National question has been one of the most important components of the New Democratic Revolution in Nepal. Ever since the establishment of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) in 1949 the solution of the national question has been plaguing the communist revolutionaries more than anything else and it has been at the center of political disputes within the Party. As the present social formation in Nepal has been officially characterized by the Party as semi-feudal and semi-colonial1, the 'class' and 'national' aspects would both form inevitable components of the democratic revolution. Moreover, as Nepal is a multi-nationality state with several dozens of different nationalities at different levels of historical development inhabiting within its territorial expanse, the national question would have both 'external' (i.e. in relation to domination of world imperialism and regional expansionism) and 'internal' (i.e. in relation to the dominant nationality within the country) dimensions. In this context, the discussion of the national question at an international scale and among the communist revolutionaries with diverse experiences assumes particular significance for the ongoing New Democratic Revolution in Nepal.
However, within the limited scope of this paper we would confine our discussions to the brief theoretical premises of the national question, historical setting of the national question in Nepal, 'external' and 'internal' dimensions of the question in the context of Nepal, policy and programmes of the Party and some concluding observation.
The national question has given rise to intense theoretical debate in the international communist movement. As elsewhere there have been two extreme positions on this issue. One is to assign absolute primacy to the national question with a total neglect of the class perspective, and other is just the opposite of this, that is, the total denial of the national question as a bourgeois obsession. Both these erroneous positions arising from a metaphysical outlook have been long ago demolished by Lenin (1913, 1914) and we need not dwell on the issue any more. It would just be enough to reiterate Lenin's exhortation:
"The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle". (Lenin, 1914:410)
For a correct perspective on the national question it has to be viewed in historical materialist terms and in the concrete historical stage of development of society. This way it is seen in history that national movements have occurred only with the advent of modern capitalism and the capitalist economic logic of commodity production and a secure home market in the initial stage of development of capitalism seems to provide the material basis for the national movements. As Lenin succinctly puts it:
"Throughout the world, the period of final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements. For the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose population speaks a single language, with all obstacles to the development of that language and to its consolidation in literature eliminated. Therein is the economic foundation of national movements." (Lenin, 1914:396)
Hence, the formation of a national state with a common territory, common language, common economic life and common psychological make-up (Stalin, 1912:13) is an inevitable outcome of development of capitalism, and in that sense the continued existence of a multi-national state is a sign of historical backwardness. However, capitalism has two historical tendencies in its process of development, which give rise to two different or opposite attitudes to the national question. Whereas in its initial stage of final triumph over feudalism the tendency of capitalism would be to shatter all fetters of precapitalist absolutism and bureaucratic centralization and thus create independent national states, in the later stage of development capitalism the tendency would be towards transcending national borders for commercial intercourse and bringing into the forefront the antagonism between internationally united capital and the international working class movements and thus laying the foundation of proletarian internationalism. Therefore, the correct policy and programme of revolutionary Marxists on the national question would have to be based on three pillars as specified by Lenin, namely (i) complete equality of rights for all nations, (ii) the right of nations to self-determination including cessation, (iii) the unity of workers of all nations. (Lenin, 1914:454).
In the present era of imperialism a majority of the countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have been subjected to intense imperialist oppression and exploitation of various kinds. As a result the development of backward nations or nationalities has been thwarted by the stronger national capitalism in these oppressed countries and there have occurred only some islands of bureaucratic capitalism in the vast ocean of pre-capitalist formations. True to the "bigger fish eats smaller fish" logic of capitalism the stronger among the bureaucratic capitalists, like the Indian monopoly capitalists, have developed into regional expansionism and exercised domination in the surrounding countries as an adjunct of world imperialism. Within the oppressed countries with multiple nations or nationalities the dominant or the more developed nations or nationalities have exercised oppression and domination over the weaker and less developed nations and nationalities. Thus the national question has two dimensions in the oppressed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America; one, in relation to the domination of the whole country by the stronger imperialist or expansionist powers, and the other, in relation to the domination of weaker nations or nationalities by the more developed nation or nationality within the oppressed country. However, in the present era of imperialism as the weak national bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries cannot bring about democratic revolutions or lead national liberation movements on their own, the proletariat should lead both the democratic revolution and the national liberation movement in the oppressed countries. It is thus obvious that the national question is inseparably interlinked with the class question and would be simultaneously solved only through the New Democratic Revolution. This theoretical clarity is essential before we delve into the national question in Nepal or elsewhere.
