A devout leftist journalist, People’s War and revolutionary-turned political pests of Nepal

By Ram Khatry
13 February 2019

Depending on who you ask, February 13 can either be an auspicious or regrettable day for Nepal and the Nepalese people. If you ask someone like Manarishi Dhital, February 13 is a historic day because 23 years ago today the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) launched People’s War which eventually paved the way for the formation of the Constituent Assembly. Hence, the republic today.

On the other hand, if you ask a staunch royalist like Kamal Thapa or any old-school Nepali Congress leader, February 13 is a black day in Nepal’s history because it led to the loss of 16,000 plus people and the end of 239-year-old Shah Dynasty, exactly what former Maoist like Manarishi Dhital wanted to achieve right from Day One.

Today, Mr Dhital’s heart is filled with as much frustration as it was with revolutionary fervour two decades earlier when he joined the Maoist movement and began contributing to the cause by way of his revolutionary journalism.

Mr Dhital is visibly frustrated because the leaders who led bright, young men and women to the oncoming bullets of the Royal Nepal Army have now become as materialistic and self-centric as the people they once fought against. He is frustrated because they have turned into just another batch of corrupt politicians who do not hesitate to open parliament’s doors even to criminals. “What brought the Maoist movement to this stage?” he asks.

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Manarishi Dhital in a Kathmandu jail in 2001; his fellow inmate Birenra Basnet, in black T-shirt, is still missing I Photo: Supplied

Thirteen years on since the peace process began in Nepal, many of the root causes of the people’s war fought at the expense of tens of thousands of human lives are still as unattended as they were 23 years ago, the Australia correspondent for popular Nepalese digital media onlinekhabar.com deplores.

He is angry because the once dedicated and clean Maoist leaders now hobnob with people without principles and let thugs like Deepak Manange and Resham Chaudhary enter sacred place like the parliament.

“What about the martyrs and their destitute families? What about the disappeared? What about the injured who were left disabled for rest of their lives? We gained power but gave up on justice,” Mr Dhital says.

Mr Dhital’s frustration is justified because he has seen firsthand what great sacrifices the ordinary people of Nepal once made to bring about the political changes the corrupt leaders in Kathmandu today cash on.

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In this 2015 picture taken in Lamjung district, journalist Manarishi Dhital poses in front of a bridge commemorating martyrs of the people’s war I Photo: Supplied

During his underground days, from 2002 to 2006, he worked closely with all leaders including two past prime ministers – Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and Baburam Bhattarai. These once-dedicated representatives of the downtrodden have today forgotten what they fought for during the ten years of People’s War, Mr Dhital laments. Personal gain and favouritism have replaced their former enthusiasm for justice for the ordinary Nepalese people, the ex-prisoner of conscience said. He was jailed for one year after Gyanendra Shah became the king of Nepal.

From 2002 until 2006, the father of two remained underground to save his life and was embedded with the People’s Army as the bloody battle between the Maoist guerrillas and the then Royal Nepal Army raged on. He reported from the frontline as the two sides clashed against each other leaving a trail of blood across the land of Buddha. He has seen it all – the gruesome reality of an internal conflict when death becomes an everyday reality. He has lost many of his close mates including one of his former colleagues who was with him in jail.

He had to go underground after nearly a dozen journalists including celebrated leftist journalist Krishna Sen were killed by the government forces. In retrospect, Mr Dhital thinks he would certainly have been killed had he not gone underground because any journalist found opposed to the royal regime found themselves targeted by the army.

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Manarishi Dhital, second from right, poses with his fellow reporters and Maoist fighters before they led an offensive on Beni, the headquarters of Myagdi district. It was one of the biggest offensives of the People’s Army I Photo: Supplied

Cameraman, reporter, editor, trainer, stringer and photographer – Manarishi Dhital has undertaken all possible roles of a journalist. Ultimately, he became the editor of the pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, – although now it has gone out of circulation.

Underground tent-office of Janadesh, the pro-Maoist weekly I Photo: Supplied

Someone who worked with an organisation that played a pivotal role in setting the current political landscape of Nepal can naturally be expected to be angry as his former leaders degenerate into mere political pests.

Mr Dhital still firmly believes that “People’s War” was inevitable at that point of the Nepalese history. It was right in aiming to bring an end to the autocratic regime.

“I feel proud that I played a role in that great movement,” he says.

Asked if he is as convinced of Maoism today after 23 years since the movement began on 13 February 1996, the former underground journalist avoided a direct response, “Philosophically speaking, I believe that Maoism was rightly used at that point in time.”

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