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Open Letter

'The Revolutionary Potential Of Non-Violence'

'A public declaration by the Maobaadis that they will stick to their demands but will give up violence can electrify the situation.'

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'The Revolutionary Potential Of Non-Violence'
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'The Revolutionary Potential Of Non-Violence'

Dear comrades,

We are Indians, and supporters of the Nepali people's struggle for democracy. Rather than a bearer of a national identity, we speak as world citizens who believe in the shared values and solidarity of all democratic movements. What we have to say is urgent, because it is painful to observe the agony of the Nepali people, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and the poor. These humble millions are caught in a political storm, whose contenders all claim to speak in the name of 'the people' with little concern about the consequences of their actions on the peoples' lives and livelihood. We are living through an important moment, when a step back from deeply-held positions can bring about far- reaching changes for the better. It is a sign of hope that this seems to be occurring at the present time.

Friends, it is clear that the traditional Nepali ruling elites have seized absolute power and continue to maintain this shamelessly, in the face of national and international condemnation. It is also clear that the absolutists will not understand or act upon globally accepted ideals of human liberty, democracy, equality before law and constitutional limits to state power. Despite their slogans hailing the unity of the monarch and the praja, the ruling elite has no concern for the welfare of its own citizens, millions of whom are obliged to work in degrading conditions in India and other countries.

International Opinion

Except for the US, the dominant powers of the Western alliance and countries such as India, have expressed their scepticism about the intentions of the Nepali monarch or his potential for unifying the polity. Even other autocracies, such as China who had previously supported the monarchy are distancing themselves from its short sighted and politically bankrupt acts. The latest statements of the US ambassador express concern that a Maoist revolution would be a greater danger to the people than an uncaring monarchy, although the evidence indicates that the Royal Nepal Army has killed more innocent civilians than the Maobaadis in the last 10 years. The American administration is motivated by self-interest rather than principle. They are even now in occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq in defiance of international law, and have shown no love for democracy in South Asia where, over the decades they have supported dictators and religious fanatics of all colours. They support democratic movements when and where this suits them, and contemptuously disregard democratic values when it doesn't. Hence, while welcoming the warm words of certain Western leaders and representatives, we should be sceptical of their intentions and the stability of their commitments. In India, a wide range of Indian political opinion supports the cause of democracy in Nepal although there is support for the monarchy among some sections of the army, bureaucracy, the old princely families and the RSS-VHP.

However, this letter is not addressed to the Nepali rulers, nor is it an analysis of political opinion with regard to Nepal. It is primarily an appeal to all Nepali democrats, including Maobaadis (who say they have a new commitment to democracy), to recognise the current moment for its great potential. The ruling clique is isolated as never before, nationally and internationally. And the mainstream Nepali democrats have come to an understanding with the Maobaadis, who for their part have stated their support for an elected Constituent Assembly, and the concept of multi-party democracy. The issues are becoming simplified, and the enemies of democracy are becoming isolated.

The Opposition

The problem remains of overcoming mutual distrust among all the mainstream democrats, of pre-empting the autocratic ambitions of the Nepali Army, and of stopping the bloodshed. As regards the parliamentary opposition, strong political will is needed to maintain a self-critical approach to old ways of thinking and acting, to overcome old animosities, and to maintain a dialogue not only among themselves, but with millions of ordinary Nepalis who want a democratic republic. A new vision is necessary, along with institutional and political preparation for a constitutional order, and fresh initiatives towards these aims - such as ensuring democracy within their own parties, devising a plan of action for the Constituent Assembly, ensuring neutrality, protecting citizens lives, etc. As for the Army generals, one can only hope that some of them have the sense to see that democracy is good for Nepal. There must be many army jawans/soldiers and some officers, who would sympathise with democratic ideals. We must welcome them and address them politically rather than push them away.

But above all, democrats must develop the confidence in their own strength, vision and ability to engage with the Maobaadis to ensure that they uphold the alliance. There must be a continuing dialogue with them to encourage them to give up violence. Many Nepalis, while not being Maoists themselves, sympathise with them, participate in their activities, and have ambivalent positions on the question of "people's war". This situation has been brought about by anger and helplessness in the face of a selfish, autocratic and cruel governing authority, with no vehicle to express grievance or seek social justice through peaceful methods. We can understand the origins and force of this anger but we must remember that (apart from the moral issues), if anger is not restrained and harnessed, it becomes a spiral of violent revenge and creates a political system that is the mirror image of one that is overthrown. The pent up emotions and energies of the Nepali people can find a more creative and optimistic expression in non-violent social movements and activities which will serve as the foundation of a democratic state structure.

