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Gramsci at the Margins: A Prehistory of the Maoist Movement in Nepal


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This chapter aims to convey the relevance of Antonio Gramsci and south Asian subaltern studies in understanding the Maoist uprising in Nepal, and to put this phenomenon in perspective by evoking its long history. As Ranajit Guha suggests in Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, his seminal examination of rural rebellions, jacqueries, and revolts under British rule, Gramsci's ideas must be extended if they are to supply an adequate explanatory framework for understanding how and why popular uprisings unfolded in the manner they did. Via forays into the micro-history of Thabang, one of the formative sites of Nepal's Maoist revolution, this chapter attempts to show how Gramsci's ideas remain deeply relevant to understanding political transformations at the margin. Thabang's rebellions show how peasant movements can overcome the constraints of geography and how geography can be mobilized for politics.
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Gramsci at the Margins
A Prehistory of the Maoist
Movement in Nepal
Vinay Gidwani and Dinesh Paudel
The history of subaltern social groups is necessarily fragmented
and episodic. There undoubtedly does exist a tendency to (at least
provisional stages of) unification in the historical activity of these
groups, but this tendency is continually interrupted by the activity
of the ruling groups; it therefore can only be demonstrated when
an historical cycle is completed and this cycle culminates in a suc-
cess. Subaltern groups are always subject to the activity of ruling
groups, even when they rebel and rise up: only “permanent” victory
breaks their subordination, and that not immediately. (Gramsci,
“History of the Subaltern Classes: Methodological Criteria”: Q25,
§5; SPN 52)
Barman Budha could have never imagined this future. Born in 1930 into
a poor family and raised as a sheep herder, he led a small peasant upris-
ing in the summer of 1954 in Thabang village of Rolpa district, in west-
ern Nepal, against Khrishna Jhakri, a local tax collector ( mukhiya )
whose allegiance was to the feudal nobility that lay claim to the area.
How was Budha to know that this isolated rebellion, far away from the
seat of power in Kathmandu, would become the foundation, 40 years
later, for an armed Maoist insurgency that would eventually capture
power in Nepal? Barman and his fellow villagers were fed up with the
unceasing demands of Jhakri and his cronies to plow the mukhiya ’s
lands for free. Those who defied Jhakri were slapped with higher taxes.
“We pounded him down,” says Barman. “He ordered all our pigs killed
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to ‘clean up the village. He thought we were dirty” (interviewed by
D.Paudel, June 12, 2010, Thabang).
Jhakri fell. The rebels of Thabang replaced the mukhiya with a village
council led by Barman Budha. The council abolished the feudal tax
system and began redistributing land. Budha’s own life changed foreverin
that fateful year: the shepherd boy became a rebel icon, who was to
inspire many as the struggle against state officialdom expanded and
intensified. The villagers of Thabang continued to battle local elites and
state functionaries, and by the early 1970s they were able to get rid of
them entirely. Some surrendered, many fled. The immediate area around
Thabang became a “liberated zone, and was thrust into the state’s
In the years to come, Thabang was the target of police actions, army
counterinsurgency operations, commercial ventures, and development
programs, all aimed at quieting its rebellious inhabitants. Budha himself
was arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned multiple times. In the demo-
cratic upheavals of the 1990s he stood in the parliamentary elections for
Rolpa constituency, and was elected to Nepal’s parliament. Thabang
itself became the nerve center of the Maoist insurgency that proliferated
across the country from the mid-1990s.
0 75 150 300 Kilometers
Fig. 3 Map of Nepal.
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Tul Kumari Budha, a rebel leader who was at the forefront of numerous
uprisings in Thabang, is also an icon. Now 60 years of age, Tul Kumari
was elected as the Pradhanpanch (village council head) of Thabang in
1981, the first woman ever to occupy that office. From the early 1970s,
the area around Thabang was wracked by a wave of second-generation
mutinies led by women. The issues varied. There was an anti-brewery
campaign, a struggle against government restrictions on hemp produc-
tion and sale, an anti-gambling crusade, a fight to institute literacy
classes for women and to foreground their lack of social security. “We
wanted to run our families smoothly and for that we fought against
those who came to disturb us,” remembers Tul Kumari (interviewed by
D. Paudel, Jan. 19, 2011, Dang district). A compatriot of Tul Kumari’s
recalls that for women of Thabang
those days of struggle created a different kind of awareness and unity
among us, allowing us to be available for bigger political discussions and
activism. We did what we did, not because we knew what a communist
should do, but in order to protect our dignity and means of life.
Continual disruptions to the lives of Thabang’s villagers only consoli-
dated their resolve, fired their spirits, and made Thabang the epicenter of
the Maoist revolt, a ready, reliable source of male and female recruits for
the war that lay ahead.
Samjhana Magar represents a third generation of peasant rebels in
Thabang. She is 35 now, but was barely out of her teens when she became
active in a district-level cultural campaign, Jan Sanskritik Abhiyan
(People’s Cultural Campaign), which was indirectly organized by the
local chapter of United People’s Front, a faction of the Communist Party
of Nepal (CPN). The campaign encompassed a range of cultural activi-
ties but revolved around public performances of popular songs that
recalled a history of oppression by various political regimes and sought
to commemorate local resistance to them. Such initiatives, while not
explicitly informed by the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, nevertheless bear
testament to the painstaking ideological work that helped consolidate
diverse peasant uprisings into a more or less cohesive “Maoist” move-
ment by the early 1990s, a pivotal moment when the Nepali state was
busy mobilizing for a massive police invasion (Operation Romeo,
launched in November 1995) to crush popular dissent in Rolpa district.
Samjhana recalls the euphoria of that dangerous time:
We traveled village to village for months, singing and dancing with the
people, popularizing the necessity of a people’s revolt [ bidroha ka
sworharu ], using our melodies and drums. We learned stories of struggles
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[ sangharsa ka katha haru ] of different villages and we were able to tell
them of similar stories from other villages that we had visited. Tens of
thousands of people attended the program, which lasted for more than a
year. As a result, United People’s Front won both seats in Parliament and
most of the local councils in Rolpa district in 1992. As soon as the
Congress Party lost its control in the district we were repressed by the
state, using special police force, in Operation Romeo, in 1995. People
started to protest against the brutality of the operation, which later
sparked armed resistance in Thabang and many other villages in Rolpa.
(Interviewed by D. Paudel, Jan. 11, 2011, Thabang)
The stories of Barman Budha, Tul Kumari Budha, and Samjhana Magar
are a window into the ill-known prehistory of Nepal’s Maoist revolution.
The revolution began as an armed rebellion in 1996. It lasted for 10 years,
culminating in the capture of state power in 2006. More than 14,000
people died and at least 200,000 were displaced in that fateful period. By
the time a peace agreement was negotiated the Maoist movement effec-
tively controlled 70 percent of Nepal’s territory. The rapid spread and
popularity of the Maoist cause surprised even its leaders, and is all the
more remarkable given a geopolitical conjuncture that saw the defeat of
“socialist” regimes globally and the absence of ideological or material
support for Nepali Maoists from an ostensibly “natural ally,China. This
begs two interlinked question that are yet to be satisfactorily answered by
the burgeoning academic and nonacademic literature on Nepal’s Maoist
movement: What were the conditions of possibility for the Maoist revolt
and how did it evolve into a self-sustaining movement?
Existing analyses largely focus on the movement’s recent history
within Nepal’s political firmament. For liberals and royalists the move-
ment represents (a perhaps temporary) victory of communist ideology
and populism (Thapa 2004 ; Lawoti & Pahari 2010 ); for those on the
Left, it marks the success of propaganda and armed struggle in liberating
the masses from “false consciousness” (Bhattarai 2003 ; 2010 ; Karki &
Seddon 2003 ; Shneiderman 2009 ); for democrats the Maoist phenome-
non is an electoral realignment anchored in a longer history of contesta-
tion between political parties (Gellner 2003 ; Hachhethu 2009 ). Each of
these accounts treats the term “Maoist” as self-evident and, with few
notable exceptions (see, for instance, de Sales 2009 ), fails to delve into
its emergence. Our objective here is to correct this oversight by offering
a preliminary account of the making of Nepal’s Maoist movement. We
find Antonio Gramsci’s writings on politics, philosophy, popular con-
sciousness, and vernacular culture extraordinarily germane to this task,
although, as we make clear, our intent is not merely to “use” Gramsci
but to also show how his insights bear modification and extension. This
involves, among other things, interceding in his work through geography.
