It is notable that two years ago, before the ceasefire, the Maoists did not have any presence at all in Mustang due to the Royal Nepal Army’s occupation of a high foot suspension bridge below Ghasa that serves as the only entrance to the district below 5000 meters. Now the Maoists had a large visible office in Jomsom.
By Neil Horning
Six months ago I contracted a tropical disease that caused persistent diarrhea and severe weight loss which was misdiagnosed for about 5 months. My parents were planing on simply visiting me in Nepal, but when they met me I weighed 60 kilo, looked like a holocaust victim, and projectile vomited out of the taxi ride from the airport. So, they bought me a ticket to coax me home. I say this is to explain three things: Why I’m not in Nepal right now, the context in which the interview this article is about took place, and why I felt it necessary to shake hands with Prachanda. I suppose I’m a bit like Ambassador Moriarty. It’s something I wanted to do before I left the country.
At any rate, I got my health sorted out, and I was trekking in Mustang with my parents when we came upon Sam. Sam is wearing the Che Guevara hat in this photo here:
He was running a Maoist checkpoint north of Jomsom, and charging tourists 100 rupees a day that they spent in their “conservation area.” My parents and I were on a 10 day trek, and he was only going to charge us 300 rupees each (the time we were going to spend north of Jomsom) but I wanted a discount none-the-less, but he had filled out a Receipt for 900 rupees before I managed to dig out my photo:
It was me, posing with the Pawan, the commissar of the Basanta Memorial Brigade that I had interviewed the previous year I would have shown him the photo with Prachanda but it was taken with a film Camera, and it hadn’t been developed. Even so, Sam got much more excited than I thought he would. After he calmed down and I understood what he was saying he said that the person in my photo was in charge of the district. I was told that if I had shown him the photo first he wouldn’t have charged me, and he invited me by the office on the way back to see the district in charge and pick up some literature. I accepted, and my parents and I didn’t think anything more of it until two days later when we were on our way back to Jomsom from Kagbeni. We were walking along the wide open dessert riverbed, when a motorcycle pulled up out of nowhere and asked me if I was the American that was coming to see the commander and then wanted a time estimate for our arrival.
When we got there an hour later, I found that the district in charge was indeed the commissar I had interviewed before. After some pleasantries we did a miniature interview with some questions that I had prepared the previous night. As before, Pawan understood English fairly well but had a hard time articulating politics in it. When we started the interview, he was answering my questions in Nepali, and Sam was reading things out of a book to translate. This seemed just a bit too much like a boilerplate preparation to me, so I asked Pawan to do the same thing we did last time, and write down the answers in Nepali to the questions I had written in English.
While that was going on, Sam talked to me about various other things the Maoists were doing in the district. His nom de guerre was Avian, meaning a long journey that begins with a single step (this in turn is based on a Mao quote but he didn’t mention that). It is notable that two years ago, before the ceasefire, the Maoists did not have any presence at all in Mustang due to the Royal Nepal Army’s occupation of a high foot suspension bridge below Ghasa that serves as the only entrance to the district below 5000 meters. Now the Maoists had a large visible office in Jomsom. However, The Maoist checkpoint was not in the spot we left it anymore when we had come back, and Sam/Avian explained that the police had come out and forced them to stop collecting from tourists that day. He said that they would be “struggling” with the police office downtown about the issue. He assured me that their “struggle” would be non-violent as that was the phase of the revolution that they were in. I didn’t manage to get a justification for why the Maoists were collecting fees from tourists after they had joined the government.
Sam said that their were many Tibetan people in Mustang, so the Maoists there were learning the Tibetan language, and many people in upper mustang were joining the Maoist affiliated unions. He said the King of Mustang (they have a separate and semi-autonomous king for some reason) had historically oppressed poor people. The King told the Maoists when they came into the district that if they didn’t want him there he would leave. But the Maoists told him that if he dedicated himself to “helping the people” that he could stay. Avain made it clear that they were talking with the King instead of struggling violently.
When Pawan was done writing his answers he took my walking stick from me and gifted me a bright red painted one they had resting in the corner. It seemed a little tongue-in-cheek to me, but it was still touching. Then we went outside for the photo-op. Hopefully I am not getting my parents on a bunch of government lists with the one below.
The text of the interview with Pawan, the Mustang district in charge follows. I think it’s still a bit boilerplate.
1. The leadership has often said that the peace process was an unprecedented experiment for Maoism. In your opinion, what are the results of this experiment and the lessons to be learned?
When king Gyanendra used the Army to take power from the elected representatives We made the 12 point agreement in order to win back power with the help of all of the citizens. As we have been voicing the demands of the people, the old agreement was insufficient to fulfill these demands in the current situation so we are trying to make another agreement on the basis of a new consensus. The theme of this consensus must be to first announce a republic in order to uplift the different oppressed ethnicities genders regions and communities so they participate fully in the upcoming Constituent Assembly elections. For that the Communities of Women and Dalits must be given specific rights to participate in the interim government. Only then can the new Constitution be made in accordance to the will of the Nepalese citizens. This is the main aspiration of the Nepali Citizen today. Our party (Maoist) is always ready for that. Although we have joined the peace process, we are still integrating the strategies of People’s War and talks so there is less possibility of failure.
2. who do you think the public blames for the delay in the elections?
Since we started our People’s War to build the future of the Nepalese citizens we have waged the whole war for constituent assembly and we have written slogans on the walls saying “long live Republic, long live Constituent Assembly.” When we were doing this the Government [under the mainstream parties] arrested and even killed those people. And now the same people are blaming us for the delay. Shall we not remember that? Before the 19 day People’s uprising who was making the demands for Constituent Assembly and Republic? With this in mind, how can there be any confusion? Our 13,000 Martyrs sacrificed for Constituent Assembly and Republic so how can our party be against them? Therefore, those who were against them are the ones who are against Republic and Constituent Assembly.
3. What political development has most surprised you over the last year and a half?
Over the last year and a half we have concluded a huge ideological war. After the 12-point agreement we were able to isolate Gyanendra from the power of the Royal Army. Then we had the opportunity to speak freely among the Nepalese for whom we have been fighting for the last 11 years. As there is one army in this country of the government and one of the Nepalese citizens, we are able to force the government to give equal treatment to these two armies, as well as clear the charge made against us by the American imperialists that we are terrorists they had been popularizing to the world. Even now we are still trying to free the Nepalese government from the interference of European countries, America, and Australia who are exercising their hegemony. We are trying to balance the foreign strategies so we are not in the situation to be oppressed at their will. Our Party is the only party which is integrating all oppressed regions, ethnicities, genders, languages, cultures, all women and Dalits; understanding their sentiments in order to move them on the path of their liberation.
4. How have things changed for you personally over that time?
Things have changed so much since our last meeting because time is constantly moving [progressive]. According to that, human society is moving ahead. Therefor today’s Nepal is moving further ahead that yesterdays Nepal. In the same way, human society is becoming more conscious so there is a certainty of improvement. In the past there was an armed struggle of ideas. This category of struggle is not limited only to Nepal. It has become world wide because todays world has already become a fully integrated system. Finally, our ideological struggle is not only for Nepali citizens but rather for all the oppressed citizens of the world. Therefor, to have change in the politics of Nepal means to have change in the politics of the world.
Neil maintains a personal blog.