On the Nature of the Royal Nepalese Army
Posted by Mike E on April 27, 2008
This article was first posted a year ago, on May 10, 2006, before the many complex development of the last months. It appeared on the website of International Nepal Solidarity Network.
After King Mahendra (Gyanendra’s father) and his Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), overthrew his government in 1960, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Nepal BP Koirala asked himself in his jail diary: “Is the democratic system in Nepal compatible with the preponderance of the Nepalese Army?” After five decades of the democracy movement in Nepal, this question still haunts the Nepalis. Mesmerised by the royal proximity, Nepali democrats have time and again lapsed into amnesia, comfortably and willingly. But by one or another way the question has found expression and has been answered negatively in the popular upsurges and daily struggles of the downtrodden.
As Nepal’s foremost revolutionary leader Prachanda stated, just after the royal coup in February 2005, “Ultimately, the so-called royal proclamation of February 1 has not only exposed the irrelevance of reformism in the Nepalese politics, but also shattered the collective lethargy of the parliamentary political politics.”. Although the reinstatement of the old parliament once again poses the danger of the relapse of the “collective lethargy”, the politically charged Nepali masses are ever watchful of the parliamentarist deviations. Along with the issue of forming the Constituent Assembly, the question of controlling the RNA is going to be one of the decisive (and divisive) elements in the course of the Nepali democratic revolution.
This army has been the major force behind enforcing the betrayal of the democratic aspirations of the Nepali people for more than five decades. Nevertheless, as Marxist-Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai rightly notes, “Any ordinary student of military science would know, the victory or defeat of a particular army ultimately depends more on its social class base and the political goal.” And, “the feudal reactionary nature of the royal army and its complete hegemonisation by the ruling Shah-Rana families may be gauged from the fact that of the thirty commander-in-chiefs since 1835, twenty-six belonged to the ruling Shah-Ranas and four to their close courtiers, Thapa-Basnets. Hence, there should be no doubt, at least to the progressive and modern-minded, that the current fight in Nepal is précised for ending this age-old feudal tyranny and to usher in a real democracy suited to the 21st century.”
The RNA has been the major “saboteur”, “with the prompting of some foreign powers” (whom we are all familiar with) in every peace talk in Nepal. Its time-tested principal method of sabotage is senseless massacres of the civilians in the name of defending its soldiers against the revolutionaries while the peace process is going on. In 2003, “the most serious and provocative incident was the massacre of nineteen unarmed political activists by the RNA in Doramba (Eastern Nepal) on the very day of start of third round of talks on August 17″. Again, a few days back on April 29, on the eve of GP Koirala’s swearing in ceremony as a result of the mass upsurge that we saw recently, “Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) launched an aerial attack on a peaceful mass meet called by the CPN (Maoist)… An RNA chopper rained bullets on the mass meet organised in the jungle adjoining a human settlement, where around 10,000 civilians were gathered for the program”.
The RNA is definitely a major concern, as it gets more and more desperate about its own future with the debilitating royalty. International powers that have been arming the reactionary RNA are already having meetings with its chief and other officials, enquiring about their Will.
The recent visit of US Assistant Secretary for South Asia, Richard Boucher is a pointer in this regard. He did not meet with the beleaguered monarch, rather chose to remain satisfied with his direct meeting with the RNA chief Pyar Jung Thapa.
On April 3, in a press conference after the meeting, Boucher was asked whether he thinks “the Royal Nepalese Army is going to be one of the decision makers in future instead of parliament”.
Boucher’s reply was, “I don’t think I quite used the word decision maker, but I said something like that. I think that the army is going to have a very important role to play. The army has to help defend the nation; it has to help defend the nation against threats. They also have to be able to implement the ceasefire, and carry it out. So I wanted to check with the army and see, first of all, that they were supporting the political process, that they were supporting the civilian leaders in Nepal, and second of all talk to them about how they saw their job in the days ahead, and how, when a civilian leadership wanted us to, we could support them in the future.”
What a mode of professing a civilian control over the RNA! A US official makes an official visit to find the will of the Army chief directly, whether he supports the political process or not, instead of asking the government to ensure the submission of the RNA to the civilian control.
However this incident is not at all surprising, since US Ambassador James Moriarty’s chief job after the 12-point agreement between the parliamentary forces and the Maoists last year has been to defend the RNA’s existence in every significant statement. He has been trying hard to mobilise the moderate and wavering democrats and former prime minsiters, like GP Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba who were the main exponents of using the RNA to crush People’s War till recently. Replicating Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty – a Supervillain or the “Napoleon of Crime”, the US Ambassador time and again has been tying to make the democrats, who lack Moriarty’s “common sense”, understand the virtue of not weakening the RNA, which he calls, in one of his nauseating self-proclaimed “provocative” speeches, “the parties’ one logical source of defense”, despite the well-known fact that it has never respected the self-styled democratic leadership.
If we can learn something from the US’s history of imperialist intervention and of nurturing military juntas, we can at least be sure of the US’s desperation in Nepal to preclude the Nicaragua-type situation, where the revolutionaries disbanded Somoza’s army, and even after the Sandinistas’ defeat in 1990, the Sandinista Army remained as the popular national army and the prime vehicle of democratisation (notwithstanding a considerable dilution of the army’s revolutionary character). As an ex-Nicaraguan Army chief Joaquín Cuadra Lacayo said in the year 2000: “Despite everything the Sandinista revolution eventually led to free elections and democracy, and…the Sandinista People’s Army became the National Army of Nicaragua. For the first time in the history of Latin America, an army that was born as a guerrilla force and matured as part of a government became an army for the nation without political overtones.” In spite of the fact that the ruling elite of Nicaragua has reversed the major gains of the Sandinista Revolution, and the military is completely integrated with the State, the popular revolutionary past of the Army officials and Sandino’s portraits in military headquarters and offices still haunt the US and the local elites. An obvious question for the global hegemony today is: where will the army be once the new radicalism that is gripping Latin America affects Nicaragua? Obviously, the Nicaraguan arrangement can never keep paranoiac imperialists at ease. Therefore ensuring a premature disarming of the Maoists, without crushing the R(oyalty) of the RNA, is the prime game plan of the international hegemonies and their local cahoots in Nepal.
Only such design will ensure the demobilisation of the revolutionary intent of Nepal’s downtrodden that has been heightened during the decade-long People’s War, politically rejuvenating every section of the society. The imperialist network fears that this rise of the red scourge in this supposed “backwater” of global capitalism will blow away the mirage of the new Asian “miracles” in the region, who have been long fishing their booty in these same “backwaters”. With the struggle of democratisation at every level succeeding in Nepal, and the possibility of an open mobilisation, by the “Maoism in the 21st century”, of the proletarians, semi-proletarians and poor peasantry, there is a danger that the class conflict will spread throughout the region, providing “plenty of recruits for Maoist armies and other forms of resistance to global capitalism”, as Alex Callinicos puts it.