The Letter of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai on the Palace Massacre in Nepal

Mr. Bhattarai is a leader of Nepal Communist Party (Maoist)

It’s rare in these days that an article in a newspaper can overnight become of historical importance. Perhaps the most famous instance of modern times was the 1897 publication of Emile Zola’s letter entitled “J’accuse,” which we now can see marked the turning point in the Dreyfus Affair and led to the exoneration of Captain Dreyfus and the lasting triumph of the anti-clericalist tradition in French society. It’s been many years since we’ve last heard of a letter to a newspaper that could set off such consequences.

But on June 6, 2001, such a letter was published. It appeared in the leading Nepali language journal, the Kantipur daily newspaper. The occasion of the letter was the horrific slaughter of King Birendra of Nepal and his entire immediate family in the Narayanhiti Royal Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal on June 1, 2001. Within hours of the letter’s appearance the publisher and editors of the paper were in jail under arrest, where they remain. The scandal of this assault on the press has received global attention only somewhat less intense than the reporting on the palace massacre itself. Yet, so far as we can tell, a translation of the letter into English has yet to appear. Given this international attention, and given that few non-Nepalis can read Nepali, we think it of interest and useful to present an English version of the letter.

Because the writer of the letter, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, is underground and a leading figure of the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) that has been waging people’s war in the scenic but impoverished hills of Nepal, it is impossible for this translation to be “authorized.”

Since the letter was addressed in Nepali to the educated urban audience of the Kantipur daily newspaper, basic facts of Nepali and regional history are assumed to be familiar to the reader. Without a preface that would amount in itself to a small book length history of Nepal, many references will be unclear to readers unlikely to be familiar with even the geographical location of Nepal. Yet since the argument of the letter is very clear, we hope that much can be understood by readers unfamiliar with Nepal if provided with a short preliminary historical sketch.

Nepal was unified in the late 18th century, and after a war with the British (who ruled adjoining India) terminated by treaty in 1816, became a sovereign but dependent nation. The British 19th century “Resident” in Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, enjoyed something of the power and influence of the U.S. Ambassador today in Peru or the Dominican Republic. In 1846, a young noble military commander, Jung Bahadur, a protégé of the British Resident, seized on a governmental crisis to slaughter several dozen of the leading nobles of Nepal and thus established his family (the Ranas) as the rulers behind the throne for over a hundred years. This long rule was marked by maintaining Nepal in strict isolation, while providing Nepali peasant boys as soldiers of the British Empire, for whom the Ranas were paid so much a head. These were the world famous Gurkhas. And the 1846 coup that established the Rana regime is known as the Kot massacre.

After Indian independence, the new rulers of India sought to replace the British as the imperial masters of the kingdoms that lay in the Himalayan foothills between India and China. In Sikkim, a small state that adjoins Nepal to the east, India established a “protectorate” in 1950, and in 1973 the King was deposed in a coup crudely engineered by the Indian intelligence agency. Sikkim was thereupon annexed by India. Bhutan, a kingdom next in line to the east of Sikkim, like Nepal and Sikkim borders both India and China. When, in 1964, the Prime Minister of Bhutan moved to have a balanced foreign policy between China and India, he was assassinated by Indian operatives and the king’s younger brother, Lendrup Dorje, was put in his place. Bhutan has kept its formal independence, but ever since there have been Indian army posts inside Bhutan at the border crossings with China. Nepal has been a harder nut to crack.

The Kings of Nepal from the time of the Kot massacre of 1846 were but titular rulers, while Jung Bahadur and his descendants (the Ranas) ruled Nepal as hereditary Prime Ministers. With the departure of the British from India, the royal line reasserted itself, deposed the Rana Prime Minister, and by careful balancing between India and China maintained Nepal’s independence and their absolute royal authority.

But the world has caught up with Nepal. Strong popular currents developed, one pro-Indian,“democratic” and based on property owners (the Nepali Congress) and, on the other hand, a great communist movement based primarily on the poor peasants—who constitute the great majority of Nepalis. Both currents united in 1990 to end King Birendra’s absolutism in a popular democratic revolutionary upswing. In the intervening years, Indian intervention in Nepal has increased by leaps and bounds. The government, in the hands of the pro-Indian Nepali Congress, is awash in stupendous corruption from the Prime Minister (Girija Koirala) down to the local party bosses. The communist movement, if it united a substantial majority of all Nepalis, has splintered. It now ranges itself in some ten political parties from, on the right, the communist parliamentary opposition, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), through principled but local communist parties such as the Nepal Workers and Peasant Party that controls the beautiful medieval walled city of Bhaktapur, to the revolutionaries grouped in the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) on the left, who are waging people’s war against the corrupt Nepali Congress government and have established effective dual power in large sections of the countryside.

