[For more coverage of the struggle in Nepal, please click HERE.]
Story and photos by Jed Brandt
May 3, 2010 -- jedbrandt.net -- From here in Kathmandu the monarchy ruled this diverse
mountain nation for 200 years. This is where the
national elite live, with its political parties, banks and walled
compounds. But the streets now belong to the people, and it is this
"people's power" movement that they fear.
Kathmandu is chaotic on a normal day, but for May 1 the Maoists
mobilised at least 500,000 people to the steets with both discipline and
revelry. The Janandolan III, or popular uprising, they
promised is here.
The Kalinki gathering
We positioned ourselves by one of the 18 gathering points for
the May 1 events. Each of the gathered marches then moved
through the streets to Martyrs' Field in the Kathmandu city centre.
By 10 am on the morning of May 1, thousands of restaurant
and hotel workers assembled around us at Kalinki. As contingents came
in from every direction to the central intersection, cries of "Lal
salaam!" (Red salute!) rose to meet the latest arrival.
The sight of city workers and students meeting country farmers was
heart warming. And it is in marked contrast to the bigoted hostility and
fear the elites express toward the working classes.
In Nepal, the hammer and sickle is a living symbol of who this
movement is: the sickle is for the farmers, the hammer for the workers.
They are set together on the red flag of proletarian revolution.
Young Communist League cadre in their matching
tracksuits set up perimeters protecting the march route – They hold
hands in lines along the road and down the side streets leading in,
facing off with lines of riot cops in black body armour.
Inside the crowd, recently trained protesters formed circles within
circles, like an onion, to keep the protests orderly and remain prepared
in case of the violent repression that the prime minister has so
Motorcycles provided communication between units. At the head of the
march, a man in sunglasses and a flak jacket kept a cell phone to his
ear. Messengers are constantly coming and going.
Human rights observers in blue uniforms stood off to the side
chatting with teams of medics dressed in white. Among the Maoists,
neighbourhood associations all have their own colour coordination and many
of the country people come wearing the bright saris and wraps that are
their traditional dress. It is the first time since I arrived in Nepal
that I’ve seen the famous ethnic diversity of this country gathered in one
place – and there is an undeniable fraternal spirit in the air.
Rivers of protesters flowed by each other in swirls and cross-currents.
A manifestation of the people
Right near us in Kalinki is the bus station where young men, women
and teenagers have been arriving in the past two days from Nepal's
western districts. All of Nepal has been sending its youth to the
capital – in high hopes and in deepest seriousness.
Maoist hopes for an overwhelming turnout has
been achieved. They asked for "one member from every family to attend"
and from the numbers alone, they have come close.
The crowds of revolutionary protesters are living in occupied
universities, private schools, shopping malls and construction sites.
Many of these marchers are country people -- seeing the capital city for
the first time. A few points remain under the direct power of the
state -- the halls of government and the formidable barracks of the
Nepal army. Organised, with discipline, this movement intends to bring
down the current, unelected prime minister and begin to reshape the
The Maoists have promised that their massive display in this city
would be non-violent, and so far it has been. For weeks, the isolated
government warned that Maoist armed violence was imminent. The accusations, made without sources or evidence, came masquerading as
news. This is a country with two opposing armies, but the government was
still unable to arrest more than a few Maoist cadre for weapons, mostly kukhuri
knives, plus one grenade.
All the hysterical reports reveal the fears of a government that is
facing a human siege from a powerful popular movement.
In fact, the only weapons I have seen are in the hands of the government's Armed
Police, the militarised force that faced the Maoists during the previous
civil war. Nepal army soldiers were mainly visible on their barracks
roofs, in their green fatigues, watching the crowd.
So far the police presence has been light. Platoons of Armed Police
are stationed at strategic buildings and mingle with the crowds of
protesters. During two days of high tension protest that preceded May 1, there have been no major incidents of violence.
Three Nepal amy soldiers were seized by the Maoists for spying on
the crowd, displayed before reporters and then turned over to the
Armed Police rousted some encampments early in the mobilisation, and
kept squatters out of a few campuses. Since the Maoist forces arrived
in earnest, police backed off. Now, whole sections of the city are
`Revolution is good'
"Tribuvan University was named for a king", said Bharat, a
literature student in the national university told me while groups of
village women filed into his school. "Now we are debating whether to
call it Republic University or People's University.”
He told me 18 campuses are now occupied, with shopping centres,
private homes and construction sites gathering the rest.
"The system isn't right. Our weak infrastructure is the symptom of a
broken political system", he said. "We do not agitate to destroy.
Revolution is good. Revolutionary students do not allow police to enter
the schools, and we will welcome everyone until the government falls."
