwide--from India all the way to the U.S."
Prachanda's party is listed by US authorities as a terrorist organization. And yet through all these years RIM has been allowed to function in the US and to promote prominently the Maoists of Nepal, who remain members of the organization. This is almost as odd as the US authorities withdrawing all cases against Avakian one year after he was charged and had taken refuge in Europe.
Why was Avakian opposing Deng Xiaoping? Ostensibly, because Avakian himself is a Maoist. In the Byzantine intrigues and power struggles inside China the Maoists were ranged against Zhou Enlai and his prot'g' Deng Xiaoping. Mao's own role in the Cultural Revolution is shrouded in controversy. Started as a radical movement against bourgeois intellectualism by Mao and his fourth actress wife, Jiang Quing, the movement spun out of control into chaos as Mao's newly formed Red Guards replaced the Young Communists League to spread mayhem among established Communist leaders.
The Cultural Revolution was initially led by Mao's appointed heir, Lin Biao, head of the PLA, and Mao's wife, Jiang. But mutual suspicion drew them apart. Lin died in a mysterious plane crash through suspected sabotage. The Cultural Revolution quickly degenerated into a power struggle, which, arguably, was Mao's hidden intent from the outset. As an ageing Mao lost grip, Jiang took control and the infamous Gang of Four emerged to ravage China. When people gathered to pay homage to Zhou Enlai after his death in 1976 in Tiananmen Square, Jiang unleashed the army against them. That turned the tide against the Gang of Four. With Mao's death in the same year, 1976, the opponents rallied and removed the Gang of Four. Deng assumed power in 1978 and ushered in economic reforms.
With the return of the party leadership Red Guards leaders suffered heavily, spending long years in jail. Many blamed Jiang Quing and the Gang of Four for derailing the original purpose of the Cultural Revolution. One prominent Red Guard leader, Zhou Jiayu, was quoted saying: "We castigated the capitalist roaders for two years. They punished us for many more!" However two Red Guards who kept a low profile did rather well for themselves. They are President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Not surprisingly this duo trained their guns on the powerful Shanghai group headed by former President Jiang Zemin. With Hu Jintao himself in the midst of a silent power struggle inside China, complicated by Tibet, how much weight will Prachanda give to dictation by China? And how much influence would the US based RIM, which his party joined at its birth, wield over him? And what exactly are the links of RIM itself as it continues merrily to collaborate with the Nepal Maoists listed as terrorists by US authorities? These and other questions should be addressed before venturing to express any opinion on Prachanda's future role.
Prachanda says he wants a "new relationship" with India. What might that be? Some years ago the Nepal Maoists had endorsed the idea of a South Asian confederation comprising India, Nepal and some SAARC nations. The long open border between India and Nepal makes that practical. Nepal's need to integrate with SAARC follows also from the fact that Nepal has to go through India to the sea for its international trade and industrial connections. And one doubts if Prachanda, a rural Brahmin who sported a red tilak on his forehead after his victory, would dispute the cultural closeness between India and Nepal. A South Asian Union formed by SAARC nations to stabilize the subcontinent is a feasible proposition. Prachanda could play a crucial role to initiate this.
Former President Jimmy Carter, during whose tenure Avakian staged his anti-Deng demonstration, was currently in Nepal to monitor the election. Carter gave a certificate of good conduct to the Maoists, affirming they had changed: "I hope the US will recognize and do business with the government."
Is there any reason why it should not?