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Our argument is as follows: “Maoist” is a retrospective description of
heterogeneous peasant uprisings that contingently articulated as a move-
ment in the mid-1990s. Condensing this heterogeneity under the label
“Maoist” risks obscuring the long histories of local struggles as well the
diverse conditions and unanticipated events that made the Maoist move-
ment possible. Mobilizing Gramsci’s rich writings on peasant life, we
reveal how ordinary people’s “conceptions of the world” modify and are
modified by “the whole complex of relationships” of which each “is the
nexus” (MPW 77). Central here is the practical transformation of a pre-
existing, fragmented “common sense” ( senso comune ) into a “critical
consciousness of self,” or “good sense” ( senso buon ). Thus, Guido
Liguori’s remark: “Revolutionary theory is born against existing common
sense” (Liguori 2006 : 78, cited in Green & Ives 2009 : 7).
The area around Thabang in Rolpa district is widely acknowledged
within Nepali Maoist circles as the gravitational and pedagogic locus of
the movement. Our narrative examines how a succession of events from
the early 1950s disrupted the everyday lives of Thabang’s residents,
unexpectedly catalyzing a revolution in their common sense, a transfor-
mation that was aided by the pedagogic work of organic intellectuals
and transmitted intergenerationally via extended family and kinship
Three aspects of this process are either understated or entirely absent
in Gramsci’s writings: first, the role of extended family and kin networks
as ideological apparatuses of organizing and political consolidation;
second, the work of memory as a modality of ideological transmission
and reproduction; and third, the disruption of spatiotemporal routines
that throws the common sense of “everydayness” (what Henri Lefebvre
calls la quotidienetté ) into crisis, opening a breach for the “everyday”
( lequotidien ) as a space of transformation and critique.
1 To summarize,
our undertaking here plans to convey the relevance of Gramsci and
south Asian subaltern studies in understanding the Maoist uprising in
Nepal, and to put this phenomenon in perspective by evoking its long
history. One of the more noteworthy elements of our account is the
formative role of peasant women in the movement.
A Micro-History of Rebellion
Thabang is a living example of how a remote and poor village if
organized and persistent in struggle can create a revolutionary his-
tory not only for itself but also an entire nation, and for oppressed
people around the world. (Comrade Prachanda, Chairperson, CPN
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The village of Thabang in Rolpa district of western Nepal sits in a vast
landscape of valleys, gorges, river basins, and forest slopes. Magar and
Dalit communities predominate in human settlements encircled by soaring
mountains of 4,500 meters or more. Magars, the community from which
the famous Gorkha warriors hail, describe themselves as hunter-gatherers
who arrived several hundred years ago from mountain regions to the
north to strike roots in the fertile river valley of Thabang. Spread over 18
hamlets or principalities, the Magar practiced a decentralized form of
government where inhabitants in the various hamlets meet weekly and
sometimes daily to adjudicate internal matters. Each hamlet had a leader
who held the post on a rotational basis and mediated with other Magar
communities. In the 1640s, Thakuri kings from the south invaded the
valley, subjugated the Magar, and introduced an annual tax. They forced
the Magar to work in iron mines and in the collection of minor forest
produce (especially spices) from the region’s thick forests, and brought
in Dalits from the Terai belt in the south in the early eighteenth century
to provide artisanal services such as blacksmithing.
Magars have a reputation as an independent and insubordinate com-
munity that is militant and resistant to rule. Such characterizations have
seeped into Magar folk culture and common sense. But its historical
roots lie in the early eighteenth century, when the Magar erupted in open
rebellion against the efforts of Thakuri kings to consolidate control over
Thabang by establishing armed regiments in Magar settlements. The
uprising lasted several years. Magar peasants refused Thakuri tax
demands and prevented their overlords from building garrisons or pal-
aces in Magar settlements. The uprising was so fierce that the Thakuri
kings were forced to retreat from their plans and exempt the Magar
from taxes. In the decades that followed, mutually debilitating wars for
territory and commerce eroded the power of Thakuri chiefs, paving the
way for Prithvi Narayan Shah of the house of Gorkha to emerge as a
new regional power by the middle of the eighteenth century. By the
1760 s, Shah had managed to stave off military incursions by the East
India Company and unify various hill-states into the political entity we
now know as Nepal. For the people of Thabang the rule of Shah meant
the restoration of tax and corveé labour. But Shah rule was supplanted
by the Rana dynasty of Kathmandu less than a hundred years later.
The Rana regime introduced a system of patronage called birta , under
which members of the royal family were granted tax-exempt tracts of
land. Between 1920 and 1940, the Ranas also implemented a nationwide
land survey intended to demarcate private property rights for birtas . In
Magar, communities that practiced common ownership, coupled with
the Rana policy of appointing village heads as tax collectors (mukhiyas),
created new forms of division. Mukhiyas and their relatives, who were
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allowed to keep a percentage of the tax collected, became loyal to the
Rana rulers. These emergent elites were favored in the land survey and
routinely granted larger shares of ancestrally common land as private
holdings. The end result was an ownership pattern consisting of large
landowners and smallholders. The mukhiya, a tax collector who doubled
as local enforcer, became the bastion of Rana feudalism. Discontent in
Thabang against Rana rule was constant because of historically unprec-
edented tax demands, and because peasants chafed at the mukhiya’s
autocratic reign.
Gramsci notes that the history of subaltern social groups is always
intertwined with the “history of States and groups of States” and as such
it is necessary to study “their active or passive affiliation to the dominant
political formations, their attempts to influence the programs of these
formations in order to press claims of their own, and the consequences
of these attempts in determining processes of decomposition, renovation
or neo-formation” (Q25, §5; SPN 52). Elsewhere Gramsci (Q11, §12;
SPN 327) points out that the common sense of the masses, no matter
how fragmentary or even incoherent in its “intuitions of life and the
world,is a living record of their cumulative experience of being an
underclass. Thus a political tradition of dissent and of resisting state
power came to be woven into the popular consciousness of Thabang’s
peasants, foreshadowing the uprisings of the twentieth century that
culminated in the Maoist revolution and, leading up to it, the emergence
of a “new common sense” among Thabang’s masses.
The kernel of a different commonsense
The shoots of that new common sense sprouted, with no warning of the
events that lay ahead, in 1954. That summer Barman Budha led a group
of peasants and shepherds in an attack on Thabang’s mukhiya, Krishna
Jhakri. They accused him of nepotism, of collecting onerous taxes from
poor peasants, of ordering the mass slaughter of pigs and dogs in
Thabang (which he had claimed would make the village cleaner), and of
forcing peasants to work in his field without pay. Anger at Jhakri had
been festering since his appointment. He had remained unresponsive to
pleas for clemency from Thabang’s residents. The story goes that the
idea to overthrow him was born in April 1954, during the annual trans-
migration from Thabang to sheep pastures in the upper hills. Shepherds
traditionally live together in temporary huts in these high hill pastures
and while there they hatched a plan.
It took three years of battle to dislodge Jhakri. In the interim a number
of Thabang’s rebels were arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for
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months. During one such period of incarceration Barman Budha and his
fellow inmates came into contact with a young prisoner, Mohan Bikram
Singh. Singh, a political activist associated with Nepal’s fledgling com-
munist party, was an early inspiration for Thabang’s peasants. At his
urging and with his organizational acumen, the peasants, soon after
their release from prison, formed the Thabang Kisan Sangh (Thabang
Peasants’ Association) under the leadership of Barman Budha.