Prime Minister MK Nepal said street protests would "not sustain long"
and that the strategy of "state capture through street protests would
be a suicidal step for the Maoists".
MK Nepal is meeting daily with his Indian and US military advisors – so that when the Maoists charge that he
serves the Indian establishment there is more than a little truth to it. He constantly demands that these protests be called off – which does
not appear likely. He has warned the army and police would be deployed
in force if the post-May Day general strike turned violent. "The duty
of all security agencies and government employees is to enforce law and
The Maoists gave their answer. "It is a great mistake on their part
to think that they could take us under control through the deployment of
troops", the main Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’s leader Prachanda warned the sitting
government. He claimed openly that many among the security apparatus
support the coming of democracy to Nepal, and reiterated his call for
them to join in for the change the people are plainly demanding.
The Maoists have described the struggle that starts May 1 a
"decisive conflict" to bring a radical, democratic constitution and
depose the current government to restructure the state. Gajural, general secretary of the UCPN (M), recently reiterated that, "The protests are not meant to
capture state power, but to change the incumbent government."
Maoist leader Badal termed this people's power movement a proletarian
revolt. "We are gearing for the final push. Prepare to dig graves for
Over and over the Maoists have pledged that they will not initiate
violence. But they are also not naive. Their People's Liberation Army
(PLA) is on alert in UN-supervised cantonments. And the the UCPN (M)
senior leadership has disappeared from view – which is obviously a wise
precaution against a government decapitation strike.
Should the government’s army use lethal violence against the people,
everyone in Nepal expects the confrontations to be armed on both sides.
So for anyone wanting a peaceful solution – the hundreds of thousands
now in the street offer the best chance, perhaps even the last chance.
Convergence on Martyrs' Field
Eighteen marches converged at Martyrs' Field by midday. People simply overflowed the huge park, and then overflowed the
surrounding streets. The city was packed for kilometres in all
directions, with speakers echoing the speeches from the centre stage.
Prachanda, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, Kiran and other Maoist leaders from
cultural and military fronts all shared the stage. Cameras were mounted
on booms to capture the speeches. The international press has been
"I searched the crowd for people who were pressured or forced to
attend", said a reporter for an English-language daily associated with
the Congress party. "Not only couldn't I find any one who didn't want to
be here, but many complained there wasn't enough room on buses for
everyone back home to attend. The people are here to make history."
Singers and dancers enacted scenarios with meaning for the coming
days. In one act, women dancers in green silk fatigues recreated this May 1 march on stage, with flags waving and proud faces. Then,
ominously, troupes of male dancers in dressed in Nepal army green and Armed Police
blue pulled out batons and knives. They attacked the dancers. Waves of
people fell back before the onslaught, some were rescued by comrades;
some fell dramatically to the floor. Suddenly the stage was overtaken by
a rousing surge of people, including PLA fighters, who together pushed
the army and police into the wings. When a group of dancers
representing soldiers returned to the stage, they were holding the
national Nepali flag as an offering and concession. They handed the
flag over to dancers representing the PLA and they all held the flag
high together and the crowd roared.
This city is alive. The Maoists may not have termed this uprising an
"insurrection", but the living city is under their control, with
government buildings simply surrounded by protesters. Dancing and
singing are everywhere. Troubadours, poets and agitators move from one
cluster to another. When one song ends, another singing crowd turns the
No last-minute midnight deal
By the evening of May 1, the streets were still full. Groups of
protesters were traveling past each other on route to their sleeping
As I gathered my thoughts to report on this day, a young
photojournalist from one of Nepal's daily papers called to tell me
negotiators may have reached an agreement on a new constitution. I rushed to the Radisson Hotel where the Maoists were meeting with
capitalist Congress party and the pro-government Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) leaders. After the overwhelming Maoist show of popular
support, many expected the prime minister to resign.
Among the dozen reporters milling around the hotel entrance, word was
that an agreement of some kind had been reached. It was Dr Baburam
Bhattarai, the Maoists' intellectual architect, who appeared first to a
blitz of camera flashes and questions.
"This government should first resign and pave the way for a national
unity government", Bhattarai said. "They were not prepared to make this
agreement. So we will move forward with the general strike."
Some of the reporters heckled him – it was those employed by TV
networks associated with rival parties. Bhattarai paid them little mind,
and left quickly. With the failure of negotiations, the senior Maoist
leaders pulled out of public sight, and the general strike is now in
full effect – with no planned end. The Maoists are open for new
discussion, but no signs point to retreat.
The general strike
At 7 am on May 2, marchers were already in the street. They
occupied every major intersection in the city. All stores were closed
and shuttered. Protesters made way for emergency vehicles, press,
diplomatic cars and water trucks servicing the crowd. The clamour of
traffic was gone. The air (for once!) was clear. The only sounds were human, groups in conversation, the rise and fall
of chanting groups moving in every direction.
