Preparing for War in Rukum

by Li Onesto

Revolutionary Worker #1035, December 19, 1999

Nights here in the mountains of Nepal are usually cool this time of the year, and sometimes cold when a strong wind gets blowing. But when the sun reaches high noon and then crawls across the western sky, it is pleasantly hot.

A lot of the women here wear their long hair off their necks, out of their eyes, tied back in a bun. And this seems like the ideal hairdo for hiking up and down the mountains in the heat. So one day I ask Onsari, one of the women squad members, to help me fix my hair “Nepali-style.” She runs a comb through my hair several times, then quickly twists it into a tight knot and winds an elastic band around to keep it in place.

The next morning, on my way back from a trip to the forest, I see Onsari has been waiting for me. She’s sitting on a log, making something, and she flashes me a shy smile. When I walk over she hands me a wonderful present–she has crocheted bright red yarn into a beautiful hairband for me to wear in my new “Nepali hair style.”

Later in the day, I notice Onsari and Sunsara, another woman comrade, whispering in the corner. They clearly look like they’re up to something. They look over at me as if they’re trying to figure something out, then leave the room. When they come back, they’re carrying a pile of clothes. They ask Pravat, my translator, “Can you ask our sister comrade if she will put on these Nepali clothes?”

The two women kick all the men out of the room, and then they have great fun dressing me up. It takes a while to get the traditional sari wrapped around my body just right. Then Sunsara takes out a bright string of turquoise beads and puts it around my neck. I’m finally ready to go outside, where people have been waiting. Everyone greets me with claps and cheers. Pravat tells me, “Now you look just like one of our Nepali women comrades.”

Onsari has been traveling with me since we crossed the border into Rukum. We’ve been staying at this shelter now for a couple of days and I’ve noticed how, like other members of the people’s army, she easily integrates herself into the daily life of the village. Like most of the guerrillas in the people’s army, Onsari is from a peasant family and grew up in a village just like this one. And while we’ve been meeting, she has been hanging out with the local women, talking and helping out with daily tasks.

The squad relies on the masses to give them shelter. But I never see them take advantage of the hospitality of the people. They treat the people with respect. They engage the villagers in political discussions and bring them news about what’s happening in the war.

Every time we come into a village I notice how the squad immediately gathers firewood and fetches water. And they try to carry their own rice with them instead of always eating grains provided by the peasants.

The comrades tell me the people’s army here follows the principles developed by Mao’s Red Army during the revolution in China–the “Three Main Rules”: (1) Obey orders in all your actions; (2) Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses; (3) Turn in everything captured, and the “Eight Points for Attention”: (1) speak politely; (2) pay fairly for everything you buy; (3) return everything you borrow; (4) pay for anything you damage; (5) do not hit or swear at people; (6) do not damage crops; (7) do not take liberties with women; (8) do not ill-treat captives.

Today we are leaving this village in Rukum and I will have to say good-bye to Onsari. She is going back to another part of the district with her squad.

We pack up our things, and then, around 5:00 p.m., everyone gathers outside for a little farewell ceremony. The local cultural team sings a song about saying goodbye to comrades, and they add some verses about “Comrade Li”–how she’s like an “army braving the difficulties of going up and down the mountains.”

Actually, I’ve been feeling close to being defeated by the mountains in the last couple of days. But the song gets me ready for our next trek–it inspires me and reminds me how much the revolutionaries here appreciate our efforts to learn about and spread the news of the People’s War in Nepal.

There are a few brief speeches and the comrades present me with more gifts–one is a hand painted cloth of the nearby Himalayan peak Sisnu Himal. The painting also shows a “red village,” some reactionaries being blown up and members of the people’s army. It has been made special for me from the people’s army. Later as we are getting ready to leave, the platoon commander rushes in to give me another present. It is also a hand-painted cloth–this one made by a revolutionary prisoner in Rukum. The prisoner had sent it to platoon #2–and now the platoon is giving it to me!