By 1958 the peasant association was able to overthrow the mukhiya
and take control of the village. Harsh memories of feudal tyranny did
not fade easily, and when Nepal held its first ever parliamentary election
the next year the villagers of Thabang voted for the Communist Party
candidate. His call for land redistribution, guaranteeing equal access to
all, resonated strongly. Following the election, Thabang’s residents made
a renewed and successful push to drive out the village’s remaining land-
lords, put an end to the practice of untouchability (caste discrimination
against dalits), and extended their autonomy over lands and forests in
the area.
Barman Budha’s recollections of that time are a signal reminder of
how the language of a new common sense can recode the past. He now
remembers those “old days” as a time when “the jana yudha [people’s
war]” established its sway in Thabang. Ruj Bahadur Roka, a 70-year-old
veteran of the movement from Thabang, similarly notes that “our village
was a mukta chhetra [liberated zone] 40 years ago. What we are learning
now is new vocabularies, but in terms of jana bidroh [people’s revolt]
I am realizing now that we were far ahead” (interviewed by D. Paudel,
Feb. 17, 2011, Thabang).
A new commonsense is fabricated
In the 1970s Thabang was wracked by a second wave of uprisings,
prompted variously by the arrival of a large development project, a
brewery, and fears of ecological degradation wrought by commercialization.
These events disrupted the everyday routines and rhythms of life, par-
ticularly of women, who took the lead in organizing the resistance.
The most incendiary of these events was the establishment of a brewery
in 1974 by a Kathmandu-based trader. The brewery was pitched as a
civilizing venture that would curb the production of illicit, homemade
alcohol while creating economic opportunity. The government banned
home-based production of alcohol and urged residents to buy modern,
mass-produced alcohol from the brewery. Magar women were incensed.
The ban on home alcohol jeopardized a customary staple of Magar diet
and social ritual, and a supplementary source of household income.
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Within a year they had formed a group and initiated action against the
brewery, first stoning it and eventually burning it down. The women’s
deed was a classic illustration of what Ranajit Guha, in the context of
colonial India, describes as the “modality of inversion,“a political
struggle in which the rebel … destroyed the insignia of his enemy’s power
and hoped thus to abolish the mark of his own subalternity” (1983: 75).
The brewery’s owner was forced to leave Thabang. But he sought
revenge, utilizing his political connections to organize violent retalia-
tion by the police and by filing false cases against his opponents alleging
attempted killing, looting, beating, and conspiracy against king and
state. The police arrested several residents. Some were convicted of the
trumped-up charges while others were ensnared in unending legal
inquiries. Despite these setbacks the women came to see their action as
a victory, and validation of their combined political agency. As Guha,
citing Gramsci, observes, the glimmers of a new conception of the
world not yet a “mature and fully evolved class consciousness”
arises first “via a series of negations,” “as the basic negative, polemical
attitude” (1983: 19).
The women’s incipient politicalness was put to the test numerous
times in those formative years. Much of their anger against the brewery
lay in what had previously taken place: the brewery itself was only the
final insult. In 1973 the government announced a ban on the cultivation
of hemp ( Cannabis spp .). The government claimed this move was
intended to stop the production and distribution of the narcotic, hash-
ish , derived from gum gathered from the young leaves and shoots of the
hemp plant. There was some truth here. In the early 1970s, as urban
demand for hashish grew – captured vividly in the hit Bollywood film,
Hare Rama, Hare Krishna (1971), which depicts the hashish-driven
hippy subculture that had sprung up in Kathmandu – middlemen flocked
to hemp-growing areas like Thabang, offering villagers unprecedented
prices for young hemp plants. The state ban on hemp cultivation, sym-
bolized by the village police post that was set up to enforce it, jeopard-
ized this newfound source of income.
The significance of hemp far exceeded its value for hashish. Locals
read the state ban as nothing less than an attempt to undermine their
livelihoods and autonomy. Hemp, an extraordinarily versatile crop, is
woven into Thabang’s way of life: its seeds are used in cooking and
pressed for cooking oil, its bark for textile, and its stem for firewood; the
living hemp plant shelters cereal crops as mulch and manure within
intercrop agriculture; and because hemp flourishes in poor to moderate
soils, it stabilizes hill slopes. Furthermore, hemp seeds and textile were
mainstays in centuries-old trade circuits extending into Tibet and other
parts of Nepal, in several instances accounting for 60 percent of implicit
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household income, and key to acquiring locally scarce necessities such as
salt, sugar, shoes, and later kerosene.
Thus, the ban on hemp cultivation struck at the heart of Thabang’s
economy, and reinforced the common-sense view that the state was
unresponsive and predatory. Women mobilized by defying the ban,
engaging in “underground” cultivation of hemp. Hemp’s natural proper-
ties aided their resistance. As it is able to survive on marginal lands and
is immune to grazing by cattle, hemp could be grown in adjoining for-
ests, in gullies, on slopes, or intercropped with corn, wheat, potatoes,
and millet, thereby evading the efforts of the state to snuff it out. In the
years to come, as uprisings in Thabang and other areas joined force to
become an armed insurgency against the Nepali state, hemp furnished a
crucial source of income for households as well as tax revenue for the
Maoist movement. The ban on hemp became an emblem of state injus-
tice, nourishing antistate consciousness over several generations and an
alternative development imaginary.
To understand how the ban on hemp came about, we turn to an
instance of Cold War geopolitics in south Asia that boomeranged in
unexpected ways. In the late 1960s USAID, with the sanction of
Nepal’s government, unrolled a major initiative, the Rapti Integrated
Rural Development Project (RIDP), to modernize agriculture and gen-
erate employment opportunities in Thabang and other villages in the
watershed of the Rapti river. At the height of the Cold War and deba-
cles in Vietnam, integrated development came to be viewed as a broad-
spectrum antibiotic against the popular dissemination of socialist
ideas from both China and Soviet-allied India. RIDP’s lasting legacy
was its effort to commercialize agriculture, a push that embraced the
crusade against hemp.
Bam Kumari Budha, a former parliament member from the Rapti
region recalls that “RIDP came to control hashish production by creating
alternative income generating sources locally” (interviewed by D. Paudel,
Jan. 16, 2011). The program offered loans, skills development training,
and infrastructural support such as schools, irrigation channels, and
roads to villagers; promoted apple orchards, cash-oriented vegetable
farming, the commercialization of potatoes and handicrafts such as
woolen blankets, and the collection of and trade in medicinal plants. Yet
none successfully dislodged hemp; rather RIDP initiatives became light-
ning rods of conflict, none more so than the apple orchards, which were
established on private as well as common forest lands, threatening open
access to them.
Lack of adequate marketing infrastructure compounded the misery:
unable to sell perishable products like apples and vegetables, many were
forced to default on loans. Episodes of massive landslides and flooding
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in western Nepal in the 1970s, popularized in dire environmental
narratives such as Erik Eckholm’s Losing Ground (1976), were blamed
rightly or wrongly by the people of Thabang on RIDP’s agricultural
modernization schemes. RIDP was an unqualified success in one deeply
ironic sense: its ritual genuflection to “rural empowerment” transformed
the “negative consciousness” of Thabang’s residents into something
different and far sharper: a critique of patriarchy and state-led development.
Women, who felt the brunt of RIDP’s intrusion into household econo-
mies, were again the vanguard of change. They agitated for adult literacy
classes, invoking the banner of “empowerment”; and by the mid-1980s
had managed to rid Thabang of polygamy and put in place protocols
that guaranteed women an equal share in property after divorce. Thus,
leadership roles assumed by women in the second wave of uprisings
fundamentally transformed social and economic relations within family
and kin networks.
In a public address in February 2011, to commemorate the sixteenth
anniversary of the Maoist war, Comrade Prachanda, Chairperson of
theCPN (Maoist) – and until recently Nepal’s first communist prime
minister – acknowledged how vital Thabang’s women were to the move-
ment: “In the revolution’s early days I have witnessed in Thabang how
women used to tell their husbands that they would not stay with them if
the men defected from the movement. Many would assume the opposite
about the role of women in revolution.
