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From Clandestine to Social Movement Path: The Maoist ‘People’s War’ in Nepal

Sun, September 18, 8:00 to 9:30am, TBA


The Maoist ‘People’s War’ (1996-2006) in Nepal was instigated by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M) with the aim of overthrowing the existing state and replacing the over 200-year-old Hindu monarchy with a new democratic platform. What makes Nepal such a unique case, is the staggering speed with which the Maoist insurgency gained momentum, with the CPN-M in control of over 70 percent of Nepal’s countryside within a decade, and the changes in social structures - in terms of caste, ethnicity, and gender - that the war generated. This paper traces the evolvement of CPN-M from a clandestine political party on the fringes of Nepal’s political left to an effective revolutionary force with a highly organized army, and then its successful entry into parliamentary politics after the 2006 peace agreement. It does so by employing a life history approach, drawing on in-depth interviews conducted with ex-fighters and various sections of the local population, including in areas that were under rebel governance during the war.

The paper frames the organizational origins of the CPN-M as ‘clandestine’ yet argues that the broader ‘Maoist movement’ it initiated evolved into a social movement during the war. Through unpacking this shift in formation - from clandestine to organised - the paper makes two key arguments. First, the organizational origins of CPN-M matter for understanding its strategy during the war, specifically its aim of politicizing Nepal’s rural population and the forms of rebel governance that ensued. However, to understand why and how this strategy worked, and the profound effects on social structures it set in motion, we need to foreground dynamics endogenous to war, such as the role of Maoist ideology and violent state repression, and the micro-processes through which these dynamics were experienced. Second, whilst path dependent effects are relevant in examining the CPN-M’s post-war trajectory, the paper concludes that complex post-war legacies of the People’s War, such as transformations in gender relations that the Maoist movement set in motion, can only be captured by drawing connections between pre- and post-war social processes, beyond the initial clandestine formation of the armed group.