The present state of Nepal was established in the second half of the 18th century through the forcible annexation of nearly sixty petty tribal and ancient states scattered along the mountainous tract in the south of the Himalayas under the leadership of one of the ancient state chieftains, Prithivi Narayan Shah of Gorkha. Prior to the formation of the unified state of Nepal this mountainous stretch of land of about 500 miles by 100 miles in size had been a melting pot of migrating hordes from the Indian plains and the Tibetan plateau since about three thousand years. Shielded from the north by the high Himalayas and a thick malarial forest to the south, this region was occasionally raided but never got absorbed into the several empires formed in the Indian plains. People of mostly Tibeto-Burman or Mongoloid stock inhabited the eastern and central parts, whereas people of mostly Indo-Aryan stock occupied the western part of the region. Till the first millennium A.D. the petty tribal societies in this hilly region seem to have followed their own gradual course of evolution, only exception being the highly fertile and strategically located Kathmandu Valley, which had become the citadel of early civilisation in line with the Greek city-states by the third century A.D. A new social epoch was ushered in the hilly region when after the 12th century A.D. there was a great influx of Hindu migrants of Indo-Aryan stock from the Indian plains in the wake of Moslem invasions there. The introduction of superior production technology with the attendant social division of labor long stereotyped into hierarchical caste and the establishment of petty feudal kingdoms through gradual assimilation of indigenous tribal communities in most of central and western hill regions by 14th century A.D., marked a qualitative change in the social and state structure of the region (Bhattarai, 1990). This also marked the start of the historical domination of the Indo-Aryan stock, particularly its upper caste strata of Brahmins and Chhetris, over the Tibeto-Burman and other stock in the region. The gradual expansion of British colonial empire in the Indian subcontinent touching onto the mountainous tract and the failure of the primitive economic formations of the hills to meet the increased needs of surplus extraction by the ruling classes, provided the historical premises for the unification of petty states under the leadership of one of the Hindu kings of the Indo-Aryan stock, Prithivi Narayan Shah, in mid-18th century. The processes of state expansion continued till the first quarter of the 19th century when the direct collusion with British colonial expansion limited the boundary of the state to the present level. The semi-colonial position was thrust upon the state with the ignominious Sugauli Treaty of 1816 by the British colonialist and has been further buttressed by a set of unequal treaties with 'free' India in subsequent years.
As the tenth descendant of the founder of the state of Nepal presides over the state even today* and there has been minimal change in the socio-economic condition of the predominantly hilly region inhabited by the petty peasantry, the basic class character of the Nepalese state founded over two hundred years ago remains almost unchanged even though cosmetic changes have been introduced into its outward form from time to time. Also, since the present Nepalese state was founded not on a national basis but on the basis of the pre-capitalist surplus extraction drive of the feudal ruling classes, internally, and collusion with the imperialists and expansionists, externally, it is obvious that the national question would remain unresolved within the present dispensation. Thus the historical process of development of Nepalese society and state has left behind two sets of national problems to be resolved by the New Democratic Revolution, namely, (i) semi-colonial domination of all the nationalities by imperialism and expansionism, externally, and ii) domination of Tibeto-Burman and other nationalities by the ruling Indo-Aryan or Khas nationality, internally.
National Question: The 'External' Dimension
The 'external' dimension of the national question in Nepal can be discussed in terms of semi-colonial domination of Indian expansionism and neo-colonial domination of other imperialist powers.
Semi-Colonial Domination of Indian Expansionism
Indian expansionism as an heir to British colonialism in South Asia has been the principal external enemy of the Nepalese people. Not only because of the geographically locked position from the three accessible sides (the northern side bordering China is virtually inaccessible due to high Himalayan mountains) but mainly through the historically thrust upon unequal treaties and developed unequal relations, Nepal has been subjected to the semi-colonial domination of Indian expansionism. This domination can be discerned in the political, economic and socio-cultural spheres.