Consolidation of a new common sense
The period between 1980 and the early 1990s saw the fragmentary, neg-
ative consciousness of Thabang’s residents congeal into a more or less
“theoretical consciousness” aimed at replacing the elite-controlled
Nepali state with a people’s state. Guided by organic intellectuals like
Mohan Bikram Singh, Barman Budha, Tul Kumari Budha, and others,
Thabang’s rebels began reaching out to other, smaller peasant uprisings
in the region. In the 1981 referendum on Nepal’s monarchy Thabang
stood firmly against the king. The next year they boycotted elections and
refused to volunteer labor for a road construction project.
Predictably, the village came under renewed state surveillance and
repression. In November 1982 Thabang was the target of a massive mil-
itary operation – the first time ever in Nepal’s history that the country’s
armed forces were deployed against its own people that led to the
arrest of 200 villagers, the widespread destruction of property, and the
imprisonment of many for two or more years. Several fled the village,
and some among these initiated contact with the Communist Party of
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Nepal (Mashal), requesting solidarity and material support for their
resistance. Disappointed by the CPN’s response, they eventually returned
to Thabang and started rebuilding village groups that could more ade-
quately respond to state repression.
In 1990 Nepal’s urban centers witnessed a groundswell of discontent
against the king. Various factions of the Communist Party converged
to form the United Left Front (ULF), which partnered with the Nepali
Congress and other smaller parties to launch a Jana Andolan (People’s
Movement) that brought an end to absolute monarchy and the begin-
ning of constitutional democracy. In the national election that fol-
lowed, Barman Budha, standing as United People’s Front (UPF)
candidate, was elected to Nepal’s parliamentary chamber ( Pratinidhi
Sabha ) from Rolpa constituency (which included Thabang). His elec-
tion campaign was propelled by a cultural group, which performed
Thabang’s history of struggles through song, dance, and street theater.
Santosh Budha, a leader of that campaign, says the idea was to
demonstrate why “such struggles were important to the dignity of
people and protecting their means of livelihoods” (interviewed by
D.Paudel, Feb. 15, 2011).
Local elections held in 1992 resulted in a clean sweep for the UPF in
Rolpa. Alarmed, the Nepali Congress Party, which held a comfortable
majority of 110 seats out of 205 in the parliamentary chamber (in con-
trast to the Left Front’s 82), denied central government financing for
development programs in Thabang and filed a slew of false cases against
local activists in an attempt to undercut popular support for the com-
munists. Santosh Budha recalls that “one of my friends was charged with
22 different false cases at the time” (interviewed by D. Paudel, June 7,
2010, Thabang).
Recognizing the importance of an effective response to the Nepali
Congress Party’s political tactics and building on the success of Barman
Budha’s parliamentary election campaign, activists in Thabang and other
villages joined hands to form the Jana Sanskritik Abhiyan (People’s
Cultural Campaign) in 1995. The campaign emerged as a vital ideologi-
cal instrument for unifying geographically scattered uprisings and popu-
lar mobilizations across western Nepal under the Maoist banner. The
Nepali state retaliated violently with Operation Romeo, unleashing
armed force on Rolpa’s inhabitants. The military operation was the pro-
verbial last straw. Peasants, angry and fearful, joined as rank and file in
the newly constituted Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which then
proceeded to organize coordinated armed attacks across the region
against various figureheads of state power: landlords, moneylenders,
police posts, and government offices. In February 1996 the Maoists
formally declared war on the Nepali state.
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Gramsci and the Prehistory of the Maoist Revolution
Without Thabang Nepal’s Maoist revolution [ maobadi kranti ]
would not have reached to this height. Thabang did not only inspire
us for the revolution, but remained as the center of the movement
materially and ideologically. (Comrade Pashang, Chief of the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA))
Shaped by his experiences as a communist organizer in Turin and his
wide reading of philosophy, politics, and history, Gramsci came to be an
avid student of political strategy and “how the ideological structure of a
dominant class is actually organized: namely the material organization
aimed at maintaining, defending and developing the theoretical or ideo-
logical ‘front’” (Q3, §49; cited in Forgacs 2000 : 380). His close analyses
of Italian fascism and of the Catholic Church illustrate his belief that the
Left could not afford to ignore the organizational lessons of the Right.
“The strength of religions, and of the Catholic Church in particular,” he
notes in his prison writings, “has lain in the fact that they feel very
strongly the need for the doctrinal unity of the whole mass of the faithful
and strive to ensure that the higher intellectual stratum does not get
separated from the lower” (Q11, §12; SPN 328). Gramsci’s persistent
inquiries into the question of hegemony and the ideologies that form and
sustain it are remarkable and germane to this day. His writings on the
modes, materials, and mechanisms by which popular mentalities and
behavior are transformed into critical self-consciousness ( senso buon )
are more uneven. Notebooks 4, 8, 11, and 12, for example, contain acute
observations on the functions of various types of intellectuals, fore-
grounding the distinctively pedagogic relationship of “organic intellectu-
als”“intellectuals of a new type which arise directly out of the masses,
but remain in contact with them to become, as it were, the whalebone in
the corset” (Q11, §12; SPN 340). Gramsci also offers striking insights
on the role of schooling and education (Notebook 12), language and
normative grammar (Notebook 29), popular literature (Notebook 21),
literary criticism (Notebooks 15 and 23), art (Notebook 23), theater
(Notebook 4 and pre-prison writings), and journalism (Notebooks 14
and 24) (see, e.g., SCW; Fontana 1993 ).
But as Ranajit Guha suggests in Elementary Aspects of Peasant
Insurgency in Colonial India (1983), his seminal examination of rural
rebellions, jacqueries , and revolts under British rule, Gramsci’s ideas,
while immensely fertile, must be extended if they are to supply an ade-
quate explanatory framework for understanding how and why popular
uprisings unfolded in the manner they did. Here we argue for a further
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extension not only of Gramsci, but also of Guha. Specifically, we contend
that it is impossible to explain the long history of uprisings in Thabang
and the success of the Maoist insurgency that followed without close
attention to the vital ideological function of extended family and kin
structures, and to the political work of memory these enabled. While
such peasant structures have generally been viewed with suspicion by
the Left,
6 as conservative historical forms that impede the development
of revolutionary consciousness, in Nepal they served as networks of
transmission for an emerging, counterhistorical, common sense.
Family and kin networks in Thabang operated as political conduits:
first, as circuits of intra-generational solidarity lubricated by the social
rituals and relations of affect that accompany gatherings of extended
families; and second, as intergenerational mechanisms of interpellation
that insured, in one instance after another, that several generations of the
same family were ideologically aligned: son and daughter to father and
mother, niece and nephew to uncle and aunt, grandchild to grandfather,
and so on.
For example, Purna Bahadur Roka, 57 years of age, has been active in
Thabang politics since the 1970s when he joined a political group led by
Barman Budha, along with close and extended kin. His interest in
Barman’s group was sparked “when my parents explained to us about
their hard lives and daily struggles.” Purna now lives with three genera-
tions of rebels: his father and mother who rebelled against Thabang’s
mukhiya, Khrishna Jhakri, in the 1950s; his own generation which
fought against the brewery and other forms of imposition from the
1970s onward; and a third generation comprising his children, his sib-
lings’ children, as well as the children of cousin brothers and sisters, who
became young fighters in the Maoist insurgency.
Their histories of involvement are illuminating. Purna’s parents, now
in their late eighties, were shepherds, who came to understand their
exploitation by the mukhiya via Barman Budha and his compatriots.
Barman, it turns out, is related to Purnawho and has two brothers, both
of whom are active in the Communist Party and have been imprisoned
multiple times. The brothers’ wives belong to women’s groups loosely
affiliated to the party, and their children are active in their school’s stu-
dent union. Purna’s son teaches in a local school and his daughter is a
trainer for a local literacy program. “I grew up hearing about move-
ments in Thabang from the time I was in the lap of my parents,” laughs
Purna’s daughter (interviewed by D. Paudel, June 11, 2010, Thabang).
Purna’s sister led numerous women’s agitations in Thabang in the 1980s.
