People power: Jana Andolan resembles Dandi March

The streets of Kathmandu are again humming with the activities of those Nepalis who have now returned from their villages after celebrating Dashain. They are back with hopes for a lasting peace. However, in the midst of peace dialogue, Maoist supremo Prachanda’s recent appeal to the people of Kathmandu to agitate under the leadership of the Newar community has made them sceptical. By implication, he is supporting other ethnic movements like the Terai Jantrantic Mukti Morcha.

To some, the time for actualisation of the Maoists’ concept of ethnic autonomous regions is not ripe. First of all, the Maoists and the seven-party alliance (SPA) have to solidify the achievements of the people’s movement that lasted for 19 days from April 6 to 24, 2006 — an unparallelled event in the history of Nepal in more sense than one. Firstly, it succeeded in achieving the goal that had not been gained through the killing of thousands of people during the last eleven years. Secondly, people’s participation in the movement was unprecedented. Thirdly, the movement was not centred in Kathmandu alone, rather it spread throughout the country. Fourthly, for the first time, there was a tacit understanding between the CPN-Maoist and the SPA on political agenda. Fifthly, the movement was spontaneous with hardly any high-ranking leaders leading it. Sixthly, the people’s ire was chiefly against the 238-year-old institution of monarchy which ultimately ceded its power to the people with their unshakable courage to defy curfews and bullets.

Historically, after withdrawing their unilateral ceasefire in January 2006, the Maoists’ call to blockade Kathmandu and district headquarters had crippled the transport system nationwide from March 14. On SPA’s request, they lifted the blockade on March 19 and withdrew their call for an indefinite bandh to start from April 2 in support of SPA’s four-day bandh call from April 6 to 9 with a rally in Kathmandu on April 8. To start with, demonstrations were organised in Itahari, Pokhara and Nepalgunj before April 6. The initial four days of demonstrations were by and large peaceful. The declaration of daytime curfew in Kathmandu and other urban areas from April 8 heightened tension between the security forces and demonstrators, who took to the streets in defiance of the curfews. Three demonstrators were killed in the initial days at Pokhara, Bharatpur and Kavre.

Demonstrations in the capital from April 20 onwards began reaching unprecedented proportions as hundreds of thousands came out in defiance. On April 21, after the number of demonstrators doubled, the King publicly invited SPA to nominate a prime minister. However, the offer was rejected and the protests continued throughout the country till April 24 which forced the King, at midnight, to announce the reinstatement of the House of Representatives, effectively putting an end to all demonstrations, although the Maoists wanted to prolong it till a republic was achieved.

The people’s movement reminds us of the politically significant Dandi March launched by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle in India. Gandhi started a 388km journey to Dandi on March 12, 1930 with 78 followers from his Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad to reach there on April 5 to break the Salt Act of the British government on April 6. The Salt Act did not allow the Indians to make salt from seawater on the seashores. What he did there was little — picked up a handful of natural salt scattered on a vast barren beach of Dandi showing that it was the people’s right to have it. But its message was so grave that it shook the very foundation of the British empire. By breaking the law, Gandhi persuaded his countrymen to fight courageously against injustice with moral strength, laying stress on the spiritual virtues he himself practised. He justified that the people could oppose the government by non-cooperation or civil disobedience. Later on, he used the time-tested weapon of people’s participation in waging a peaceful struggle for freedom. People started making salt without caring about police atrocities and indirectly dealt a heavy financial blow to the rulers by depriving them of the profits on salt trade, telling them that their days in India were numbered.

The lesson we drive from Dandi March or the people’s movement is that bullets are ineffective before people’s courage provided it is devoid of any sort of violence. It was the people’s participation in huge numbers, which forced the King and the army to surrender before the people. The Maoists, after realising the truth, have been participating in peace negotiations with the government. They must now decide, once for all, to adopt the non-violent method and say goodbye to their arms through their proper management and create another history not for Nepal alone, but for all other countries resorting to arms for bringing about social, economic and political transformation. They can resort to the non-violent method if their goal in not attained.

Prof. Mishra is coordinator, NMCC