Clustered in groups of 50 to a few hundred, protesters filed out
of occupied campuses, shopping centres and open fields converted into
first-aid centres and communal kitchens. Dancers performed for circles
of protesters and poets moved like troubadours from corner to corner.
Near Singa Durbar, the government administration centre, hundreds of
riot cops behind steel barricades and coils of barbed wire faced off
with the front edge of the protestors. They blocked the drive leading
from the prime minister’s walled compound in Baluwatar.
Files of protesters moved in and out, then practiced running surges
back and forth before the police lines, marshals kept the lines tight.
Hundreds of people sat in groups, passing newspapers around for news,
clustering in meetings and sharing water from trucks festooned with red
flags. Then along the side, a hundred or a thousand would charge at
full speed with flags waving, then stop on a dime, and run back the
other way and do it again.
When an ambulance turned onto the blocked street, Lekhanath Neupane, a
philosopher and leader of the Maoist-aligned All Nepal National
Independent Students' Union (Revolutionary) directed the blockade to
make way even while they waved their arms in frustration. Everyone stood
up to let the ambulance pass, then closed in immediately behind it,
chanting and maintaining the blockade.
"Today is a peaceful demonstration only", Neupane said. "We will not
stop lifelines for the people. Our process is rising to the heights day
The blockade has been constant from dawn to dusk, when smoke started
rising several streets down. Pyres were torched at a dozen locations
near the city centre in symbolic funeral of the current government and
in theatrical climax to the day's action.
"We will not start violence", said one student whose slight build
gave no clue to the years he spent in the People's Liberation Army
during the People's War. "After five or seven days... we will see.
Nobody is going home until we win. This is our country. These are our
He was pensive, reminding me of the battles he had seen before and
the cost of the fight. Some the Maoists won, hundreds of others were dead.
His brother was among the first martyrs in the war, a school teacher
turned soldier, killed by police in 1996. Many other friends have
Much of the crowd is young enough that they were not combatants
during the armed conflict. They are excited and eager to prove
"This is prime minister Nepal. We just killed him and burn him. He is
doing wrong for our country", said a young man with a shaved head and
an accent of African-American English he had picked up at school in Los
Angeles. He told me his name was KTM Gangsta and that he was a rapper
and a rebel.
"We want a new culture, a new government. We don't bow down to no
man. We want to rule ourselves. Freedom means the rule of people and we
don't give a shit about big talk and big speeches. We will take bullets
if we have to."
"We have three points!", another young man interjected, visibly
frustrated with the off-message enthusiasm of KTM Gangsta. Dewash Gautam
said, "People's power, youth power and the crisis in capitalism are
pushing this movement."
Speaking with the direct cadence of a trained cadre, he said that
among educated young people the support for the Maoists was 40%, but
among the illiterate people it was 90%. "It is the great mass of people
who will help us to win this time. If we lose now, we will need 100
years to rebuild the communist movement in Nepal. This is the last
He inquired if I was familiar with Rage Against the Machine, a band
"We are not here to rage alone but to build something new", he said
as the fire died down.
The protests have no centre. The Maoists have left stores open from 6
to 8 pm for food shopping, medicines and essential supplies. Some
restaurants are open in the tourist areas and newspaper stands keep the
papers outside the shop with the shutters down.
Groups of the Maoist Young Communist League cadre broke off from a torch march at dusk to enforce
the strike closure on non-essential stores. A crew of 20 young men
ran past me to some shops to pull the shutters down on stores that were
open. When they aggressively surrounded a defiant restaurant
proprietor, pounding on his windows, the YCL squad leader approached to
mediate. The doors were closed.
The general strike is national, with protest programs in six cities:
Pokhara, Durang, Dipaiel, Janakpur and Nepaljung; Kathmandu is the centre,
and the centre cannot hold.
* * *
May 3, 2010 -- At dusk, police fired tear gas at marchers near Gongabu bus
terminal, and live ammunition into the air to push back the crowds. No one was seriously injured, nor was anyone too shaken at the
People are determined and won't be scared off. Rallies
throughout the city.
Nepal general strike Day 3: Ring Road red revolution
By Jed Brandt
May 4, 2010 -- The ring road that circles Kathmandu was surrounded today in rings
of protesters. Twenty-eight kilometres long in two rows, sometimes four. WIth 18
marches of roughly 20,000+ each.
At dusk, the Maoist leaders Prachanda, Bhattarai and Kiran drove down
Again, overwhelming. Have to go.
[Jed Brandt is a US reporter writing from Nepal. His reports
and photographs appear on jedbrandt.net, where this article first appeared.
He is a participant of the Kasama
Project. These articles have been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Jed Brandt's permission.]