She was shot dead by the police in 1996.
Sisters and their respective families maintain close ties in Magar com-
munities. Purna’s mother had two sisters, who in turn had five and seven
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children respectively, all residents of Thabang. Of these 12 children, five
assumed active leadership roles in various uprisings and one of them
Santosh Budha – became member of parliament in 2008. The remaining
seven children were varyingly active in local organizing. Now their chil-
dren (Purna’s aunts’ grandchildren) are all active members of the People’s
Liberation Army (PLA), the armed wing of the Maoist Party. According
to Santosh:
Family was the backbone of our organizing and the most practical place to
discuss ideas, what makes sense to us and where we should be heading …
Due to our extended family structure and cohesiveness I never had to face
famine or shortages of help in running family matters while I was in the
movement. There were always some family members available to produce
grain and look after household matters even though many of us were in
and out frequently. (Interviewed by D. Paudel, June 7, 2010, Thabang)
Santosh’s extended family consists of 17 members. Three of the
children are in the PLA and three sisters are members of Jana commune,
a cooperative settlement in Thabang established by the Maoist Party.
Santosh’s entire family is connected to Barman and Purna: Barman is
uncle to Santosh’s mother and Purna is his maternal first cousin.
Comrade Lal is the husband of Purna’s sister-in-law. He fits the descrip-
tion of a peasant intellectual, and has been working with the Maoists on
rural infrastructure development plans for Thabang. He confesses:
I was never in contact with people who are organizers before I got mar-
ried. After marriage I came in contact with this family and in a few
years’ time, without knowing how, I was already a part of movements in
Thabang. I come from another village, but later migrated here for this
reason. (Interviewed by D. Paudel, Feb. 17, 2011, Thabang)
Gramsci recurrently invokes geographic fragmentation as a factor
that impedes political unification of peasants. Guha, acutely cognizant
of this issue, attempts to circumvent it by highlighting the “verbal and
nonverbal means” by which peasant and tribal insurgencies spread. His
narrative poignantly depicts the drum, the flute, and the buffalo horn as
“instruments most used for the aural transmission of insurgency,” their
effectiveness rooted in their capacity to establish “semiotic correspond-
ence … between labour and insurgency” (Guha 1983 : 228–229). He also
highlights the use of visual signs as “nonverbal transmitters used for the
propagation of insurgency” (233). Guha’s perceptive analysis of varied
modes of transmission allows him to debunk elite representations
ofpeasant uprisings as “spontaneous,” “contagious,” “infectious,” or
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Even so, neither Guha nor Gramsci substantively examine family and
kin networks as material apparatuses of organizing and ideological
transmission in peasant societies. The thickness of these networks and
their imperative organizational function is evident from the case of
Purna Bahadur Roka’s family. Purna recalls that
Extended family members used to bring their sheep to high altitude pas-
tures jointly, and every evening we would discuss new ideas, stories about
revolution in China, peasant movements in India and possibilities of doing
new things in Thabang. And that was the case in every big family because
families were connected with other families. That was the best way to
spread what was happening within and beyond the family.
He also pointed out that “When something happens in the community
all members of the family gather in the mulghar [the house of the head
of the family, usually the eldest person: in Purna’s case, his parents’
house] to decide how we should get involved in the situation. This could
happen every day or sometimes every month, but family gatherings at
every festival were mandatory” (interviewed by D. Paudel, June 11,
2010, Thabang).
How did these kin and extended family structures function politically
in Thabang’s uprisings? Most obviously, they furnished secure channels
of communication that were able to evade state surveillance and over-
come the physical barriers of geography. They were sites of interpella-
tion. Less visibly, they provided a way to be-in-common by connecting
particular disruptions, humiliations, livelihood struggles, and sentiments
of individual family members into a shared narrative of state tyranny. By
reinforcing an ethos of mutuality and collective provisioning at regular
intervals they supplied the material substrate for “organic cohesion in
which feeling-passion becomes understanding and thence knowledge
(not mechanically but in a way that is alive)” (Q11, §67; SPN 418).
Finally, they joined history, matter, and individuals into an empirical
whole, giving concrete bases to new ideas – a far more effective catalyst
for the different common sense that was to emerge in Thabang than the
pieties of Marxist orthodoxy, which were common to some Left intel-
lectuals in Kathmandu. The revolution in common sense, formed in
activity and chiseled by years of political praxis, arrived for Thabang’s
rebels clothed in familiar idioms rather than foreign abstractions.
Memory did important work in this regard, linking the present to
the past – or, more exactly, rendering the past for the present as repeti-
tion with difference. In its retelling memory gathered force as the
cement of society, binding generations vertically and horizontally. The
contemporary history of Thabang is of uprisings stacked one on top of
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the other like geologic deposits and stretched across four generations,
a story – even more, a place identity that is ever alive for its rebels.
Purna Bahadur Roka displays acute awareness of memory-work when
he says: “We learned what happened to our families and communities
in the past from our ancestors, and now we do the same for our sib-
lings. We recite events constantly, every day, every month. Whenever
we are together we talk about our history and our responsibility for
the future” (interviewed by D. Paudel, June 11, 2010, Thabang). The
memorialized past insinuates itself into everyday tasks such as feeding
cattle and pigs, taking sheep to pasture, weeding, collecting fodder,
cooking, and washing. It seeps into after-dinner conversations, school
functions, cultural festivals, and bazaar gossip. It is the silent guest
when visitors from Kathmandu and elsewhere are invited to dinner,
joining Thabang to events in the outside world and hurling its lore into
a wider universe of revolutionary discourse.
Once described by Eric Hobsbawm (in Forgacs 2000 : 12) as “par excel-
lence the philosopher of political praxis,” Gramsci was deeply mindful
of the “peasant question” – which was, in Friedrich Engels’ paradigmatic
formulation, how to enroll a conservative peasantry for a proletarian
revolution led by urban working classes. Like Lenin before him, Gramsci
recognized that a politically effective class alliance centered around
working-class radicalism and unity could not be taken for granted
merely because a certain deterministic Marxist orthodoxy proclaimed it.
Neither the class alliance, nor working-class radicalism, nor working-
class unity was preordained. It was the task of political praxis to pro-
duce these, which meant that Marxist intellectuals would have to
understand and engage, rather than dismiss or be diffident toward, peas-
ant culture and consciousness. Although the term “subaltern” has
become a more elastic descriptor since a (sometimes indiscriminate)
referent to persons and groups hierarchically positioned as subordinates
or inferiors within nation-states, capitalist production relations, or rela-
tions of patriarchy, race, caste, and so forth – in Gramsci’s usage, which
was the proximate inspiration for subaltern studies, subaltern classes
( subalterno ) were invariably contrasted to a “dominant and directive
social group,” that is, a group which had been able to rise to “the phase
of ethico-political hegemony in civil society, and of domination in the
state” (Q13, §18; SPN 159; see also Forgacs 2000 : 211).
Writing about the “common sense” of the “masses” – and by masses
he meant the subaltern groups who “must be made ideologically
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homogeneous” through the political work of hegemony – Gramsci
asserted that such common sense was a “spontaneous philosophy of the
multitude” that was nonidentical in “time and space” and took “count-
less different forms.Fragmentary, even incoherent, it was nevertheless a
“conception of the world,” which possessed a “formal solidity” and a
“consequent imperative character” that “produced norms of conduct.
While autonomous from the “great systems of traditional philosophy”
and “high culture,” which in Gramsci’s estimation had “no direct influ-
ence” on the multitude’s “way of thinking and acting,ordinary people’s
common sense was not thereby in necessary opposition to ruling-class
ideologies. Instead, elite conceptions of the world operated on “the pop-
ular masses as an external political force, an element of cohesive force
exercised by the ruling classes and therefore an element of subordination
to an external hegemony” (Q11, §13; SPN 420). Here Gramsci appears
to make a claim about subalternity that is both ontological and meth-
odological: subalternity resides in the crevices of common sense. Or
more exactly: popular consciousness as the accreted experience of being
underclass, as well as a realm of unsystematic and officially disqualified
knowledge, is a living record of subalternity.