The 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of so-called peace and friendship, and the Letter exchanged with it is the basic document formalizing semi-colonial domination of Nepal by Indian expansionism. The most obnoxious contents of the Treaty and the Letter are the so-called security commitments towards each other, restrictions to purchase arms by Nepal, "national treatment" to be given to the nationals of the other in one's territory and the virtual scrapping of the political border between the two countries (Bhasin, 1970). The infamous 'Nehru doctrine' of the Himalayas acting as the northern border of India in the matters of security is too well-known to be recounted here. The constant political manipulations exercised by the Indian rulers to put their puppets in power, armed intervention to crush rebellion in Nepal (e.g. Indian army operation to put down peasant uprising led by Bhim Dutta Pant in far-western Nepal in 1953, etc.) are enough examples of the political domination of Indian expansionists in Nepal.
Economic imperatives are the most important aspect of semi-colonial domination of Nepal by the Indian expansionists, which are ensured through a number of unequal treaties including the 1950 Treaty and the periodic trade and transit treaties. The basic form of this economic domination has been to keep Nepal as a captive market for the Indian manufactured goods, though other forms like exploitation of water resources, cheap labor, etc. are also quite important.
Over the years Indian monopoly capitalists have been in near total control over the whole economy of Nepal including industry, trade and finance. According to one study made by an Indian scholar some decades ago, Indian capitalists control about eighty percent of the Nepalese industry and trade (Rawat, 1972). Currently it is said that out of dozen or so billionaires in Nepal most of them belong to the Marwari capitalists emigrated from India. The ever tightening of semi-colonial stranglehold of Indian expansionists over Nepal can be judged from the simple fact that whereas before the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 Nepal exported five times more than its imports to India, presently Nepal imports six times more than its exports from India2. Though the total share of foreign trade with India has declined from a staggering more than 95 percent in the 1950s to about 30 percent at present, India is still the dominant trade partner of Nepal. The glaringly exploitative and unequal exchange relations with India is manifest from the fact that whereas more than 90 percent of the Nepalese exports constitute low value added primary products, over 70 percent of the imports from India are high value added manufactured goods. Similarly the unequal exchange relation applies in the case of export of cheap labor force from Nepal to India, including the poor Nepalese mercenary soldiers serving as cannon fodders in the Indian army.
Another area of economic domination by the Indian expansionists has been the exploitation of the vast water resources of Nepal, through a set of unequal treaties or agreements, including the Koshi River Agreement (1954), Gandak River Agreement (1960), Mahakali River Agreement (1996). How Nepal has been duped through these river projects can be imagined when one realizes that from the Tanakpur project at the border river Mahakali, Nepal is to receive a mere 7 mega-watts of electricity out of 125 mega-watts and 150 cusecs of water out of 20,000 cusecs. As the demand for commercial energy increases in future Indian bourgeoisie will devise further means to plunder the massive hydro-electric potential of Nepal.
Socio-cultural domination is just a means to or a result of economic and political domination by the imperialists and expansionists. Accordingly, Indian expansionists have sought to exercise social and cultural domination of Nepal through fanning Hindu religious jingoism, or through corrupting the young minds with pornographic Hindi films and magazines, or through exercising control over the print media.
Neo-colonial Domination of Imperialists Powers
As Nepal was incorporated into the British colonial empire as a semi-colony till 1947, British imperialism had devised two ways of domination and exploitation of Nepal. One was to use the Himalayan state of Nepal as a political dependency and buffer state cushion against the Chinese empire in the north; and the other was to exploit the cheap, militant and non-Hindu labor force of Nepal in the British imperial army. After the departure of the British colonialists from South Asia in 1947 the semi-colonial legacy over Nepal was handed over to the Indian expansionists and only a part of the mercenary Gurkha soldiers were kept in the Biritish army, which continues till today. Apart from this historical semi-colonial relation with Biritish imperialism, Nepal is seen to have developed neo-colonial relation with other powers like Japan, Germany, U.S.A. and others only after the 1950s and 1960s.
Though the U.S. imperialism tried to use Nepal as a political springboard against socialist China in the 1960s and 70s, after the capitalist restoration in China the U.S. imperialist domination over Nepal has also taken more of an economic form than political. Other imperialist powers exercising domination over Nepal are mainly Japan and Germany and their form of domination is through trade and finance. Apart from the individual imperialist powers, the multilateral imperialist financial institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB etc, are also increasingly exercising neo-colonial domination over Nepal.
However, because of the historical and geo-political advantage enjoyed by Indian expansionism over other imperialist powers, the former is bound to exercise an exclusive domination over Nepal even in the future and in that sense the question of Indian expansionism is practically the most important aspect of national question in Nepal.
