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Communism in Nepal traces its roots back to the pro-democracy movement of 1951, and the subsequent overthrow of the autocratic Rana regime and the establishment of democracy in Nepal. The communist movement in Nepal has split into factions multiple times and multiple factions have come together into a single fold at times as well. It has a history of getting banned from open political discourse; as well as multiple instances of embracing guerrilla insurgency, most notably, the Maoist insurgency in the 1990s and early 2000s that led to the Nepalese civil war, claiming at least 15,000 lives. After the Maoists and other main political parties (communist and otherwise) formed a united coalition, launching a successful peaceful civil resistance against the dictatorial coup d'etat by the monarchy, which resulted in the abolition of monarchy and drafting of a new constitution affirming Nepal as a secular, federal, democratic republic striving towards democratic socialism, the two main communist parties of Nepal contested the first election according to the new constitution as a coalition, eventually leading to the unification of two parties with a strong majority in the federal parliament as well as six out of seven provinces of Nepal.
Communism arrived relatively late in Nepal because of the country's isolation from the rest of the world during the Rana regime. By 1930, communist writings had begun to be smuggled into Nepal and two of the four great martyrs, Dasharath Chand and Gangalal Shrestha were known to have been readers of communist literature. The country was still largely illiterate. Much of what would become the first communist party of Nepal was born during the Indian Independence movement.
The communist movement in Nepal traces its history back to Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the father of Nepali communism and the founder and general secretary of the first Nepali communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal. Younger brother to Gangalal Shrestha, Pushpa Lal joined the political fight against the autocratic Rana regime at a young age. He began his political career as a member of Nepal Praja Parishad, which was dissolved in 1941, following the execution of the great martyrs. While continuing to be a part of the Indian independence movement, many Nepali students, leaders and activists in India, began to organise under the common goal of birthing a conscious political movement against the Rana regime, and bringing democracy to Nepal, with the help of the Indian friends, after independence was achieved in India. Pushpa Lal went on to become a prominent member of the Nepal Rastriya Congress (NRC), one of the prominent forebears of Nepali Congress Party. Disillusioned by the political infighting within the party, and the party's willingness to cooperate with some Ranas, Pushpa Lal left the party he was the office secretary of, and sought to birth an "uncompromising political struggle" against the Rana regime. After his meeting with the noted Indian communist leader Nripendra Chakrawarti, he settled upon founding a communist party, deeming the support of the international socialist movement an indispensable asset in the struggle against feudalism. On 22 April 1949, he founded the Communist Party of Nepal along with four other colleagues, in Calcutta. He translated the Communist manifesto and other writings of Lenin and Mao, in addition to his own original writings on Nepali struggle for democracy and Nepal's future path.
Following the end of the Rana regime in 1951, Nepal saw a brief period of exercise in democracy, with Nepali Congress, the king and the Ranas as the main players. Pushpa Lal Shrestha and his party returned to Nepal. Following the Raksadal revolt of 1952, the party was banned on 24 January 1952. In 1954, the party held its first general conference where Man Mohan Adhikari was elected secretary-general. In the municipal elections held in September of 1953, NCP candidates won six seats, even though the party was officially banned. The ban lasted four years and was lifted in 1956. In 1957, the leader of the pro-monarchy faction, Keshar Jung Rayamajhi, replaced Adhikari as the secretary-general. The party had a poor showing in the general election of 1959, under the Rayamajhi leadership, winning just four seats out of 109 and 7.4% of the total votes cast. On 15 December 1960, king Mahendra, in a bloodless coup, deposed the democratically elected Nepali Congress government, imprisoned many political leaders including the deposed prime minister BP Koirala, and established the "partyless" Panchayat system. Keshar Jung Rayamajhi faction joined the Panchayat system and was expelled from the party by the third party congress held in Benaras in exile, in 1962; Tulsi Lal Amatya became the secretary-general. The communist movement further splintered into many factions in the coming decades of political struggle against the Panchayat system, while in exile and underground.
One of the most significant factions to emerge was the guerilla movement known as Jhapa movement, led by young activists Mohan Chandra Adhikari, Chandra Prakash Mainali and Radha Krishna Mainali, and influenced by Charu Mazumdar, the architect of Naxalite guerilla movement in neighbouring north-east India. The guerilla insurgency was brought to an abrupt halt in 1971, when Nepal army launched an effective counter-insurgency, killing many cadres. The comprehensive failure of Jhapa movement led to self-reflection among the increasingly intellectual ranks of the Nepali communist movement. In the subsequent decades, there emerged an increased skepticism of dogmatic import of foreign ideas and strategies, and an appreciation for the development of an original path to socialism in Nepal, particularly designed to be suited to the Nepali reality. A faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal as well as another faction led by Madan Bhandari had merged with All Nepal Communist Revolutionary Coordination Committee (Marxist–Leninist) by 1977, which launched Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist), popularly known as Male, in 1978. Male focused on grass-roots movement and mass-education of the workers and peasant class. One member who would later emerge as one of the most powerful communist leaders in Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, is credited by some, for playing a part in shifting the party ideology from violent insurgency to peaceful political struggle.
