emerges to claim Nepal.’Äù Article about the Nepalese rebels, who are
asking for multi-party democracy and full representation
(proportional representation). May 29, 2003.
emerges to claim Nepal
By Luke Harding
With his flat cap
and black NHS-style spectacles, Baburam Bhattarai bears an uncanny
resemblance to Vladimir Lenin. But sitting in his new office in
decorated with a large communist flag, he faced a problem
never suffered -
being interrupted by a call on his mobile phone. But as Mr Bhattarai
was quick to explain, it is crucial that you apply Marxism creatively,
rather than literally. "As Marx says, you don't have to interpret the
world. The point is to change it," he said.
For the past week
the world's attention has been focused on Nepal, with lavish celebrations
to mark Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's conquest of Mount
Everest 50 years ago today.
King Gyanendra is
throwing a dinner tonight for Sir Edmund, 83. But the most important
person in Kathmandu these days is neither the king nor the
but Mr Bhattarai, the formidable leader of Nepal's Maoist rebels.
For the past seven
years Mr Bhattarai has masterminded a brutal campaign to
into a revolutionary people's state.
He has nearly
succeeded, with his Communist party of Nepal (Maoist) claiming to control
almost 80% of the kingdom. Earlier this year the rebels and the government
agreed a ceasefire, and the two sides are quietly conducting peace
In one of the first
interviews since he emerged from hiding six weeks ago, Mr Bhattarai told
the Guardian that the Maoists now had the "upper hand" in
war. The only reason the rebels had not seized Kathmandu was that
were worried that this would provoke an American invasion, he said.
"They can't crush
us. They can't defeat us militarily. We have tremendous mass support," Mr
Bhattarai said. "But the US is the world's biggest terrorist. The US
has been threatening us openly. We want to avoid that scenario."
Since the ceasefire
Mr Bhattarai has emerged as the revolutionary group's main negotiator and
its public face. He has conducted two rounds of meetings with
Nepal's ministers, and has also acquired a modest office in
staffed by polite young Maoists wearing baseball caps.
Last week Mr
Bhattarai, a 49-year-old former architect, even held a book
where he published his PhD thesis - a Marxist analysis of the
His office is a
short drive from Nepal's main palace, where the crown prince, Dipendra,
shot dead most of his family two years ago. The Maoists are demanding a new
constitution - and have suggested it would be best if King Gyanendra
"We want real
democracy," Mr Bhattarai said yesterday. "The elitist and
has to be changed."
The rebels are
serious about their demands, some of which appear sensible,
as the redistribution of land, a minimum wage and free health
care. Others seem more
menacing. They include a ban on "foreign culture" - which
"X-rated cinema, videos and newspapers".
The movement models
itself on other violent revolutionary outfits, including the
Shining Path in Peru and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Since
began its war in 1996 some 7,000 people have died, including about
4,000 killed last year
after King Gyanendra sent the army into the hills and villages of western
Nepal to crush the insurrection.
America, meanwhile, have secretly provided the Nepalese government with
Bhattarai admitted that the Maoists had murdered hundreds of
policemen. But he said their deaths were justified. "It is a
It is the law of war," he said. "But we don't like killing. We want
He claimed Nepal's
army and police were to blame for most of the slaughter,
had killed hundreds of innocent people in "fake encounters".
Bhattarai is the deputy leader of the Maoist faction of Nepal's Communist
party. Its rebels' actual leader, the mysterious Com rade
41-year-old former horticulture teacher, has remained underground.
shrugged off the suggestion that his ideology was an anachronism.
"Capitalism arrived in Britain in the 16th century. It has not
Britain's problems over 500 years," he said. "I have seen beggars
in the streets of London and Washington."
There is little
doubt that his message has won genuine popular support among Nepal's
downtrodden rural classes, from poor farmers, women, and
at the bottom of the caste heap.
governments have failed to get to grips with the kingdom's two
problems - poverty and corruption. Last autumn King Gyanendra sacked
prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and appointed his own man. Since
the mainstream democratic parties have been agitating for a return
inherently unstable nature of Nepalese politics, nobody is
betting on how long
the peace process will last.
Mr Bhattarai said
the Maoists wanted multi-party democracy and proportional
he was vague as to whether the rebels had completely given up on
violence, or had dropped their demand for a people's state.
"If they dismantle
their armed forces, the violence will end. If they don't
up to them to face the consequences," he said menacingly of the
want peace, but peace with change."
¬…Two people died
and six were injured when a helicopter crashed near Mount
Everest base camp
yesterday, marring anniversary celebrations. The two
were from Nepal, an
army officer said.
The Mi-17, owned by
Simrik Airlines, was carrying eight people, including four crew, to the
camp when it crashed. The cause of the accident was not known.