King Birendra, though having yielded absolute power in 1990, remained as “constitutional” monarch with de facto control over the Royal Nepali Army, and with the support of a significant nationalist (and therefore of necessity anti-Indian) movement loyal to the Palace. In the people’s war (“Jana Youdha”) between the brutal police of the Nepali Congress government and the peasant kids organized by the Maoists, the Royal Nepal Army has been neutral. As the Jana Youdha grew in strength, and now there is no corner of the country—including the urban centers—without significant support for the Maoists, the neoliberal Hindu-nationalist Indian regime and the United States began to make their concern known.

On June 1st, 2001, King Birendra, his wife and all his children, were assassinated. His younger brother, Gyanendra, believed to be pro-Indian, was absent from the palace at the time of the massacre of all those who stood between him and the throne. On his return, he and Prime Minister Girija Koirala announced that the killings had been caused by an automatic weapon that had gone off on its own. In turn this was replaced by a story that the King’s oldest son had murdered his entire family and then committed suicide out of love for a woman he was not permitted to marry. The new King Gyanendra’s only son, Paras, a brutal murderer who has been responsible for the deaths of mere commoners in hit-and-run drunk driving incidents on three separate occasions (as a member of the royal family he is immune from prosecution), was at the palace during the slaughter but emerged unscratched. On June 6, 2001, the Kantipur daily newspaper received and published the following letter from Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.

Let’s Give No Legitimacy to the Beneficiaries of the New Kot Massacre.

Baburam Bhattarai

There was another Kot massacre in Nepal’s history on June 1st, 2001. Since the people are yet to get the facts of the tragedy, which killed King Birendra and other members of the Nepali royal family, it is evident that people everywhere are speculating and weighing conspiracy theories. As the saying goes, “paap-dhuri bata karaucha” [The sin shouts from the roof of the sinner’s house], we will one day know the truth. No one is ready to believe the propaganda which is being spread by the government and it’s foreign masters, especially since the way in which this tragedy is being explained—either the love affair or the accidental explosion theory—gives strong reasons to believe that the government itself is behind this tragedy. But this will only strengthen the just claim of the Nepali people to know the truth. So, a coalition between the nationalists and the people’s forces (NCP-Maoist) to unveil the real villains of the tragedy is what history demands from us at this particular moment of time.

The Reactionary world view presents any historic incident as a mere accident and tries to put the blame on some particular person. And it also tries to hide the core reality of the incident and only focuses on what is seen at the surface level. Analyzed from this angle, the recent tragedy in Nepal might be made to appear to be about a love affair, and the government and its foreign masters’ media are busily presenting this view. Further, another explanation that the gun exploded by itself and killed the key persons of the royal household was put out by the prime beneficiaries of the tragedy—perhaps motivated by the fear of what the survivors of the tragedy will say later. Undoubtedly, many historic events are mere accidents, and someone’s unconscious urges or momentary craziness could also play an important part. However, these exceptions have to correspond to a series of believable events, which simply is not the case in the recent tragedy. A future king might give up his chance to sit on the throne to be with the girl he loves, but we cannot be asked to believe that he would physically eliminate his entire family and then commit suicide for love. Moreover, to say that an automatic gun itself entered a highly secured room and killed the King and his immediate family, while leaving the members of the new King’s immediate family uninjured, is an insult to the thinking power of every being that breathes—let alone science and logic. We have heard of many scientific innovations, but if anyone has ever invented such a weapon, is he not entitled to the throne of not only the Narayanhiti Royal Palace but also of the Delhi Palace and the White House?

On the contrary, the Progressive materialist and dialectical world view explains any given incident as part of the pattern of the flow of life and the events taking place around the world. And any incident is seen as a product resulting from the intertwining of historical necessity and accident. Looked at from this angle, in any given incident, the underlying structures of social life play an important role, and the players who are seen associated with it from outside or at the surface level are but accidental. This makes it imperative for us to look at the massacre which took place in the Narayanhiti royal palace vis-a-vis the class struggle and people’s revolution taking places in Nepal and elsewhere in the world.

