“Without the Maoist revolution, there would have been no Constituent Assembly, and without the Constituent Assembly, none of the recent progressive changes would have been possible,” says Devendra Paudel, a former Maoist leader and now a standing committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
February 13th marked the 25th anniversary of the start of the Maoist ‘people’s war’ that kicked off in 1996 and formally ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006. As ex-Maoist leaders like Paudel put it, the decade-long war—in which around 17,000 people were killed and nearly 1,300 made to ‘disappear’—brought about revolutionary changes in Nepali society. According to its backers, the war was instrumental in the removal of monarchy, heralding of the new federal republic, empowerment of women and other marginalized groups in various ways, and in creating greater political awareness.
“Think about it. None of it would have been possible under the old 1990 constitution,” says Paudel.
Yet there is also no shortage of harsh critics of the civil war who reckon the progressive changes that the Maoists take credit for could have come even without the bloodshed. If the Maoists could bring about these changes through the barrels of their guns, they wouldn’t have had to lay down their arms and agree to a peaceful movement with other political parties, goes the counter-argument. And it was this peaceful movement that overthrew the monarchy and brought about progressive changes. Moreover, even without the Maoist war, these changes were inevitable in a fast-modernizing world. What the war did instead, add the critics, was push Nepal’s development back by at least a decade and institutionalize a culture of violence.
The debate continues, even as the mother Maoist outfit under Pushpa Kamal Dahal that waged the civil war is no longer in existence. With the armed phase of the Maoist movement apparently over, the party has merged with a mainstream communist party and the combined outfit now leads the government. When the mother Maoist outfit joined peaceful politics, dissent in the party had reached a new height, as the hardliners refused to accept the ‘surrender’ before parliamentary forces. As a result, multiple Maoist outfits splintered away. A few of them are still out to complete the ‘great revolution’ with guns.
“The most important question we have to ask while evaluating the Maoist insurgency is if it achieved its stated goal,” says Bhojraj Pokharel, a political analyst. “It didn’t. They talked about establishing a completely new system, and they failed.” Pokharel says the former revolutionaries have instead been thoroughly co-opted into the corrupt system they wanted to do away with. “This makes me wonder if all the violence was worth it,” Pokharel muses