A founding father of the communist movement in Nepal died on the morning of July 22. Burman Budhamagar died in a hospital in Kathmandu, a year after undergoing an operation for his colon cancer. One of the founders of the communist movement in Nepal back in 1950s, which would later coalesce into a broader nationwide Maoist movement, Budhamagar was noted for his principled and austere lifestyle, and was hence known as perhaps the only ‘true communist’ leader in the country.
In the words of the researcher of early Maoist movement in Nepal, Benoît Cailmail, “the leading and most charismatic figure of communism in the village of Thabang in Rolpa” in the early 1990s was also the “first of the villagers to fight against the local headmen’s authority and forms of abuse.”
Thabang, the cradle of Nepali Maoism, has been grief-stricken by the demise of 90-year-old Budhamgar from Thabang rural municipality in Rolpa district. Rishikesh Budhamgar “Sabin”, a relative of the dead ex-MP, expressed his shock. “People who have stayed true to their communist roots are dying while corrupt communists continue to rule the roost,” Sabin rues.
Budhamagar gets the credit for the birth of the communist movement in Thabang, which was already a Maoist stronghold when the then CPN (Maoist) started its armed rebellion in 1996. Even today, Thabang is considered a solid Maoist base area.
Budhamagar came into national limelight when he was elected an MP on behalf of the then ‘Janamorcha’ in the 1991 general election. He had a unique way of giving national recognition to his identity—he would go to the national parliament barefoot, clad in traditional Magar attire. One time, he was even stopped by the security guard in the parliament building for trying to enter barefoot. But that did not deter Budhamagar from dressing in his ‘attire of the people.’
Budhamagar’s political career formally began when he joined a farmers’ organization in Thabang in around 1957. Also around that time, he was active in the Maoist party led by Mohan Bikram Singh. Budhamagar, who was in contact with Singh during his imprisonment for subversive activities, had tried to avoid the ban on the party by opening a front that ostensibly served farmers. Later, Budhamagar also became the Pradhan Panch several times during the Panchayat period.
In the first general election of 1959, the people of Thabang had given all their votes to the radical communists, again largely thanks to Budhamagar’s influence in the area. Likewise, during the 1980 referendum, all the votes in Thabang were cast in favor of multi-party system. However, a year later, Budhamagar boycotted the national elections held under the Panchayat regime. For this ‘crime’, the national army even conducted a major operation in Thabang.
After the end of armed conflict on 20 March, 2006, Budhamagar remained close to communist politics, while working as an advisor to the mother Maoist party. Again thanks to Budhamgar’s influence, in the 2008 CA elections, 100 percent votes in Thabang went to the Maoist candidate Prachanda.
Owing to his tall political legacy, not only communist leaders, but also journalists and researchers who visited Thabang to understand its role in Nepal’s communist movement would not return without meeting Budhamagar.