Nepal’s Maoists are keen to tell anyone who’ll listen that they will respect property rights and market principles. The bourgeois-capitalist phase of Nepal’s development, one of them told me this morning, will be a long one; but, he added, it’ll still be an improvement on feudalism.
Even so, it’s not often that Maoists win elections. Final results are still coming in, and some constituencies need to be re-polled, but it is already clear that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has confounded all the pundits and trounced its rivals.
How did they do it? The answer is partly demographic. Two thirds of Nepalese are under 35, and most of these have never voted before. They are sick of the elderly high-caste gents who have run the system so far, and want something different. Conservative and monarchist sympathisers have done themselves few favours over the years. And the Maoists' majority may have been artificially inflated: there are credible reports of irregularities in the rural constituencies where the militias are strongest. (Foreign election observers, who rarely like to stray too far from five-star hotels, have none the less endorsed the poll.) Still, irregularities or no, the Maoists plainly won colossal support.
It’s a funny thing: the other country which has experienced a major Maoist insurgency in modern times is my native Peru. Visiting Nepal for the first time, I am struck by the similarity of the people to indigenous Peruvians. Their physiognomy is virtually identical, their music akin, their temperament comparable. And something in their common character evidently answers the essentially Millenarian call of rural Maoism.
Peruvian Indians, like Nepalese, are a contemplative, spiritual people. Yet one day, without warning, they gave themselves over to a decade of abominable violence, which stopped as suddenly as it had started following the capture of the Shining Path leader. In Nepal, the end has come through victory rather than defeat, but the appeal of the creed was essentially the same: the promise of total transformation, of a new era, of redemption through violence.
Is it, I wonder, a case of parallel evolution – two civilisations evenly suited to high mountains – or did some offshoot of the Himalayan peoples cross the Pacific in pre-Columbian times?
The population of Nepal is now almost 30,000,000, with a high growth rate. Four-fifths are Hindus and only one-tenth are Buddhists. Racially, they are a complicated mixture of East Asian (like the Tibetans) and Caucasian (like Northwest Indians). In general, the higher the altitude, the more Tibetan they tend to be. The East Asian-looking ones often don't like to venture below 4,000 feet altitude, which is considered the malaria line.
My assumption has been that the recent successes of Maoism in Nepal aren't driven by a new-found enthusiasm for backyard steel furnaces but are instead a proxy for some identity politics struggle within Nepal such as ethnicity. The Maoist uprising in Peru , for example, was more of a flare-up of the ancient Inca vs. Spaniard struggle, just with a few white intellectual leaders to provide it with a 20th century ideology.
But Nepal is a complicated place, so I don't know what's going on.