The telescoped implications of this claim are profound. Politically, it
implies that popular consciousness is the lived ideology of the masses
that any group or party must accept as a point of departure if it is to
forge a “historical bloc” and achieve “ethico-political hegemony” in civil
society and state. Intellectually, it prods scholars and activists to recog-
nize spaces of subaltern politics whose forms of mobilization, organiza-
tion, and operation differ from and are relatively independent of elite
modes of politics. Critical to note here is the grammar of geography that
saturates terms like “subaltern” and “hegemony,” keywords in Gramsci’s
political arsenal.
The themes pioneered by Gramsci and extended by English cultural
Marxism were repeated with difference in the first volume of Subaltern
Studies , in Ranajit Guha’s ( 1982 ) now canonical essay on subaltern his-
toriography. In staking out as this alternative historiography’s point of
departure the “structural dichotomy” that has differentiated elite politics
from subaltern politics, Guha declared that there
were vast areas in the life and consciousness of the people which werenever
integrated into [the colonial or nationalist bourgeoisie’s] hegemony
Such dichotomy did not, however, mean that these two domains were
hermetically sealed off from each and there was no contact between them.
On the contrary, there was a great deal of overlap arising precisely from
the effort made from time to time by the more advanced elements among
the indigenous elite, especially the bourgeoisie, to integrate them. (Guha
1982 : 5)
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Guha’s manifesto, subsequently elaborated in his pathbreaking
monograph, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial
India – as well as a later book, Dominance without Hegemony: History
and Power in Colonial India (1997) – anticipates the many theoretical
and methodological challenges of bringing Gramsci to the margins. Via
forays into the micro-history of Thabang, one of the formative sites of
Nepal’s Maoist revolution, we have attempted to show how Gramsci’s
ideas remain deeply relevant to understanding political transformations
at the margin; but also how interceding with geography can extend their
analytical purchase.
In so doing we reject, like Ranajit Guha, evolutionist accounts
thatportray peasant rebellions as “spontaneous,” “primitive,” or “pre-
political. Following Gramsci, we give lie to the belief that revolutions
are born and engineered in cities by urban intellectuals and working
classes, with the countryside mechanically in tow (here Gramsci’s note
on the Parthenopean Republic of 1799, in Q1, §43; PNI 130, is particu-
larly apt). Instead we show that Nepal’s Maoist revolution is a retrospec-
tive unity, composed of and enabled by diverse agrarian uprisings with
deep histories. Most important among these are the wave of uprisings in
the village of Thabang, in Rolpa district of western Nepal. Held together
by vertical and horizontal affiliations of family and kinship, Thabang’s
rebellions show how peasant movements can overcome the constraints
of geography – and, more powerfully, how geography can be mobilized
for politics, with high pastures and humble kitchens becoming birth-
places of solidarity and struggle.
We are very grateful to Joshua Barkan and B enedetto Fontana for their
close readings of an earlier draft, combining surgical questions with pre-
cise suggestions. We acknowledge the technical support provided by Basil
Mahayni in the preparation of the map of Nepal, for which we thank
him. Last but not the least, thanks to this volume’s editors for flagging
how our arguments could be sharpened and rendered more consistent.
1 See Roberts 2006 (esp. 65–69) and Goonewardena’s ( 2008 ) extension of
2 Address by Comrade Prachanda at a program in Thabang on Feb. 16, 2011
to mark the sixteenth anniversary of the launch of the Maoist revolutionary
war in Nepal.
0001596453.INDD 2760001596453.INDD 276 7/9/2012 6:37:35 PM7/9/2012 6:37:35 PM
3 Although men are nominally the heads of households in the Magar commu-
nity, women play a powerful role in overseeing household-level economic
4 Address by Comrade Prachanda at a program in Thabang on Feb. 16, 2011
to mark the sixteenth anniversary of the launch of the Maoist revolutionary
war in Nepal.
5 Speech delivered in Thabang on Feb. 16, 2011 to mark the sixteenth anni-
versary of the launch of the Maoist revolutionary war in Nepal.
6 Samuel ( 2006 [1986]) and Cohen ( 1997 ) are notable exceptions.
7 We desist from terming the new common sense “counterhegemonic” because
we believe that Ranajit Guha’s diagnosis of British rule in India as a case of
“dominance without hegemony” applies equally well to the history of
Thakuri, Shah, and then Rana rule in Nepal.
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... A thread of literature is emerging that considers decades of developmental empowerment (Leve, 2007(Leve, , 2009, left political history (Whelpton, 2013) and local activism (Cailmail, 2008) to explain the roots of the Maoist revolution. Recent ethnographic writings suggest that development was successful in empowering the peasants, but that it failed to satisfy rising expectations in rural Nepal, foregrounding the conditions for frustrated subjects to join the revolution (Gidwani and Paudel, 2013;Shah, 2002;Shneiderman, 2009). For Leve, however, empowerment and failed development are problematic justifications because they rely on a teleological explanation of individual agency and political awareness as a reason for the emergence of the Maoist revolution. ...
... Thabang village in the upper Rapti region, where the armed Maoist uprising started in the early 1990s, has a long history of rebellion against the state and feudal landlords. In the summer of 1954, an attack on the local tax collector, the Mukhiya, provided the foundation for the emergence of the Maoist revolution in the region (Gidwani and Paudel, 2013;Roka, 2012;de Sales, 2013). The Mukhiya, who came from the same ethnic Magar community as other inhabitants, wanted to cleanse the village of all 'backward' practices so that Thabang could be developed as a modern and civilized village. ...
... The group's 5. Since the establishment of the Communist Party of Nepal in 1949, the party targeted peasants to expand its organizational base (Paudel, 2016). The revolt against the Mukhiya in the 1950s that led to the establishment of a peasants' council, which was influenced by the communist activists in the region, attracted Thabang peasants to join the party (Gidwani and Paudel, 2013). 6. Examples of this included military operations in 1982 in Thabang; filing false charges and mobilizing local gangs against peasant groups; and continuous police repression by establishing police posts in remote villages. ...
Full-text available
The geographies of developmental empowerment and subaltern rebellion have unexpectedly overlapped and expanded rapidly in recent years, especially in peasant societies in the global South. By examining the relationship between the long history of development programmes and the emergence of the Maoist revolution in Nepal in the 1990s, this article demonstrates how developmental ideas, particularly the notion of empowerment, can be articulated politically. The author argues that development has a double life in which development subjectivities are reproduced through the simultaneous processes of enrolment and othering, generating the conditions of subordination for development's own reproduction. Development can generate the possibility of rebellion by creating negative consciousness of the process of othering. This article contributes to the growing literature on rebellion and development by showing how development, while striving for hegemony, continuously produces fissures in geographically specific ways that can become portals for the emergence of rebellious possibilities.
... In the years following the end of the war, Thabang has become one of the most widely researched villages in Nepal. There will be at least three PhD theses written on Thabang within the span of 5 years, 2 and the sheer number of publications available on Thabang is quite spectacular (Molnar 1981(Molnar , 1982Bhandari 1996;Ogura 2007, 451-461;Sales 2010Sales , 2011Sales , 2013Gidwani and Paudel 2012;Magar and Bahadur 2012). Most of the researchers coming to the village draw on a seminal article by Kiyoko Ogura, who was the first researcher to have entered the heartland of the Maoist guerrillas during the war and to have explored the origins of Maoism in the area (Ogura 2007). ...
... The present article will problematize some of the postwar narrative construction surrounding 'revolutionary' Thabang and illustrate how we, as social science researchers, might at times contribute to the creation and perpetuation of historical narratives which are partial but which become the history of the place. 3 Thus, despite the construction of Thabang as a 'revolutionary fortress' and a center of resistance to the state since at least the 1950s (Bhandari 1996;Gharti Magar 2013a;Gidwani and Paudel 2012;Magar and Bahadur 2012), the present article argues that this reading of Thabang's history does not give due to the internal power dynamics within the village, to inequalities between the village notables and common people, and to the view of peasants themselves. I suggest that the depiction of Thabang as a 'village of resistance' (Ogura 2007) is rooted in a specific methodological stance-the one which privileges the view of subaltern elites as a prime source of historical knowledge, and which does not give sufficient attention to the difference between the narratives and perceptions of subaltern elites and 'ordinary' people within the so-called dominated groups. ...
