Dreams and nightmares of the Nepal conflict

Illustration: SUBHAS RAI

The Greek word ‘hagios’ means ‘holy’. A hagiography is therefore an admiring book about people who are praised for being much better than they are in real life. 

Abiram Baburam (Non-stop Baburam) by journalist Anil Thapa fits the definition of a hagiography perfectly. It follows the tradition of heroic Panchayat-era portrayals of the Sri 5, praising them to high heaven.

Thapa begins with this brilliant PhD graduate who chose the ‘hard’ life of politics while he led a Nepali students’ union in India. Baburam Bhattarai says he was inspired to enter politics after he saw Nepalis washing dishes in India, and wanted to start an armed class struggle back home for their salvation. 

When he returned to Nepal he adopted a mixture of Marxism and BP Koirala socialism as a means towards that end, joining various communist parties, even contesting elections, and ending up with the Maoists. 

Read Also: Need to remember, Sewa Bhattarai

As chief ideologue he was the architect of the revolution with Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Mohan Baidya that was to rage for 10 years. After the ceasefire, and after serving as an elected prime minister (2011-2013) Bhattarai set up his own Naya Shakti party, which won only one seat in Parliament (his own). This year he joined former comrade Upendra Yadav to form the Nepal Socialist Party. 

Most of Thapa’s book dwells on the ups and downs of the Maoist party, recounting how it persecuted Bhattarai, accusing him of being an Indian agent and putting him and his wife Hisila Yami under house arrest in Rolpa for several months.

Read also: Revolutionary violence, or terror?    

The last chapter of Thapa’s book lays out Bhattarai’s blueprint for a prosperous Nepal in which he thinks a new era has dawned after the 2015 Constitution.

Now 65, Bhattarai dreams of abolishing poverty and unemployment within a decade. He still does not think he has done anything wrong, and has nothing to repent. But Bhattarai does concede that he is ‘not a god’ and may have some weaknesses. It does not look like Thapa talked to any victims of Maoist violence or their families. It is also clear that neither he nor his relatives suffered from violence during the conflict. His conclusion is that Bhattarai cannot be called a ‘terrorist’. 

Read also: Marxism cannot die: PM Bhattarai, Prerana Marasini

To hear about the horror of war, we need to turn to another book: Nyayako Abasaan (The End of Justice) written and edited by Kantipur journalist Ghanashyam Khadka in collaboration with Gangamaya Adhikari, who with her husband Nanda Prasad, embarked upon multiple fast-unto-death campaigns to pressure the government to punish the Maoists who tortured and murdered their younger son, Krishna, in 2004.

After the ceasefire, the Adhikaris came to Kathmandu to meet politicians, only to be told to wait till after the elections in April 2008. When Pushpa Kamal Dahal was elected prime minister, he was naturally not going to listen to the Adhikari couple, nor other victims of the conflict. The next PM, Madhav Kumar Nepal, was no better.

Read also: When our son was killed, Gangamaya Adhikari

Meanwhile, Maoist cadres kept threatening the Adhikari couple to give up their campaign for justice. Bhattarai and his wife Hisila Yami asked the couple’s landlords to expel them, Khadka writes, and after some harrowing events the Adhikaris end up at the old-age home run by social worker Dilshova Shrestha. The author recounts how Yami did not leave the Adhikaris alone even there.  

Bhattarai could not have not known of the cruelty, and when he became prime minister in 2013 he had police arrest the couple from the gates of Baluwatar. On hunger strike, they were taken to Bir Hospital, where they broke their fast upon government assurances — promises that were repeatedly broken. Bhattarai added salt to their wounds by sarcastically claiming that he himself had killed their son, and the government should arrest him if it could. Nanda Prasad died in 2014, and his body is still in the Bir Hospital mortuary.

Read also: The sad saga of the Adhikari family, Damakanta Jayshi

The Maoist war took 17,000 lives in battles, executions and retaliatory state violence, pushing Nepal’s progress back by at least a decade. The movement spawned the Biplav faction, which is now hell bent on taking the country back to war. 

There has been no closure for relatives of the disappeared and victims. War crimes went unpunished, and the culture of violence and impunity continues to plague Nepali society to this day.

Thapa’s book does not address that side of the story, and is likely

to have little historical value. Khadka’s book is searing in the description of pain and suffering of the innocent, and an indictment of those culpable.  

Read also:

Hunger for Justice, Mackenzie Stallo

“How many times do we need to share our story?”, Seulki Lee

Ramesh Khatry teaches theology in colleges in Nepal.

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