Nepal: Peoples Army
Posted by Rosa Harris on January 10, 2008
In April 2006, after long years of Maoist peoples war in Nepal’s countryside, a powerful mass movement broke out in the country’s urban areas demanding an overthrow of the hated monarchy. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) initiated a series of political shifts, seeking to deepen its political connection with the rebelling urban masses — moves which the party describes as a part of its creative approach toward the seizure of power.
As part of this political offensive and accompanying negotiations, the Maoists agreed to move their armed forces into “cantonments” under international supervision and to store its weapons in nearby depots. This suspension of the armed struggle has been highly controversial among communists internationally — as have other tactics of the Nepali Maoists which depart from certain “models” of communist revolution rooted in previous revolutions.
Some forces have argued that these moves would inevitably lead to the dissolution or smashing of the revolutionary armed forces — i.e. to the disarming of the masses and the abandonment of the revolutionary struggle for a new society.
Because of that controversy it has been particularly interesting to read the following recent account of the Peoples Liberation Army forces in a canton located in the lowland areas close to the Indian border (and the Indian army).
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My experience with the PLA
by Roshan Kissoon
Published in Red Star newspaper from Nepal
I have been a frequent visitor to the PLA cantonment in Chitwan over the past five months, where I also give English classes to PLA commanders. There is much disinformation in the Nepali and international media regarding the PLA, based on ignorance and prejudice. Here are some of the things I have seen.
The PLA is made up of the poorest people in Nepal, from the mountainous regions bordering China to the Terai region near India, people from many different castes and clans, speaking many different languages, having many different traditions. However, in the PLA they are equal, they live the same life, eat the same food, and wear the same clothes. There is equality between men and women, and the traditional feudalistic practices such as caste discrimination, arranged marriages with expensive dowries, and the religious superstitions that plague all of South Asia do not exist here. A noticeable thing about the PLA is that many of the soldiers are related; many soldiers have brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, who are also soldiers in the PLA, and so the bond between them is very strong. There is marriage between different castes and communities in the PLA, and so in practice the caste system is being broken down, the soldiers are Nepali, not Bahun or Chettri. Most PLA soldiers marry other soldiers, and there are weddings periodically, usually coinciding with a cultural or political program. Around ten couples get married at one program; there is no priest, no special expensive wedding costume; they get married in military uniform. They pledge their dedication to each other as well as to the cause of Communism. Due to these relationships within the PLA, the army is unified and dedicated. Furthermore, almost all of the soldiers have friends, brothers, sisters, cousins who were killed by the RNA during the People’s War. They know these martyrs died for a better future, a Communist future, and they will not betray their sacrifice. The morale of the PLA is extremely good. There are many young children in the camp, some of them the children of PLA martyrs. They are well looked after, with great love, by everyone in the camp.
When I first arrived in the camp, it was quite bare and had only a few buildings. In the months that followed, the PLA have built what is virtually a small town, with a hospital that is used by the local population. The PLA are always working, never idle. There is sometimes emphasis on construction, other times on education, at other times on military training. In their spare time, they play football and volleyball, as well as practice martial arts. They also watch TV and study in their spare time. Everyone eats together in the mess, and there is a rota system, so everyone takes turns to cook. Dalbhat with vegetables is served everyday, and once or twice a week meat will be served. The food is healthy, and everyone eats three times a day. Nobody drinks or smokes in the cantonement, and the behaviour of the soldiers towards each other, locals, and visitors is good.
The interaction between the PLA and the local population is also good; when I first came to Chitwan many of the locals were wary of the Maoists. But, a few months later, the PLA are part of the population, and the many shops and restaurants around the camp are patronised largely by the PLA; the PLA have greatly improved the local economy. Furthermore, the PLA hold many cultural programmes in which the local population take part and learn about what the Maoists are trying to do, and about the basic rightness of their cause. It was in these cultural programmes that I saw the great talent of the PLA soldiers, who as well as training to fight, could also dance and sing. The songs and dances are traditional, in that they are obviously variations of traditional folk songs and dances popular around Nepal, but also revolutionary; the songs are about revolution, about struggle, about the success and failure of oppressed people around the world to build a better life; the dances show with grace and beauty the dignity of struggle, men and women as equals. There is a very rich Communist culture here, a culture that takes the best of the traditional culture but revolutionises it, a culture that looks to the future and encourages creativity. There are many songs about the Nepalese revolution, some with lyrics written by Central Committee members. Many of the soldiers write poetry. Some of the PLA cultural group asked me about revolutionary culture from the West. I sang to them the American folk classic ‘Stalin wasn’t Stalin’ and ‘The Red Flag’, a classic of the British workers movement. I also recommended that the plays of Bertolt Brecht be translated into Nepali. Some may be surprised to hear that there is even an excellent Maoist comedian, a Platoon commander, who performed at the recent ‘PLA day’ celebrations.
In my English classes with the commanders, I have many interesting discussions, and I am asked many questions about life in Europe, the Communist and Left movement in other parts of the world, reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed, the US war on Afghanistan and Iraq, Chavez, Castro etc. They study a great deal, and there are many study programs in the cantonment for all the soldiers, including classes in Nepali, military strategy, dance, and English. The commanders, in particular, research about experiences of revolution in other parts of the world, about what can be learnt from these struggles. From their reading and study, they know the lengths that US imperialism can go to destroy a popular movement (look at almost any country in Latin America), but they know also that Communist forces under the leadership of Stalin defeated the Nazis and that in Vietnam Communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh were able to defeat the US army.
Whenever I come to Kathmandu, I meet middle class, well educated, English speaking Nepalese. They always want to emigrate to the West, they copy the worst aspects of Western culture, and do not see much of a future in Nepal. The PLA soldiers, by contrast, want to create a better Nepal, as they understand that their own people deserve and need better than what currently exists. For this, I will always respect them. - Kissoon is an international freelance journalist.