Everyone who is not leaving with us lines up outside, and I walk down the line to say good-bye and give everyone a “lal salaam” (red salute). Onsari is at the end of the line and when I get to her, I reach back and touch my hair which is neatly tied back with the red hair band. I give her a big smile, then raise my fist in a revolutionary salute. I ask Pravat to tell Onsari “thank-you” and that I will always remember her. She returns the “lal salaam” and I can see that a few tears are welling up in her eyes.

We leave at 7:00 p.m. and reach our next shelter at around 1:00 a.m. It is the eve of election day and at one point, we can see on a mountain, far across the way, flames from a torchlight procession, dimly flickering in the growing darkness. We also hear the faint sound of gunfire echoing off the mountainsides–villagers demonstrating against the elections are firing into the air.

By the time we reach our shelter it is very late. But the people gathered here–high- level party and military leaders of this district–have been waiting anxiously for us and give us a little greeting ceremony. By the time we finish our meal of dal baht, it is 2:30 a.m. and the comrades can see that I’m tired so they tell me to go to sleep while they stay up to talk.
The Road to Armed Struggle

The next morning begins two days of discussion with the District Committee Secretary of Rukum and a member of the Party’s Central Committee who is in charge of the work in this main guerrilla zone.

The CC comrade starts off by telling me: “Our party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), was established on April 22 in 1949. After 50 years, it has matured. And our party has synthesized and developed into a real Maoist party–after many struggles, zig-zag development, and two-line struggle.”

He tells me that in the 1960s, revolutionaries in Nepal learned a lot from Mao’s polemics against the Soviet Union. And when Mao exposed Khrushchev and other leaders in the Soviet Union as “phony communists,” he says this had a big effect on people.

The Cultural Revolution in China also had a tremendous influence on the development of the party in Nepal. And in 1976, after Mao died, there was sharp two-line struggle over how to analyze the counter-revolutionary coup in China. Throughout all this, upholding Mao’s revolutionary line became a dividing line.

The CC comrade tells me how the party continued to lead mass struggle against the government. Then, he says:

“In 1985, the party adopted the line of seizing state power and the New Democratic Revolution and the strategy of protracted people’s war. It grasped Maoism at this time and adopted Maoism formally around 1989 and began to prepare for the initiation of armed struggle. The party (called Mashal at the time) was a participant in Revolutionary Internationalist Movement from the beginning.

“In 1993, the party passed a clear line guided by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the strategic view of protracted people’s war. It developed its organization mainly underground. The main function was preparation for initiation. The main contradiction was between the people and the reactionary government supported by Indian expansionism and imperialism. The party was clear on this. And it was clear on the line of protracted people’s war in the countryside to encircle the cities. There was a clear vision of the objective situation in the country, and it was decided that it was suitable to initiate the People’s War.”

In 1995, the party began making final preparations for the initiation of the armed struggle.

The District Secretary, “DS,” describes how the party here in Rukum had to go through some “rectification” in order to prepare for the initiation.

“There wasn’t a strong incorrect line here, so the rectification to prepare for the initiation was more aimed at some who were afraid to launch the armed struggle and did not want to make the necessary sacrifices. The leadership gave political classes to the district level leadership and some were won over while some retreated. Some new leadership came forward. Various documents were studied, including the “Strategy and Tactics” article [which is reprinted in the journal A World to Win, #23–Ed.] and many others written by the party leadership.

“At the mass level many campaigns were conducted. First we did mass propaganda and also different construction projects in order to spread the influence of the party. Before this campaign about 60 percent of the people were influenced in some way by the party. Afterwards it went to 80 percent. When more people were attracted to the party the leadership was encouraged.

“Just before the initiation, the party leadership gave many political classes to the masses because we saw the masses as the basis for the People’s War; and so if they were not politically conscious, we could not be successful in carrying out our program. After these campaigns we evaluated our own activities. In this evaluation period Comrade Prachanda [the General Secretary of the CPN (Maoist)] came here and summed up that the activities of the party here were very good and that the party leadership could carry out the line and conduct the People’s War. And this also encouraged the district leadership.