... While Ogura's article provided unique factual information on the maturation of the communist and Maoist Movement in mid-Western Nepal at the time when hardly anything was known about the area, it drew almost exclusively on the views of the local communist leaders who presented their vision of Thabang as a 'village of resistance.' Likewise, Gidwani and Paudel (2012), who rely on interviews with the same pool of informants, unequivocally embrace the take on Thabang as a 'village of resistance' and its peasant as 'rebellious inhabitants' since late 1950scontributing to the perpetuation of a mythical version of Thabang's history. ...
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It has become something of a cliché to speak about Nepal’s districts of Rolpa and Rukum as the heartland of the Maoist base area, where the Maoist Movement enjoyed most popular support during the People’s War of 1996–2006. The Kham Magar village of Thabang, known as the capital of the base area, has been furthermore hailed as a ‘village of resistance,’ and its inhabitants are often portrayed as rebellious peasants who resisted the state since at least the 1950s. Based on the analysis of ordinary peasants’ narratives from Thabang, the paper will argue that this reading of Thabang’s history, which privileges resistance, does not give due to the complexity of power relations within the village, to inequalities between the village notables and ordinary people, and to the view of peasants themselves. Furthermore, it will be argued that Thabang—one of the most extensively researched villages in Nepal due to its ‘revolutionary history’—represents an interesting case study of how the project of writing history from the margins can, in fact, obscure the mere voices of those, it claims to represent.
... In Thabang, the pre-1950s uprisings were a spontaneous response to feudal domination and exploitation, aiming to secure village autonomy and distancing peasants from state taxes, military control and commercial extraction. Since the 1950s, however, the history of sporadic rebellion has started to be consolidated as a systematic revolt against feudal landlords and state apparatuses (Gidwani and Paudel, 2013). This shift encountered a communist ideology in 1954 when Thabang peasants who were imprisoned for a local scuffle met communist leaders in prison. ...
... A number of political events, unexpected coincidences and numerous encounters with state repression have collectively generated these conditions of possibility for revolt in Thabang. As in similar agrarian societies, these conditions of struggle have been transmitted from one generation to the next, engendering specific political articulation, consciousness and activism (Gidwani and Paudel, 2013). A relatively homogenous ethnic composition and a history of organized resistance against the state both played an important role in generating radical consciousness. ...
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While the influence of peasant politics and agrarian struggles is growing extraordinarily in Nepal’s political landscape, their historical centrality and leadership in social transformation are undermined. This article demonstrates how the subaltern peasant politics of the 1970s and the subsequent Nepali Maoist revolution of the 1990s inversed the orthodox political imagination of peasants as primitive and pre-political, and argues that villages have always been a locus of political change in Nepal. By exploring the political history of Thabang Village in western Nepal, this article argues for a prismatic approach of studying peasant politics to understand how the structural changes of a particular village can instigate national political transformation. The main argument is that the internal dynamics of a village can enter into an articulated relationship with national political processes, which can swiftly transform the structural importance of the village and its nature of connections to other wider socio-political processes, allowing for unexpected political possibilities such as the Maoist revolution to emerge.
... This was achieved through a manipulation of the bureaucratic land registry system, which was in turn made possible Researching livelihoods and services affected by conflict by their exploitation of 'the peasants' general illiteracy and ignorance of the regulations' (Guneratne, 1996: 28). Related to this e traction of non codi ed, informal ta , the jimidar enjoyed access to power and status in village society, and typically played multiple roles in addition to tax collector, from law and justice enforcer to convenor of religious worship a nding supported by research from other parts of the country (Gidwani and Paudel, 2012). We will return to these two points later on, relating as they do to our own ndings. ...
Technical Report
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With a new Constitution freshly inked, the space for governance reform in Nepal has expanded. What needs to follow? This report provides some clues. Through a mixed-methods empirical analysis of taxation – a useful window into other political and economic processes – we show how local governance actually works and how it needs to change. The story is perhaps not as one might think. After years of predatory taxation by the state and other political actors, notably Maoist insurgents throughout the 1990s and 2000s, we might expect to see a simple continuation of these extractive behaviours. In fact, households today appear to be taxed at an all-time low. Drawing on original survey data from more than 1,000 households spread across seven sites in two districts – Sindhupalchok in the north and Jhapa in the east - we find that government taxes absorb less than 1% of annual household income. Moreover, just 0.5% of those surveyed reported abstaining from any livelihood activity in the past year due to excessive taxation. In the past, this picture might have looked quite different. But dig a little deeper and this good news story starts to fall apart. Taxes may be low, but qualitative evidence shows people continue to pay in other ways. In the absence of an enabling environment – public health clinics that deliver, a steady supply of electricity, government responsiveness to local needs – the costs of development and public goods provision are essentially being passed down the chain to communities and individuals. Taxes which could be used to pay for such systems are not doing so: marginal tax burdens aside, the majority of respondents say they receive nothing in exchange for the government taxes they pay. The void created by weak or poor-quality government delivery is being filled by various forms of non-government action. Community groups are established, trade associations have sprung up, individual donations to local causes are thriving. That almost 50% of total household taxes are paid to non-government actors, such as religious organisations and community groups, is testament to this. The reasons behind weak government taxation help explain what is wrong with local governance in Nepal. Budget allocations from central to local government have risen over recent years, and various Acts have theoretically devolved more power to individual Village Development Committees (VDCs) and municipalities. However, a number of factors continue to constrain the capacity of local government to both enforce taxes and provide quality public goods. These include: fragmented (yet still quite centralised) policy-making processes; the informal nature of political relationships, which often override newly introduced formal sets of rules; and the continued influence of political parties, whose members are often far more embedded in the communal social fabric than official bureaucrats have been for some time. What this all means is that the government is both disconnected from and unresponsive to local communities. Our evidence suggests this is the key problem facing local governance in Nepal. As a result of it, people are being forced to pay extra just for adequate or necessary services, such as education, electricity and irrigation, and their trust in government is being even further eroded. How might taxation help? Three findings from our analysis stand out. First, we see a positive association between the number of taxes paid and an individual’s perception of the government. Second, there is a similarly positive relationship between number of taxes paid and civic engagement (such as participation in public meetings). And third, we find a negative association between the number of unrewarded taxes paid – that is, those which are perceived to generate no return for the individual – and perceptions of government. The message? Tax more, but also tax better. The theory behind taxation suggests it can bring state and society closer together, thereby strengthening state legitimacy. But unless there is a clear dividend to the taxpayer, such transformations are unlikely to follow.
... Two of the finest examples of such 'translations' are Adam Morton's (2011) reading of passive revolution within the Mexican state form and Gillian Hart's (2013) interpretation of passive revolution as a process of de-nationalisation and re-nationalisation within South Africa. Indeed, alongside Hart, several other geographers have developed the philosophy of praxis in a range of quite different contexts (Gidwani and Paudel 2013;Nash 2013). One of the challenges for such scholarship is how to retain the close philological reading that has transformed Gramscian scholarship in recent years, while developing an approach that is equally attentive to emergent processes. ...
