Civil War, Communism and Child Goddesses: Nepal’s Recent Election

Photo: The Guardian

This week, Nepal joined a dwindling list of nations linked only in ideology. Nepal’s most recent election ended in a majority for the Communist party leader, Khadga Prasad Oli. Oli’s electoral victory makes Nepal one of the last few Communist nations on earth. While this circumstance may seem out of the ordinary to foreign readers, it is outright shocking to people in the surrounding area. Every nation has its own unique history, with Nepal’s even more so. It’s recent events are frequently brought up when discussion about media bias occurs, and they offer a look into the precarious future of the mountainous nation.

China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam are the only Communist nations in the world

Nepal is very rarely spoken of in the occidental world. It is seldom brought up save whenever people discuss its native Mt. Everest, K2 and other Himalayan peaks. This, despite its bloody recent history.

Mt. Everest as seen from Gokyo. Photo: buddhalandtreks.com
Mt. Everest as seen from Gokyo. Photo: buddhalandtreks.com

In 1994, the Communist Party of Nepal split in two. The fracture was over ethics. Many of the party’s more extreme elements decided to form their own party, which would be named the United Communist Party, or the Maoist party. The original party became nicknamed the Unified Marxism-Leninism party. The two, despite being very similar in terms of ideology, became bitter rivals over this.

Maoist supporters in Kathmandu. Photo: The Telegraph
Maoist supporters in Kathmandu. Photo: The Telegraph

In 1996, the Maoists sent a memorandum to the government in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. It included a list of 40 demands mostly about “nationalism, democracy and livelihood”. When the demands were ignored, the Maoist party declared its war for control of the nation, hoping to form a People’s Republic similar to China. They were opposed by the King and his Royalist forces. This civil war would last 10 years and claim nearly 20,000 lives.

The Maoists mostly held power in Nepal’s rural regions and the Royalists the urban areas. The war was deadlocked for the first five years until one of the most infamous moments of Nepalese history occurred. An event that would shock the world.

Former Crown Prince of Nepal, Dipendra Shah. Photo: multimedia.asiaone.com
Former Crown Prince of Nepal, Dipendra Shah. Photo: multimedia.asiaone.com

In 2001 the heir to the Nepali throne, Crown Prince Dipendra murdered nine members of the royal family in their palace. Angry at his family refusing him marriage to an Indian princess (of a rival former-royal family) whom he was very much in love with, Dipendra had been drinking heavily and had smoked large quantities of Hashish. His father, the king, ordered him to leave the gathering. The prince then got out several automatic guns and murdered his father first (technically making him King), then his uncle, his brother, sister, two of his aunts, his mother, his brother-in-law and his father’s cousin. The new King then shot himself, but only managed to send himself into a coma. He died several days later in the hospital. This event horrified Nepal and was a turning point in the civil war.

Due to a Lèse-majesté law, if King Dipendra had lived, he would not be able to be prosecuted for murder

The Nepalese Royal Massacre sent shockwaves throughout Nepal and led to the Maoists seizing more land due to decreased morale and instability throughout the nation. Worried at the rate of Maoist growth, the US, EU and India all gave military and economic aid to Nepal. This led to an increased period of economic growth in Nepal, as it was previously one of the poorest Asian nations. However, this aid was unilaterally cancelled when, in 2005, King Birendra (Uncle of Crown Prince Dipendra) dissolved the parliament. The king claimed “Democracy and progress contradict one another…” and that Nepal’s parliament was holding back the nation from a swift peace.

King Gyanendra of Nepal. Photo: kathsylvania.blogspot.com
King Gyanendra of Nepal. Photo: kathsylvania.blogspot.com

This decision would lead to peace in the nation eventually, but not in the way the king intended. The move towards autocracy caused massive civil unrest and pro-democracy protests in the Royalist controlled urban areas. The King was eventually pressured into signing a peace deal with the Maoists. He knew that he would not survive if he held out, but he also knew that he was far more powerful than the Maoists and that they would be willing to negotiate. The peace deal was signed in 2006, stripping the king of political power and most of his land. Meanwhile, the Maoists would give up their weapons and be investigated by the UN for possible war crimes.

Maoists at a victory rally in Kathmandu. Photo: blog.com.np
Maoists at a victory rally in Kathmandu. Photo: blog.com.np

The war was a huge economic drain on Nepal, causing unrest even after it ended. The war had destroyed Nepal’s tourism, its chief industry. Mass protests were held in Kathmandu, mostly by Marxist-Leninist supporters. The Communist party briefly gained power via a coalition in this time of unrest, but was later kicked out. Things might have been grim for the Marxist-Leninists, were it not for the earthquake.

A religious shrine in Kathmandu, before and after the earthquake. Photo: keranews.com
A religious shrine in Kathmandu, before and after the earthquake. Photo: keranews.com

The recent Nepalese earthquake gained worldwide attention, doing far more damage in the short-term than the civil war ever did, claiming over 200 lives in one day. It also destroyed far more infrastructure, including a host of world heritage sites dating back several centuries. It destroyed as much culture as it did homes. This natural disaster merely made the economic situation worse, as now the government had to undertake the near impossible duty of rebuilding almost an entire capital from scratch.

A Nepali man crying amongst rubble after the earthquake. Photo: new.nationalpost.com
A Nepali man crying amongst rubble after the earthquake. Photo: new.nationalpost.com

The recent earthquake in Kathmandu served as the catalyst for the Marxist-Leninists support. Historically, Communist parties tend to modernize – which may be industrialization or building infrastructure – more quickly than others. The Marxist-Leninists gained more support than their old rivals the Maoists – who ended up supporting the Communist Party despite differences – due to the Marxist-Leninists focusing their plans mostly on the urban areas (the Maoists still only have power in Nepal’s rural regions, which were less affected by the earthquake).

The Marxist-Leninists got over half of the votes with the support of their former rival, the Maoists

This is not to say the election was without controversy. Many fear that, now that the Communists are in power, they would ban the practice of the Kumari. The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl who is believed to be the avatar – human embodiment – of a Nepalese goddess. A Kumari is chosen whenever either the last one dies or hits puberty. The ritual for choosing a new Kumari is very secretive, and several ‘cleansing’ ceremonies have been called a form of child abuse by certain rights groups. The practice has been upheld in Nepal – due to its cultural importance – but some believe the Communists would be willing to ban the practice under child abuse accusations.

The most recent Kumari, Samita Bajracharya. Photo: telesle.net
The most recent Kumari, Samita Bajracharya. Photo: telesle.net

Others, though, point to the Communist’s good relationship with India. Nepal and India have been rivals for many years, with India allegedly instituting an unofficial blockade. After the recent election win, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi contacted the new Nepali Prime Minister Oli, congratulating him on his electoral success and inviting him to visit India. This could be the harbinger of cooled tensions between the two South Asian nations, which would be very beneficial to both.

Left, Prime Minister Oli at a victory rally. Photo: voanews.com
Left, Prime Minister Oli at a victory rally. Photo: voanews.com

Whatever this new election leads to, Nepal’s latest chapter of its life is over. Gone are the days of civil war and the royal family. Nepal is now a member not of the third world, but the second. It is moving away from an era of unrest and autocracy, and towards one of democracy and rebuilding. While no one can safely say this new era will be entirely positive, it will most certainly be better than its last one.

Sources include The Guardian, Ubisoft, Wikipedia, The Discovery Network, The History Channel, The Telegraph, The New York Times and the BBC


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