“The party reached the last stages of the preparation and fixed the date of the initiation. The leadership of the Western Region fixed some targets for military actions and Rukum was given the responsibility for carrying out some of them. The District leadership looked at its responsibilities very seriously and prepared in every aspect.”
Revolution and Counter-Revolution

The CC comrade outlines the different aspects of the preparation that went on in Rukum:

“In terms of political preparation, mass propaganda was given to the masses about New Democratic Revolution and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the necessity of protracted people’s war to be able to seize power. The forms of propaganda were mass meetings, cultural campaigns, postering and walling, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and political classes. This was done at a mass level as well as among cadres and the party leadership.

“This went on from 1992 to 1996 and accelerated in 1995. At the time there was sharp class struggle–in the villages there were actions against usurers, cheaters and liars, who were exploiting the people. These were all sabotage-type action, not annihilations. The party grasped various issues to wage mass struggle against the government. And there were many mass movements organized, among students, women, peasants, intellectuals.

“During the preparation about 10,000 people were charged with different cases in Rolpa. Large numbers of people were arrested and jailed. Some were tortured and released, others were kept in jail for a long time. Many were forced to go underground.

“The government oppressed the mass leaders and cadres viciously. There was the Darbot Operation and the Romeo Operation. These two oppressive campaigns prepared the objective ground for people’s war nationwide. Subjectively, the party was prepared internally. We spread propaganda about the oppression going on in Rolpa and this created a favorable political situation to start the People’s War. More people became in favor of the Maoists nationwide.

“There was struggle against the revisionist line and the party cadres following a revisionist line were driven out of the party. There was a rectification movement in the party. The party became more united.”

Next the CC comrade talks about the kind of military and “struggle” preparation they carried out:

“Three types of military organization were formed–fighting teams, village security teams, and volunteer teams. There was physical training and training in how to use weapons.

“The Revolutionary United Front has two functions. It is a means to conduct struggle on a central level. And on the local level, it is a means to conduct struggle as well as seize people’s power. There are two types of mass organizations. There are those that directly support the party and the party line–organizations of students, women, and peasants. And there are those who give indirect support to the party–like intellectuals, lawyers, and human rights groups, which cannot openly support the party but actively work in their different fields to indirectly build support for the People’s War. The mass organizations function as a web among the masses.”

In terms of “struggle preparation,” the CC comrade says there was legal and illegal struggle. Legal struggle was conducted through mass organizations, campaigns, and propaganda. At the same time, the party was leading different kinds of guerrilla actions–raids, ambushes, commando attacks and setting mines. He explains:

“Commando attack means a surprise attack by a small force against a bigger force, armed or unarmed. The purpose of a commando attack is to seize arms and annihilate and harass the enemy. The attack is very quick, the time is short.

“In terms of technical preparation, our weapons included three types–domestic, firearms, and explosives. Domestic weapons include knives, sticks and other simple types of weapons. Firearms include muzzle-loader rifles and automatic guns. Explosives are grenades and mines. The policy is to use basic domestic arms and advance to firearms.

“Before the initiation there was collection of all these weapons from the people and some were bought. The party also gave physical training to the fighter teams and training in how to use arms. The Central Military Commission of the Party’s Central Committee developed a guide book on the general military line and educated the fighting groups and leadership groups, down to the District Committees.”

*****

Tomorrow will be another full day of discussion. So I will have to wait to hear the rest of the story about how the People’s War got started in Rukum and how this district has become one of the strongholds of the revolution.

While we have been meeting today, the government has been trying to carry out the first phase of their elections. A comrade comes into the room and says, “We have been watching the nearby polling station all day. Come outside and have a look.”

We go outside and walk over to the edge of a nearby ridge. The comrade hands me his binoculars and points off to a spot in the distance. Through the binoculars I can see a small house, with a table set up outside. A couple of police are standing around with nothing to do. In this strong guerrilla zone, the masses have little faith in the government and most are boycotting the elections. The comrade tells me, “Except for a couple of people this morning, nobody has voted at this polling station all day .”

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