The creation of democratic party structures, mass social and political movements, and democratic civil institutions at district and community levels, are the only foundations for a stable and viable democracy. We may understand Prachanda's anger at the callousness of the absolutist monarchy but we can also understand the fear and scepticism evoked amongst democratic forces in Nepal when he says that he expects a people's court to execute the king. Nepal has abolished the death penalty and has an active and well functioning judiciary. Prachanda's statement will undermine rather than help consolidate the process of democratic unity.

The Urge for Peaceful Change

We appeal to all of you to think about the strong urge for peace among your fellow Nepalis. People want an end to tyranny, but not at the cost of so much bloodshed and cruelty. To kill a single person, no matter how bad he is, without due process of law, violates democratic principles. We cannot fight for democracy by using anti-democratic procedures, or preaching autocratic values. We cannot complain that the state indulges in extra-judicial killings and then do the same thing ourselves. How can we encourage young revolutionaries to kill not only the soldiers (who are mostly poor people like themselves), but also a taxi-driver who violates a 'bandh', a telephone booth operator who was forced to allow the Army to use his telephone, or ordinary bus passengers, as in Chitwan last year? Is it enough to say, sorry, these are 'accidents' and then expect the victims' near and dear ones to wipe their tears and support the revolution? In late January, at Kathmandu airport, we saw a young working-class Nepali woman see off her husband - maybe he was joining a job in a foreign country. She was weeping silently, and we thought how much more would be her sorrow if he were to be killed in some encounter, some cross-fire, some bandh?

Friends, brutality operates in a cycle. The Army and police have been brutal, and the revolutionaries have also been brutal. How does it make any difference to the victims of cruelty that the State has killed 8000 people and the revolutionaries only 4000? Is the pain of their relatives lessened because they died while comrades fought for a good cause? So much accumulated tragedy and pain and tears! Do the Nepali people deserve so much suffering on top of all the tragic consequences of autocratic rule? Organised killing develops autocratic modes of thought and totalitarian politics. It destroys the human conscience, encourages lawlessness and disrespect for human life. The people who survive such a bloody revolution will be emotionally and psychologically damaged people. Precedents will have been set that will endanger the future of democracy.

An Appeal to the Comrades

Many of the Maobaadis are inspired by pure ideals and sincere beliefs. But unfortunately the politics of violence is a slippery road that can change human character, and transform lofty goals into current nightmares. Democrats need to start a dialogue to bring about lasting democracy in Nepal. If they are far-sighted, the Maobaadis can make a historic contribution to this dialogue. With due respect we must tell Comrade Prachanda and all the comrades: your anger is justified, but your violence is not. Instead of venting your anger in ways that often harm your own citizenry, subjecting them to yet more cruelty, it would be more fruitful to build democratic structures and practices (both within and outside the political parties) which will become the foundations for a future democratic Nepal.

Friends, we strongly believe that peace and security and freedom from fear is as much of a popular aspiration as a democratic constitution or improved working conditions. The sooner the comrades realise this, the better it will be for the socialist cause. Violence and cruelty is the language of the exploiters and oppressors - if socialists also use this language, what hope remains for humanity? All kinds of non-violent protests and constructive programmes can be organised. Popular committees could be started in localities to start democratisation even before constitutional change. After all, democracy means not just rule with the consent of the governed, but the participation of the people in governance. We appeal to you to consider this: A public declaration by the Maobaadis that they will stick to their demands but will give up violence, can electrify the situation.

This March 8, let us remember the ordinary Russian soldiers of the Tsar's army who refused to shoot women demonstrators on International Women's Day in St Petersburg in 1917. This single incident marked the overthrow of Tsarism and the advent of the Russian Revolution. Comrades! The greatest victory would be for you to prevail over the soldiers and policemen via their conscience rather than through fear. Let us experiment with the revolutionary potential of non-violence. Let us imagine a politics of love, rather than of hate. Once people stop fearing for their lives, and if the comrades demonstrate their sincerity, then fence-sitters (and maybe even elements of the armed forces) will join the ranks of democracy. The constant tension, fear, and enmity will subside and the ordinary people will be encouraged to participate in the historic task of constructing Nepali democracy.

With love, best wishes and fraternal regards to all of you

Dilip Simeon
Madhu Sarin

New Delhi
March 1, 2006

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