In the 1980 referendum, Male, already a party with national reach and a significant grassroots support, actively campaigned for the option of multi-party democracy. With this open campaign for democracy, Male bolstered its support among pro-democracy electorate as well as the international community and had emerged as the premier force of the Nepali communist movement. In 1982, the party officially abandoned armed struggle as a non-viable option, opting for peaceful mass resistance instead; it also deposed Chandra Prakash Mainali, and Jhala Nath Khanal took over as general secretary. The party continued to absorb minor factions of the communist movement throughout the 1980s, and by the mid 1980s, had emerged as the premier communist force overshadowing the pro-soviet Communist Party of Nepal - Marxist (CPN-M) led by veteran leaders Man Mohan Adhikari and Sahana Pradhan (Pushpa Lal Shrestha's widow).The party continued to move towards democratic socialism, and in 1986, elected Madan Bhandari, who would later go on to architect the people's multi-party democracy principle, as general secretary. In 1990, it formed the United Left Front with CPN-M, joined together with Nepali Congress, and organised and participated in the peaceful civil resistance of 1990. Following the subsequent end of Panchayat system in favour of constitutional monarchy, the United Left Front would go on to formalise the coalition; CPN-M and CPN-ML uniting into CPN-UML in 1991.
Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) (CPN - UML), under the leadership of Man Mohan Adhikari, won 69 out of 205 seats in the 1991 elections, becoming the second largest party and the main opposition party. The 1993 general conference ratified the party ideology dubbed People's multiparty democracy (PMD), and elected its principal architect, Madan Bhandari as the general secretary, with Adhikari remaining party chairman. The manifesto affirmed the party's commitment to democratic socialism and opened path for it's recognition in the international arena as a democratic force with a left-lean, rather than a communist party, despite its name. Madan Bhandari, along with the party's Head of Organisation Department, Jibaraj Ashrit, was killed on a jeep accident later that year; and Madhav Kumar Nepal became general secretary. In the 1994 midterm elections,CPN-UML became the largest party, winning 88 seats, mainly on the back of the popular PMD, and public sympathy at the loss of Madan-Ashrit. Man Mohan Adhikari became prime minister of the minority government which lasted only nine months. However, during the short tenure, Adhikari government introduced a number of welfare programs, most significant of which was a monthly stipend to all elderly citizens. The popular welfare program would secure CPN UML's future in Nepali politics for decades to come. In 1998, 46 lawmakers defected to form their own party, including influential figures of the leadership like CP Mainali, Jhalanath Khanal, Sahana Pradhan and Bamdev Gautam. However, the new party only garnered 6.4% of the vote in the 1999 elections, and the vote division only led to the victory of Nepali Congress. Most of the leaders were back to CPN UML by 2002 and only a small splinter group led by CP Mainali remained outside, forming their own party.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had split from their respective minor communist parties and formed the Maoist Party, which launched a "people's war" by 1996. The maoists mainly employed guerilla tactics, attacking police stations and government infrastructures. After Nepal Army was deployed and violence intensified, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by both sides. By 2005, the civil war had reached a stalemate, both politically and militarily. King Gyanendra had taken over direct rule of the country citing failure of the political parties to provide peace and security in the country, the Maoist party was deeply entrenched in the rural villages of Nepal and possessed the capability to bring the country to a standstill by calling a general strike whenever it desired but had no capability to dislodge the Nepali joint armed forces from district headquarters, while the major political parties, including Nepali congress and CPN-UML were seeking a way to end violence in the country, as well as end direct rule of the king through popular protests.
By 2006, the major political parties, including the maoists, had come to an agreement to launch a coordinated attempt to depose the king and establish a democratic republic, by means of a popular protest. In April 2006, the peaceful revolution became successful in persuading the king to relinquish power and reinstate the dissolved parliament. Maoists joined the parliament with an equal number of nominated seats as the leader of the opposition CPN UML. In the next decade, two constituent assembly elections were held, and Nepal was established as secular federal democratic republic in the Constitution of Nepal 2015. Following the historic promulgation of the constitution via constituent assembly and federalisation of the country, a series of elections were announced for the formation of the new governments at the local, provincial and federal level according to the new constitution. While the Maoists allied with Nepali Congress against CPN-UML in the local elections at many places, by the time of the federal legislative elections, the two communist parties CPN-UML and CPN-MC had officially declared their intention to merge post-election and to that end fielded joint candidates in all constituencies. The coalition won a clear majority at the federal level as well as in six provinces. After the elections, the two parties had merged, with chairmen of both parties sharing the chair of the new party and chairman of CPN-UML becoming prime minister of the new government. As of 2019, KP Sharma Oli was prime minister and Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Oli shared the chair of Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the ruling party of Nepal and of six out of seven provinces.
Nepali communist parties subscribe to Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, or any combination of the three. People's multiparty democracy principle of CPN UML and 21st century's people's multiparty democracy principle along with Prachandapath (Prachanda's way) of Maoists are examples of original thought or adaptation of traditional communist philosophy to modern times and Nepali landscape.
While the minor communist parties continue to hold a variety of far-left ideologies, including a support for party-less communist autocracy held by many, the mainstream communist parties have affirmed their commitment to democracy. Indeed, no communist parties that won a significant number of seats in elections did so without announcing an explicit commitment to multiparty democracy. In the case of CPN-UML, it was formalised with the people's multiparty democracy manifesto. In the case of the maoists, the same policy was put forward as the 21st century's people's multiparty democracy. The NCP continues to reaffirm its commitment to democracy having been the ruling party with a strong majority in all levels of government since the beginning of 2018; however, it is also claimed that the party's ultimate goal is Socialism or communist totalitarianism.
The communists are known for their welfare programs. Government stipend to elderly and widows have been increased significantly. Stipends to the unemployed have been promised. There has been a rising concern regarding press freedom, censorship and freedom of speech. The Nepali communists are also called out for their populist nationalism and anti-India propaganda.
Other minor parties that do not believe in democracy still continue to take part in the democratic process, citing that their main aim is to establish communism via a direct endorsement of the people through elections. Minor splinter groups that separated from Maoist party when it joined the peace process continue to carry out actions designed to intimidate and terrorise people, from time to time.