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We will establish an army of 100,000 people

Sep 21 - Laxman Tharu, the former Maoist who quit the party in 2006, has for the past few years been busy trying to organize his Tharu support base. More recently, he has formed an alliance with political groups from other ethnicities — the Federal Democratic National Forum (FDNF) - of which is one of the five chairpersons. In addition, he is chairperson of the Tharu Autonomous State Council. Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel spoke to him about the reasons why he joined and later left the Maoists, the nature of his current political organization and its goals.

"The right to self-determination is not the right to secession. It means that the rights of indigenous people over the water, land and forests (jal, jamin, jungle) of their traditional homelands should be ensured. This cannot happen through the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Maoist leaders believe."

Q: Which groups are included in the Federal Democratic National Forum (Sanghiya Loktantrik Rastriya Manch) and what are your goals?

Tharu: Our Forum includes the Tharuhat State Council, Limbuwan State Council, Khambuwan , Tamsaling, Newa, Tamuwan, Magarat and Dalit. Before the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections we were an alliance of only three organisations: Tharuhat, Limbuwan and Tamsaling. We have two CA members.

We are trying to create an organization including all Adibasi/Janajatis (indigenous people), Khas — Chhetri, Bahun and Thakuri. This is a party formed on a federal model.

We are looking for alternatives for Nepal. The Nepali Congress (NC), which was formed as a democratic party, has been around for 60 years. But it was unable to institutionalize socialism according to the vision of B.P. Koirala. It is not a democratic party. It is a party of traitors to the country. As soon as it gains power, it starts selling the countries rivers and destroying its forests.

After the 1990 Jana Andolan, and through the People’s War the communist parties gained in strength. We had thought that the Maoists would be able to represent us and so we joined their People’s War. But even they could not give Adivasi/Janajatis, Dalits, Muslims and people from backwards regions the direction that we were seeking. They’ve been trying to get away by talking rubbish, by propagating nonsensical ideologies. But we realized that they’re not even real communists, even Prachanda is not a communist. They have completely moved away from the principles they taught party cadres and the public during the People’s War. They have become more interested in their own material wealth.
Communism has failed the world over. Why did this happen? Because the leaders of the so-called communist parties behaved in a way that was even more disgusting than that of capitalists.

Q: But you were a member of the Maoist party for many years.

Tharu: I was just a normal person with a small job. Then, in Kailali in 2054 B.S [1997], elections to local bodies were held. Fourteen houses belonging to Kamaiyas were burnt down because they did not vote for the Shahs and the Singhs. I was in college at that time. We were beaten up and our cycles and vehicles were vandalized. When we went to the administration and the courts, they ignored us. Then, in Bardiya, Gola VDC, a powerful person managed to steal 135 bighas of land belonging to Tharus by registering it under his name. He turned the owners of the land into tenants, into Kamaiyas. These were grave crimes. We couldn’t bear this.

At this time, I began to understand how unjust and criminal the rulers of this country were. I began to look for people who were fighting against the system. As the Maoists were waging a war against feudals I went in search of them. There were hardly any Maoists in the far west until 2055 [1998]. I found a contact number in the Janadesh newspaper and journalists helped me get in touch with Maoists. I then met Badal and Pampha Bhushal and joined the party.
To a certain extent, I am happy that I joined the Maoists. They taught us how to fight, to revolt against injustice. I feel pride in that. But the irony is the leaders of the same party that waged this struggle are now acting like mega-feudals and mega-capitalists.

Q: How did you grow disillusioned with the Maoists?

Tharu: Discontent and debate arose at the party’s Second National Convention held in 2057 [2000]. At that time Prachanda’s photo was made public and there was talk that he should be given supreme authority (pradhikar). The party was on the verge of a spilt at that point because of the conflict between Baburam Bhattarai and Prachanda. It was there that ethnic/caste issues were raised for the first time. It was Jai Krishna Goit who raised the issue of federalism and the right to self-determination. We had good relations with him. He argued that the Maoist party was not at all committed to federalism and the right to self-determination. Being communists, he argued, the Maoists would never accept these demands. Then, at the convention, he said that the Tarai was a separate state, that it wasn’t part of Nepal. The party then removed him as Chairman of the Madhes Mukti Morcha, and installed Matrika Yadav in his place.

Baburam and Prachanda themselves decided to hold a great debate on the question. But no resolution was reached at that time. We had to focus most of our energy on war; we put these issues to the side for the time being.

Q: So Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai opposed federalism at that time?

Tharu: Its not that they opposed federalism, the debate was about the means or methods of its implementation. They believed that federalism and the right to self-determination should happen as part of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We were more interested in the international laws and conventions that guarantee the rights of indigenous people.

The right to self-determination is not the right to secession. It means that the rights of indigenous people over the water, land and forests (jal, jamin, jungle) of their traditional homelands should be ensured. This cannot happen through the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Maoist leaders believe. The Maoists may say that they are going to form federal provinces according to ethnicity and that the rights of all groups will be ensured, but these are only tactical slogans to get the support of the people. They have no intention of delivering on it. Otherwise why would the in charge of their Tharu State Committee be a Kandel, the in charge of their Tamsaling State Committee a Sapkota.

Q: When exactly did you quit the Maoist party?