The centralized kingdom of Nepal, established under the leadership of King Prithvi Narayan Shah some 215 years ago, was in a rather bleak state in 2058 [2001]. It was –and it is—impossible to deal with the situation in a traditional way and under the old class rule. Plus, Nepal’s geopolitical situation and the changing power dynamics in the world and South Asia are making it hard to preserve Nepal’s national unity and sovereignty in the same old traditional way. What we have to understand here is that Nepal was always under the influence of British imperialism from the time of the Sugauli treaty [1816], and later came under the direct influence of Indian expansionism. Nepal has witnessed the direct influence of expansionist and imperialist powers ever since the death of the nationalist Bhimsen Thapa [1839] through the rise of the British Dog (description courtesy of Karl Marx) Jung Bahadur after the Kot massacre, and in each successive political change. It shouldn’t be very hard for Nepali nationalists to understand the new Kot massacre as a continuation of the same pattern of “influence.”

Why was King Birendra and his family murdered at this particular moment? What was his crime in the eyes of the expansionist and imperialist powers? Whatever your political ideology might be, one thing every honest Nepali nationalist has to agree with is this: King Birendra’s liberal political ideology and his patriotism were seen as his weakness and had become a crime in the eyes of the expansionist and imperialist powers. During the one-sided Indian economic embargo and revolution of 1990, instead of surrendering himself to the expansionist powers, he surrendered to his people. This did not make the expansionist forces happy. Later, his unwillingness to mobilize the army—which has a tradition of loyalty towards the King—to curb the People’s Revolution taking place under the leadership of Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) became his biggest crime in the eyes of the imperialist and expansionist powers. Some Marxist pundits, based on this, called us a pro-monarchy party, and we can now say that we—NCP(Maoist) and King Birendra—had similar views on many national issues and this had created in fact an informal alliance between us. Obviously, this scared the imperialist powers and their cronies. In the context of a deteriorating Sino-US relationship and a growing strategic alliance between India and the US, the King who appeared soft on us—the Maoists—and China had become an irritation to the American Imperialists and especially to the Indian expansionists.

India’s dream of annexing Nepal like Sikkim had to be amended and instead they had to make Nepal a Bhutan first, before making it another Sikkim. After CIA (and the recently opened FBI branch in Delhi) approval, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) [the Indian covert intelligence and operations agency] came up with a grand master plan to annex Nepal. Just like the cunning fox of folk-lore who stole the chickens by falsely shouting that an eagle was arriving, RAW too created a fake tale about the ISI (Inter Service Intelligence) [the Pakistani covert intelligence and operations agency] being active in Nepal and having penetrated the Palace. [The next few sentences, which refer to the 1964 Bhutan events, suggest a direct involvement of the new royal family in the June 1st slaughter] They even chose a Jigme Sigme for the Bhutanization of Nepal. And it is through that Jigme Sigme that the massacre was carried out. There shouldn’t be any doubt that RAW, which had already found their Lendup Dorje in Girija [the current pro-Indian Nepali Congress Prime Minister], aligned the new Jigme Sigme with their Lendup Dorje for the Bhutanization of Nepal, with a goal of eventual Sikkimization of Nepal.

What’s the new responsibility of every Nepali nationalist in this situation? A press release issued by our Party secretary, Comrade Prachanda has already appealed to the nationalist forces to develop a new analysis and form a new unity on a new basis and move forward together. Emphasizing that appeal, we request that every nationalist and leftist force speed up their thinking and actions to the same fast rate at which these incidents have been happening. In this historic moment, one small mistake by us can bring calamities to the nation and its people, whereas our one wise step can lead Nepal and Nepalis into the 21st century proud of their country and themselves. Our first wise step will be to identify the grand design behind this new Kot massacre and unveil the culprits. We must also deny legitimacy to the beneficiaries of this new Kot massacre, because this is 2001 not 1846, and in this gap, not only an enormous amount of water has flowed in the Koshi, Karnali and Gandaki rivers, but also an enormous amount of blood has flowed. Despite the differences on many issues, an important contribution of the Shah Kings (from Prithvi Narayan Shah to King Birendra) has been to preserve Nepali independence and sovereign status from the hands of British imperialism and later from Indian expansionism. But, now, if any Shah dreams of establishing a new Rana rule by staging a Kot massacre with the help of expansionists, then there is no question of giving legitimacy to his rule by the Nepali people. The contribution made by kings—from Prithvi Narayan Shah to King Birendra—will be valued highly by the Nepali people for ages, but at any cost they will not accept the new Jigme Sigme who has come to power by staging a Kot massacre. In this context, the RNA (Royal Nepali Army) whose main duty is to serve the King and the country, should re-assess their role after their failure to save the King. It is time for the army to think of new ways to save the country. We sincerely request that the army join hands with the patriots born in small huts across Nepal, instead of joining hands with the puppet of expansionist forces in the palace. The country is in crisis, and it is very important for all the nationalist forces to come together….sabailai chetana bhaya—may everyone understand this… (Prithvi Narayan Shah).