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Recent protest movements in sub-Saharan Africa have generally failed to effect progressive transformations. Efforts to achieve social change have been frustrated by governing elites that continue to utilise their vacillating and unequal relationships with the external environment to sustain power. Although the leading figures may change, the dominant African class can re-establish leadership through new alliances with domestic and international networks of capital. To understand such ‘change-without-change’, this paper contributes to the growing body of literature on Antonio Gramsci's development of ‘passive revolution’. The comparative character of Gramscian analysis enables his philosophy of praxis to be translated into very different historical and geographical settings. With this in mind we draw together recent engagements with passive revolution from Geography, Politics and African Studies. In particular we develop Jean-François Bayart's notion of extraversion, while considering it in relation to more recent philological engagements with Gramsci. Our empirical focus is the politics of transition in Malawi. In his second term in office, the autocratic and unpopular president, Bingu wa Mutharika, implemented economic policies that ran against neoliberal orthodoxy and suppressed protest during a period of crisis. Mutharika was replaced, following his death in 2012, by Joyce Banda, a previously marginalised vice-president, who nurtured a re-engagement with transnational capital. Working through the state, Banda led a transformation from on high and moved to impose new economically liberal policies, including a major currency devaluation, which reduced living standards for many. We draw our empirical material from Chancellor College, a major site of protest against Mutharika in 2011. Evidence from interviews with staff and students demonstrates how two episodes of revolution/restoration in Malawi, a country distant from the western historical experience, can be interpreted through Gramsci's socially differentiated understanding of politics. The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2016 The Authors. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers)
In this article we use the case of post-conflict Nepal to advance political ecological analyses of conservation violence, securitization, and militarization and analyses of the role of environmental governance in state-making. During the civil war of 1996–2006, Maoist insurgents controlled most of rural Nepal, including several national parks. Maoist insurgents' occupation of parks supported their goal of establishing a parallel state. Following the war's cessation, the Nepali government has worked to remake the state in rural areas formerly under Maoist control. We conducted an ethnographic study of Nepal's Chitwan National Park and its buffer zone, employing participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and document analysis. Territoriality and territorialization are constitutive concepts of our analysis and we view national parks and buffer zones as internal territorializing practices for extending state power over people and nature. We found that the Nepal Army's role in conservation is expanding, the national parks agency is increasingly militarized, and conservation policy in Nepal's buffer zones has shifted toward securitization. Buffer zone legislation and regulation, we document, grants the Nepal Army sweeping powers of surveillance and law enforcement in hundreds of communities and countless farms and pastures. We found that buffer zone residents increasingly experience the state as an imminent presence in their daily lives. Based on our findings we argue that militarization and securitization practices in conservation are a strategically important to the Nepali government's efforts to reassert state power over rural spaces and to buttress them against future peasant-based insurrections.
In the early 1990s, when NGOs were rising to prominence as an ostensible force for social change in Nepal, the Maoists were also beginning to organise, and denounced NGOs as agents of imperialism. The Maoists came to prominence by fighting a People’s War launched in 1996, with the intention of improving life for the poor peasant and working-class majority. But after a decade-long struggle, the Maoists became incorporated into the parliamentary system. While Nepal’s first democratic revolution in 1990 met formal, popular political demands, which were consolidated in a subsequent revolution in 2006 overthrowing the monarchy and bringing the People’s War to an end, there was little socio-economic progress for the vast majority. The argument advanced in this article is that this lack of progress relied on the interplay of two phenomena: an anti-Maoist alliance consisting of the international community, the domestic ruling elite and NGOs, and a fundamental ambiguity at the heart of the Maoists’ political theory.
The high property price syndrome in Hong Kong has led to heightened concern about the role of landed capital in property development. Recently, the hegemony of the real estate industry has become a buzzword in local literature, but unfortunately there is neither adequate theoretical articulation nor informed understanding of the concept of hegemony. There is widespread misunderstanding of hegemony, equating it to domination by property tycoons. The local literature has overlooked the government-business collusion in constructing the common sense of society so as to dominate others. Through an empirical investigation of the redevelopment of ‘Government/Institution or Community’ (G/IC) land in Hong Kong, this article attempts to offer an alternative explanation to the land question of G/IC redevelopment by highlighting that the everyday life of the silent majority and of professionals has in fact perpetuated the hegemony of the real estate industry in Hong Kong. It is argued that the government, property developers, professionals, charitable organisations and the general public have altogether participated, in different ways and to different extents, in the capital accumulation projects of leading developer conglomerates in Hong Kong. A land (re)development regime has thus contributed to the property boom in Hong Kong.
This review article provides a reading guide to scholarly literature published in English about Nepal's political transformation since 2006, when Nepal's decade-long civil conflict between Maoist and state forces formally ended. The article is structured around four major themes: (1) the Maoist insurgency or ‘People's War’; (2) state formation and transformation; (3) identity politics; and (4) territorial and ecological consciousness. We also address the dynamics of migration and mobility in relation to all of these themes. Ultimately, we consider the Maoist movement as one element in a much broader process of transformation, which with the benefit of hindsight we can situate in relation to several other contemporaneous trajectories, including: democratization, identity-based mobilization, constitutional nationalism, international intervention, territorial restructuring, migration and the remittance economy, and the emergence of ecological and other new forms of consciousness. By looking across the disciplines at scholarship published on all of these themes, we aim to connect the dots between long-standing disciplinary traditions of scholarship on Nepal and more recent approaches to understanding the country's transformation.
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The ethnic issue has dominated Nepal’s political landscapes since the birth of the Republic of Nepal in 2007. For decades, Nepal witnessed a series of peasant rebellions against the state and landed aristocrats. Ethnic peasants were at the forefront, demanding autonomy, dignity, and an end to state violence. Since the 1980s, however, the ‘ethnic question’ has become a development issue and the developmental idea of indigeneity has consolidated both ethnic elites and peasants. Recently, identity politics has become a dominant ideological force, rapidly unraveling the course of radical political developments in the country. Interestingly, this political movement emerged in a particular historical conjuncture where Nepali politics has been extensively shaped by the recent Maoist revolution and a long history of international development. This paper explores various aspects of ethnic peasantry and argues that the notions of indigeneity and identity politics have reinforced elite domination by depoliticizing ethnic peasant politics in Nepal.
The topics of language and subaltern social groups appear throughout Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks. Although Gramsci often associates the problem of political fragmentation among subaltern groups with issues concerning language and common sense, there are only a few notes where he explicitly connects his overlapping analyses of language and subalternity. We build on the few places in the literature on Gramsci that focus on how he relates common sense to the questions of language or subalternity. By explicitly tracing out these relations, we hope to bring into relief the direct connections between subalternity and language by showing how the concepts overlap with respect to Gramsci's analyses of common sense, intellectuals, philosophy, folklore, and hegemony. We argue that, for Gramsci, fragmentation of any social group's 'common sense', worldview and language is a political detriment, impeding effective political organisation to counter exploitation but that such fragmentation cannot be overcome by the imposition of a 'rational' or 'logical' worldview. Instead, what is required is a deep engagement with the fragments that make up subaltern historical, social, economic and political conditions. In our view, Gramsci provides an alternative both to the celebration of fragmentation fashionable in liberal multiculturalism and uncritical postmodernism, as well as other attempts of overcoming it through recourse to some external, transcendental or imposed worldview. This is fully in keeping with, and further elucidates Gramsci's understanding of the importance of effective 'democratic centralism' of the leadership of the party in relation to the rank and file and the popular masses.
This article concerns the first region that the Maoists declared to be their base area, in the western part of Nepal. It examines how the 10years of insurrection are reconstructed through two narratives by non-aligned villagers from the same community. These accounts concern two different phases of the conflict. In the first account, the violent irruption of the security forces into the village turned a spotlight on the structural features and historical conditions which made the community vulnerable to the outside intervention, whether by the rebels or by the state. The second narrative illustrates the obverse side of the same community: its capacity to stand up to oppression on the occasion of a Maoist ban on a sacrifice to the local god. The juxtaposition of the two narratives reveals a process of political maturation characterised by a critical analysis of the past and a nascent confidence in the expression of needs and rights.
This chapter considers the formation of political consciousness at the village level in Nepal through an ethno-historical examination of the 1984 Piskar Massacre, in which a local festival in Sindhupalchok district became a fatal confrontation between villagers and the police. Using a Gramscian theoretical framework, this case study suggests how we might broadly conceptualize the formation of political consciousness in rural Nepal as a key historical process, in relation to which any genuine understanding of motivations behind participation in the Maoist movement in particular, and the political sphere in general, must be considered.