Tharu: The debate about self-determination and federalism became more contentious, and so my relations with the party soured. Prachanda went to programmes organized by the Madhesis many times after the conflict with Jai Krishna Goit. Prachanda and Baburam both went to programmes held by Limbus, Rais and other groups many times. But they never paid any attention to the Tharus. We thought: over 2000 Tharus sacrificed themselves in the war, why is our leadership still ignoring us? Even now the Tharus don’t have an important role in the Maoist party. There may be 14 Tharu Maoist CA members. But there is no Tharu who is involved at the policy-making level in the party.

Moreover, after the Second National Convention, we began to realize that the Maoists weren’t committed to federalism and the right to self-determination. I quit the party in 2063 B.S [2006].

Q: What specifically are the rights that indigenous people should have in Nepal?

Tharu: There are discussions on this issue both in the CA and outside it. Internationally too, this issue has become a matter of debate in countries like the Phillipines, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Turkey, Malaysia and most recently in Peru. There has recently been a revolt of indigenous people in Peru. There is one common slogan that we share: nobody should be allowed to abuse the natural resources of indigenous people. Multinational companies shouldn’t be allowed to destroy the natural environment where indigenous people live.
In Nepal, without ensuring the rights of indigenous people, neither peace nor development is possible. Nepal is a country rich in natural resources and the indigenous people have a great love of their environment. None of us wish to sell the resources of the country or to have our country’s borders encroached.

The first right that we desire is the right to information. No matter who is in power, we should be the first to be informed about what is happening on our territory, on our water, on our resources. Maybe the rulers will try to sell our rivers. Maybe huge forests will be destroyed. We should be informed of this beforehand. The state cannot unilaterally take such decisions. Our permission needs to be taken. The Limbus should have the power to decide what to do with the resources on their territory, to decide what industries should be established in Limbuwan, or what areas to urbanise. The Tharus should have the same rights in Tharuhat. Indigenous people should have the first right to natural resources on their territory according to international law.

Q: You say that you don’t agree with the Maoists’ insistence on class. But isn’t inequality in Nepal based as much on class as ethnicity?

Tharu: Some Black people read the Communist Manifesto, which insisted on the dictatorship of the proletariat. They then wrote a letter to Marx that said: “Look Marx. You are a Brahmin. If you keep a servant in your house who happens to be a Brahmin and pay him Rs. 20,000 a month he will be considered an employee. But if you employ a Black person, even if you pay him Rs. 50,000, he will be considered a slave.”

I have seen Tharus employ Tharu kamaiyas in their houses. But in such cases master and servant work in the fields together, sing and dance together, and eat in the same kitchen in the evening. But if Tharus work in the house of a Brahmin or members of other ethnic groups, the master will live separately. He will probably keep his servant hungry and beat him with a stick. He may even rape the Tharu’s wife or daughter.

We need to be self-reliant. Tharus have worked in other political parties in the past. Some have become ministers. Some have gotten jobs in the Army and police. But this did not make us self-reliant. We only carried the bags of others, ate what they gave us and did what they told us to do. Today we are learning to become self-reliant.
Class struggle is not going to liberate us. I feel that we should have taken up arms. It is our right to revolt for our rights.

Q: What concrete steps are you taking to establish your organization?

Tharu: We have just completed the formation of the Councils of all ethnicities/castes. We have a national convention of Dalits and Khas people soon. We are declaring the establishment of a political party consisting of all state councils within two months. We have already decided to hold a national convention to unite the party. We have also decided on our ideology. Our ultimate goal is “federal socialism.” We have rejected communism and Marxism; we have rejected capitalist social democracy. We are still discussing what the specific characteristics of “federal socialism” will be.

Q: This is all at the national level. How are you expanding your organizational base in your area, the Western Tarai?

Tharu: When Mahakali, Tanakpur, Gandak and other rivers were sold, the administration, police and the Army just stood by doing nothing. We believe that these old state organs cannot provide security to the country. So we are out of necessity forming the Tharuhat army, the Magarat army, the Limbuwan army, the Khasaan army. It is not a big deal to learn how to use guns and bombs. People can do so easily. But the important issue is how to use the organizational power that you have for the benefit of the people. We have set a target to establish an army of 100,000 people. Cadres are being trained across the country.

Q: How will you procure guns and bombs?

Tharu: It is not necessary to have guns and bombs for the process of demanding one’s rights. If they are properly trained, people can protect themselves, their communities and country with sticks alone. Our movement will not involve guns and bombs, will not involve the capture and looting of police posts. It is not a Maoist style People’s War.

Q: All groups seem to be part of your Forum except for Madhesis.

Tharu: There is no such thing as Madhes or Madhesi in Nepal. I don’t know where this concept came from. I don’t know whether Upendra Yadav is from Nepal or Bihar. Somehow he has managed to get Nepali citizenship. But whatever he may be, he is not a Madhesi. He is a Yadav. He has his own caste. There are other castes: Tripathis, Thakurs. Why’re these people abandoning their castes and looking for trouble by declaring they are Madhesi?

Somehow those parties managed to lead what they call the Madhes movement and Upendra Yadav did well in the elections. That is good. But let us see if they will be able to win even five seats in the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) side of the next elections. We challenge them. It is no longer possible to do politics in the name of the Madhes in the Tarai. Those parties that did are all splitting up and becoming weaker.

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