The civil war that lasted from February 1996 to November 2006 represents perhaps the bloodiest chapter in Nepal’s history.
The conflict between government forces and the guerrillas of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by the former teacher Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Comrade Prachanda, left at least 15,000 people dead and perhaps 150,000 more displaced, as well as having a huge economic cost and creating deep divisions within Nepalese society – all of which have undermined the fragile democracy that resulted from the peace agreement. In the words of Father Norbert D’Souza, Jesuit and social activist, “from the mid 1990s the only people to have brought new prospects to the villages were the Maoists. Of course they often used brutal methods, but in a way that was independent and new. In a society that still has strong feudal rules they provided a fresh outlook but, at the end of the day, as torturers against tyrants.”
The Maoist campaign fed off decades of indoctrination and visits by its exponents to the Soviet Union and China, but also the inability of the country’s ruling classes to offer even a basic form of well-being to the vast majority of Nepalese. This is clear from the resistance of the guerrilla movement, which, in the final stages of the conflict, transferred from the mountains to the suburbs of Kathmandu, and from its election victory in 2008. Though imposed by force or through indoctrination, its political programme at least felt innovative and so was rewarded, despite the success of Indian diplomacy and the local media in splitting the leftist movement into two larger forces, the Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Not even the Maoists’ ascent to power in the April 2008 elections with nearly 40% of the vote was enough to stabilise the country.
The habitual logics of power and local and international pressure soon led to the creation of a new coalition government comprising 22 parties that were locked into a continual game of allegiance and tension, but which shared the desire to keep the revolutionary left out of power with the support of the armed forces and Indian diplomacy. Since their brief spell in government – which ended in May 2009 – the Maoists returned to their earlier activities and propaganda, although they had not yet resumed armed combat; meanwhile, the government had partly returned to the old elitist logic and had failed to guarantee social cohesion and stability.
The 28 May 2011 deadline for approving the definitive Constitution following an additional extension of a year did not pass in vain and prime minister Jhalanath Khanal was forced to resign to prevent the government from collapse.
On 28 August, Baburam Bhattarai, vice-chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was nominated new prime minister. In his policy speech Bhattarai asked for six months to get democracy and the peace process back on the rails.
Between 2008 and 2011 there were four different coalition governments, led twice by the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, and twice by the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (UML). The failure of the 601 members of the Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution to replace the provisional constitution introduced in 2007, by the May 2012 deadline set by the Supreme Court, obliged Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. Months of negotiations ensued until March 2013 when the major political parties agreed to create an interim government headed by then Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi with a mandate to hold elections for a new Constituent Assembly.
Elections were held on 23 November 2013, in which the Nepali Congress won the largest share of the seats in the Constituent Assembly and in February 2014 formed a coalition government with the second place UML and with Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala as prime minister. Koirala has committed himself to promulgating a new constitution by mid-February 2015.
Kunda Dixit a Nepalese political analyst said: “Most people in Nepal may be poor and illiterate, but they have shown again that they vote wisely and with maturity. They have proven through the high turnout that they value their political freedoms. They have taught the politicians a lesson by punishing many who lied or resorted to violence or corruption. They have also shown their hope by giving political parties one more chance to prove themselves. However, most Nepalese are fed up with politicians’ endless bickering over the nature of the new constitution or who is in power. They have simpler, more immediate worries about jobs, health, education and inflation. Yet, only by fixing flaws in the political process will Nepal gain the stability necessary to attract investment, which in turn is necessary to generate jobs, economic development – and still more hope for the future”. (S.V.)