Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Nepal: And Now the Question of Armies….

Posted by Rosa Harris on April 16, 2008

by Mike Ely

Two of Mao’s most famous sayings come to mind, over and over, while studying events in Nepal:

“Political power grows from the barrel of a gun.”

“The people and the people alone are the motive force in history.”

The first one should be a reminder: Leading a government is not the same as seizing state power. Winning an election is a sign of who has won the hearts of the people, but state power ultimately rests on the question of who controls military forces within the country.

That was the heart of the political dilemma, and the tragedy, in Chile (over the early 1970s): The socialist forces of Salvadore Allende won the hearts of the votes, and won the presidency, but did not have the organized military force to face (or defeat) the reactionary Chilean army. The CIA and Chilean high command plotted a military coup, that unleashed a vicious counterrevolution. Allende was killed in the coup, and many thousands of radical activists and supporters were rounded up, tortured and murdered.

The whole episode was a painful reminder of the communist view that socialist revolution requires the breakup of the old state and its armed forces.

Nepal’s events are something new, unprecedented and startling — as every great revolution is.

Here you have a communist force that first developed an armed revolutionary force that seized 80 percent of the country — and then chose to contend for even broader support by political means. So this electoral victory did not arise in opposition to a revolutionary road, but as part of it.

The decisive difference (between Nepal and Chile) is that in Nepal there are already two armies: the reactionary Royal Army and the Maoist peoples’ liberation army. And (no one can ever forget) over the southern border there is the Indian army (which has intervened in almost all of India’s neighbors and which now threatens to invade or blockade Nepal).

Now that the people, broadly and decisively, have chosen the Maoists to lead through the post-monarchy transition, the question comes to the fore: And who now controls the gun?

that issue is not yet decided, and is unlikely to be decided solely by political means.

The reactionary old army was both the official army of Nepal, and the political base for the now-discredited monarchy. And it is hard to tell from afar what the political complextion, leanings and inclinations of its high command are — but these will now come out.

Over and over, reactionaries in Nepal have demanded that the revolutionary army should be disarmed and disbanded (i.e. that the Royal Army should maintain its monopoly on state violence).

In response the Maoists have agitated that their army has legitimacy as a force for the people, and that it would be deadly to disband it and leave the Royalists able to impose their will on the people. As a political demand and negotiating position the Maoists have proposed the merger of the two armies — a demand that would now be carried out under the leadership of a Maoist political government.

In the period leading up the Maoist electoral victory — which resulted in their likely emerging dominance of the parliament, the constituent assembly and the presidency — the Royalist Army spokeman has rejected the idea of integrating their forces with the PLA under Maoist leadership. (See article for details: “As Maoist Is Set To Lead the Govt, Nepal Army Says NO To PLA Integration” by UWB).

The Royalist Army’s representative in Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee (JMCC), Shiva Pradhan, reportedly said during a meeting of the JMCC held in the capital that they would work under the direction of an elected government — but that the Maoist fighting forces are too “politicized” and the future army of Nepal should not include such politicized forces. (See reports in Nepalnews).

“It is entirely up to the political leadership. All we are saying is that the army has special characteristics. It must not be politicized.” (said one army spokesman).

This is, of course, nonsense: First, this army has always been politicized. It has been politicized fundamentally in the sense that it was armed and deployed as a violent defender of feudalism and oppression — especially in the recent 10 years of escalating warfare against the Maoist revolutionaries and against the masses of people. And this army has always been politicized in the more narrow sense — that it has been the partisan prop of a particular political current within the ruling class of Nepal, i.e. the Monarchists.

“They cannot be integrated into the army as of now,” Ramindra Chhetri, director of army public relations, said in an interview in the capital, Kathmandu. “They need to be disarmed, de-mobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated.”

The more important point here is that the formerly-Royalist army is entering the stage as a political force, posing a challenge to the new government in this way, stating what it will (and will not) accept. And it is one of the last reactionary forces left standing to make such a challenge.

In the final analysis, the existence of two armies (especially two armies fighting for radically different societies) is a highly volatile situation in any country — and especially one in which the masses of people are determined to press through for sweeping changes.

The Maoist forces have been confined (during the last period) in bases (called cantons). And they are considerably weaker in every respect than the two reactionary armies (former Royalist and Indian armies) that are arrayed against them. One article summed up: “The rebels sent 23,500 fighters into 28 camps and stored 3,428 weapons under the supervision of the United Nations as part of the peace accord that ended their 10-year insurgency. The agreement said rebel fighters will be rehabilitated and may join the ranks of the army.”

This is a very dangerous moment, where clearly the actions of the masses of people will play a huge difference in any armed collision. Winning an election (however decisively) is not the same as the final seizure of power. One way or another, the questions of armies will come to the fore…

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