National Question: The 'Internal' Dimension
For its relatively small size, Nepal encompasses an immense diversity in racial and ethnic groups and economic subsystems, mainly because of its ecological differentials and peculiar historical experience of providing a safe haven for all sorts of migrant hordes from the north and south. However as noted earlier, the Hindus of Indo-Aryan, stock that migrated into the area after the 12th century A.D. to escape the religious persecution in India and rapidly intermingled with the original Aryans, the Khas, of the western part of the region, have come to constitute the dominant racial groups that have forcibly subjugated the Mongoloids and Austric races, and after the forcible unification of petty tribal states, gradually developed into the dominant synthetic 'Nepali' nationality. The dominated Mongoloid (or Tibeto-Burman) and Austric racial groups were suppressed under the unified state power and were left behind in the evolutionary process. Only after the penetration of foreign merchant and financial capital since the 1950s leading to spurious and uneven bureaucratic capitalist development and ushering in of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, have these dominated groups started asserting their rights and the nationality question started surfacing in the country. Hence, though the present state hegemonized by the rulers of Indo-Aryan nationality claims the contrary, Nepal is multi-nationalities, multi-lingual, multi-religions and multi-cultural country [CPN (Unity Center), 1994] and the national or nationality question assumes serious proportions within the country.
At present in Nepal there are several dozens of nationalities and ethnic groups of different levels of historical development but with their own distinct territorial base, language and other identities. Of these the ruling Khas nationality is naturally at the highest ladder of development whose language, Nepali, enjoys official patronage of the state. Next comes the Newari nationality in the Kathmandu Valley and the Maithili and Bhojpuri nationalities in the more developed parts of the southern Terai (plain) region. Then there are more than twenty non-Aryan indigenous nationalities mostly confined to particular regions of the country. For example Rai, Limbu, Lepcha, Sherpa, Sunwar in eastern hills; Tamang in central hills; Gurung, Magar, Thakali, Chhantel in western hills; Tharu in western Terai and inner Terai; Dhimal, Rajbanshi, Gangai, Meche in eastern Terai and Majhi, Darai, Kumal, Raute, Raji, Danuwar in Inner Terai. Apart from these, there are distinct communities like Bhotes in the Himalayan region and Bengalis in the Terai region, and religious groups like Sikhs, Jains and Moslems in the Terai.
Whereas none of these nationalities or ethnic groups constitutes a majority in the total population of the country, only the Khas nationality and its language exercise hegemony over and enjoy the patronage of the state and other nationalities and ethnic groups and their languages suffer domination and discrimination by the state. As a result many of the indigenous ethnic groups like Chepang, Raute, Raji etc. are at the verge of virtual extinction. In recent years different nationalities have started protesting against their domination and fighting for their equal rights in all spheres, which is quite logical and justified. But, as elsewhere, the reactionary ruling classes and their imperialist masters have sought to give the nationalities movement a communal and sectarian colour and divorce it from the overall New Democratic movement in the country. It is therefore, the bounden duty of the revolutionary communists to take up the nationalities questions seriously and make it a part and parcel of the New Democratic movement.
Policy and Programme of the Party
CPN (Maoist)3, as the mainstream revolutionary Communist Party in Nepal, has given due consideration to the important national question and formulated clear policy and programme to solve this question.
On the 'External' Question
Having characterized the present Nepalese society and state as semi-feudal and semi-colonial, the Party has formulated the strategy and tactics of New Democratic Revolution to solve the problem. Accordingly the 'national' aspect of the revolution has been given due emphasis in the 'Political Report' and 'Political Resolution on Minimum Programme' approved by the Unity Congress of the Party [CPN (Unity Center) 1991]. The Party has identified the contradiction of the Nepalese people with feudalism, comprador and bureaucratic capitalism, imperialism and Indian expansionism as the basic contradiction, during the period of New Democratic Revolution. Similarly, in the all important question of determining principal contradiction or the main enemy, the Party says: "At present the target of attack or the principle contradiction is the contradiction of the Nepalese people with domestic reaction composed of feudal, bureaucratic and comprador capitalist classes backed by Indian expansionism ".[CPN (Unity Center), 1991:60] This identification of imperialism in general, and Indian expansionism, in particular, as the basic enemy of the people helps to formulate correct national policy & programme for the New Democratic Revolution.
