The journey to Liwang from Dang took 10 hours by bus along a winding road gradually getting higher into the mountains of Rolpa district. Coming to the end of the monsoon season there was no rain but a few landslides blocked our way and made the journey longer than usual. The few diggers that the government provided were working overtime to keep the roads clear. At times the bus seemed to hover on the edge of the road giving us a view down the steep mountainside but as we came to the top of this range we disappeared into the clouds. As they dispersed it seemed we could see all of Rolpa ahead of us.
The district capital Liwang is situated on the side of a valley, the building’s descending into the basin below. Arriving in the bus park in the centre of town, a red flag fluttered in the breeze. Coming down into the town we had passed a fortified Nepali Army base. While this town had never been taken by the Maoists in the People’s War, the countryside in all directions forms the heartland of the revolution.
The next morning we had breakfast in a small eatery in the centre of town. A man on the next table started talking to us and before long mentioned that he was a member of the Nepali Army. Talking to a soldier we remained reserved. But to our surprise, in broken English he told us his favourite party is the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). When we asked why, he explained to us that many people had told him the Maoists were bad, but he didn’t think so. He also said that after the Maoists he likes the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninists) but thinks Nepali Congress is an ‘old party’. Before saying goodbye he pointed us in the direction of the Maoist office which was located in the centre of town.
In the party office we were fortunate that one person spoke good English. He is a party supporter and the accountant for the Lungri-madi Cooperative, the main cooperative in Rolpa. In Rolpa there are 51 cooperatives under the command of Lungi-madi. People buy a share in the cooperative and in return receive rice and other food, the use of vehicles and the benefits of various development projects.
We were joined by Comrade Dhurba Kumar, a regional bureau member who explained to us the situation in the old base areas. Many people around the world are worried because after the peace agreement in 2006 the Maoists agreed to dissolve the parallel governmental structures. However, it seems many things are carrying on as before. In both Thawang and Jailwang Village Development Committees (VDC), the communes and model schools set up during the People’s War remain. The communes operate a system of collective farming and communal living. In the model schools children learn a Maoist curriculum. There is also a model hospital that still operates at Ghorniti and remains the only hospital in the district. In these areas caste oppression has been greatly reduced and it seems that women have a far greater role than in most of the country. The district committee has equal representation for men and women and the committee of the women’s wing of the Maoist party is 150 strong.
As the morning progressed, Comrade Khandan, the district vice-secretary, arrived in the office. In our discussion he related how during the People’s War, the people’s support for the Party had been very obvious, but now in peace time is a little harder to see. He went on to explain that “many of our leaders from the rural area are now in Kathmandu. At this time, they are involved in the key struggle over the new constitution. However, our experience underground was to serve the people, now our experience as a legal party is also to serve the people. Our local leaders are still among the masses. Also central leaders such as Baburam Bhattarai and Comrade Gaurav recently came here to give party training. The Maoists want peace but the U.S. and India do not want a Maoist government in Nepal, but we are confident we can win.” This comrade also explained to us that the Nepali Army and the police actually play a positive role in this district. They mostly remain in their barracks and, as we found before, many of their members actually support the Maoists.
Inquiring about the Young Communist League (YCL), we learned that the organization is 500-600 strong in this district. We were introduced to Comrade Visleshana, a 22-year-old YCL activist whose chosen party name translates as ‘Discuss’. He joined the party at the young age of 15. He explained to us that the YCL is responsible for expanding the party and the organisation, and also debating with other parties, possibly the inspiration for his name! Moreover, the YCL is involved with development work and agricultural labour in the local area. They also play an important role in solving disputes. If neighbours or family members quarrel the YCL will work for a common understanding. Common disputes include land boundaries and forestry rights as well as domestic violence and the consumption of alcohol, which is still banned in the countryside because of its negative social consequences.
In the afternoon we walked around the local area. Leaving the main road, we walked along the narrow paths dividing paddy fields. Walking uphill through the forest it began to feel almost tropical. As we ascended further we passed many two-storey mud-based houses of impressive design. The lower floor was generally used for the keeping of cattle and livestock, while the family inhabited the upper floor. On the way we passed many locals working in the fields all of whom greeted us with smiles, helpfully making sure we were on the right path. Walking up the steep, narrow mountain paths we were indeed worried about getting lost!
At sunset we again met up with local cadres from the office, going to another Maoist building nearby. This building housed various cadres, the Cultural Group of the district and also served as the kitchen, where we were given rice, lentils and raw chilies. We sat together on mats and took it in turns to eat our share. During a power cut, we talked more by candle light. We were introduced to Comrade Tufan, whose name means ‘Thunderstorm’. A man of arrested growth, during the People’s War this comrade had worked in the vital field of communications. Passing messages, he was not suspected by the Army or police of involvement with the Maoists because of his physical stature. As a district committee member he was described as “small in size but big in ideas.”
In the late evening members of the Cultural Group requested that we listen to them perform. The Cultural Group was made up of 17 members, 10 male and 7 female, between the ages of 16 and 22. In the room where they all sleep, they gathered together a guitar, some drums, and an accordion. Sitting in a group on the floor their first song was called ‘Against Indian Expansionism’, a song about the recent Indian encroachments on Nepali land, followed by ‘Revolutionary Red Army’ and finally ‘Making New Nepal’. The sound of the instruments and the singing, as well as the warm interaction of the people present, filled us with inspiration and a great sense of camaraderie. During the last song Comrade Tufan stood dancing in the middle of the group entering into the spirit and the rhythm of the music. At the end of the night a guitar was passed to one of the WPRM (Britain) activists who played a song about the oppression of women in capitalist society to complete the cultural and political exchange.
Returning to our room we were all highly impressed with the welcome we had received, the fellowship that was immediately apparent between all people present and the continuing role of the Maoists at all levels amongst the people.