Accordingly in the 'Minimum Programme' on national question the Party has categorically declared that after the New Democratic Revolution all forms of imperialist and expansionist domination and exploitation shall be ended, all unequal treaties shall be abrogated and relations shall be established with all countries on equal basis. (op.cit).
On the 'Internal' Question
On the nationality question inside the country, too, the Party has clear-cut policy and programme. In the "Resolution on Nationality Question in Nepal" adopted by the First National Conference held in 1994, the Party has declared Nepal as a multinational and multi-lingual country and having accepted the principle of rights of nations to self-determination, proposed autonomy for different nationalities keeping in view the low level of development of the nationalities and other specificities of the country. Among the 14-Point Programme for the liberation of nationalities include establishment of a New Democratic state with joint participation of all nationalities, ending all forms of oppression and exploitation based on nationality, language, religion etc, formation of a council of nationalities with proportional representation from the autonomous regions of nationalities along with the central people’s congress, provision of equal treatment and opportunity by the state to all the languages, and so on.
Similarly the Party has a clear policy to closely associate the nationalities movement with the New Democratic movement and guard against both the right and the ‘left’ deviations on the national question. A mass organization called All Nepal Nationalities Association* has been organizing different nationalities on the above lines with some success.
In the present day world marked by superpower imperialism and in the case of South Asia dominated by Indian expansionism, the national question assumes great significance in the agenda of proletarian revolution. Hence, the Maoist communist revolutionaries in particular ought to do their best to divest the reactionary coatings off the bourgeois nationalism and make a judicious use of its progressive kernel to further the class struggle of the revolutionary masses. Nowhere is it more urgent and important than in the case of Nepal where the unity of all the progressive forces opposed to Indian expansionism and its puppets would be needed to thwart the impending danger of external armed intervention against the people's war led by the Maoist revolutionaries.
1. Bhasin, A.S. (1970), Documents on Nepal's Relations with India and China (1949-1966), Academic Books Ltd.
2. Bhattarai, Baburam (1990), Nepal: A Marxist View, Kathmandu.
3. C.P.N. (Unity Center) (1991), Political Documents (Nepali).
4. C.P.N. (Unity Center) (1994), Resolution on Nationality Question in Nepal (Nepali).
5. Lenin v.I. (1913), "Critical Remarks on the National Question" in Collected Works Vol.20, Progress Publisher, Moscow, 1964.
6. Lenin, v.I. (1914), "The Right of Nations to Self-Determination," in op.cit.
7. Stalin, J.V. (1912), Marxism and the National Question, National Book Center, Calcutta.
8. Rawat, P.C. (1972), Indo-Nepal Economic Relations, New Delhi.
* This was before King Birendra, along with his whole family, was massacred in June 2001 and succeeded to his throne by his brother Gyanendra.
* After the CPN (Maoist) further developed its policy on the national question, particularly after the Politburo Meeting in January 1997, separate national liberation front organizations came into being, e.g., Magarat National Liberation Front, Tamuwan National Liberation Front, Tharuwan National Liberation Front, Kirat National Liberation Front, Tamang National Liberation Front, Newar National Liberation Front, Madhesi National Liberation Front, etc.
1 Though there are at least nine organizations and groups that use the nomenclature or claim the history of "CPN" at present, ranging from the revolutionary party CPN (Maoist) to the arch reactionary clique of CPN (UML), with several neorevisionist and revisionist groups in between including NCP (Mashal), CPN (Unity Center) and others, it is quite surprising to know that all of them formally characterize the present Nepalese society and state as 'semi-colonial'. We would, however consider here CPN (Maoist), which has been leading people's war in the country and is a participating member of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), as the only real and mainstream organization of communist revolutionaries in Nepal.
2 In the fiscal year 1994/95, total Nepalese exports to India was Rs.3369.2 million and imports from Indian was Rs.20791.2 million, with gross deficit of Rs.17422.1 million (Nepal Rastra Bank)
3 CPN (Maoist) was called 'CPN (Unity Center)’ prior to the third plenum of the Party held in March 1995. Hence many of the published party documents still bear the old name of the Unity Center. This should not be confused with the rightist liquidationist group, which still uses the nomenclature of 'Unity Center'.