A Conversation With Aditya Adhikari

Interviewed by Shiwani Neupane

After a stint in the Kathmandu Post as an opinion writer and columnist, Aditya Adhikari is coming out with a book on the Maoist revolution titled – “The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of Nepal’ Maoist Revolution.” Here at Story South Asia, we interviewed Adhikari on his upcoming book.

adityaCan you tell us more about your book— “The Bullet and the Ballot Box: The Story of Nepal’s Maoist Revolution?”

The book is a history of Nepal’s Maoist rebellion. As you know, this was probably the most significant event in the recent history of Nepal. When the Maoists launched their armed struggle in 1996, very few people thought they would get very far. Yet, by the early 2000s, the Maoists had taken over most of the countryside, and in 2006 they joined electoral politics and went on to win elections. All this had a tremendous impact on Nepali politics and society. A primary question I try to answer in the book is: How did the Maoists’ rise become possible? The book tries to offer a comprehensive history of the rebellion and addresses its political, military and social aspects. I was particularly interested in the human aspect of the war and the book contains many individual stories – of Maoists themselves and of those whose lives were affected by the Maoists.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I started writing about Nepali politics soon after the Maoists gave up armed struggle and came to Kathmandu to participate in the peace process. It was an exciting time. Suddenly, one had access to Maoists ranging from topmost leaders to foot soldiers, which would have been difficult earlier. The idea for the book evolved gradually in my mind. I had a sense that a comprehensive account of the rebellion had yet to be written. Also, many people around me did not seem to have a clear picture of what exactly happened in Nepal between 1996 and 2006.

Is this based on your own observations of the civil war? Is your book a reported non-fiction narrative?

My reporting laid the initial groundwork for the book. Once I sat down to seriously work on it, I read scholarly and journalistic accounts of the war. Then I read a lot of literature that the Maoists had themselves produced. After the war ended, many Maoists were keen to publicize their experiences of the war. They released a trove of material. Not just party documents, but also memoirs, letters, diaries and novels. I realized these sources provided rich insights into the human dimension of the war that were lacking in the accounts I had read before. My book weaves together their personal stories with broad historical events.

We believe you had a long stint with Kathmandu Post before writing the book? Can you tell us about what you were doing before the book came out?

I was the opinion editor and a columnist for the Kathmandu Post for some years before I decided to take some time out to research and write my book. The Post offered me a great platform to begin my research on the Maoists, as it allowed me to follow Nepali politics closely and interview a range of people involved in the war – both Maoists and others.

Can you say something about the title of your book?

The title of my book is a reference to the two methods that the Maoists used to come to power: armed struggle and electoral competition. In fact, political engagement was a priority for the Maoists even during the war. As I have argued in the book, the Maoists became successful partly because they astutely engaged in negotiation and cultivated public opinion even while carrying out armed struggle.

The civil war seems like a very sensitive topic to write about. Have you faced any threat or danger as a result?

Nepal isn’t the freest place in the world for the press. But since 2006, when civil liberties were restored, there has been almost no danger from the state or the political parties. So I never felt any threat. Rather, most of the people I talked to – including Maoists – were immensely cooperative.

How do you view the recent elections, where the Maoists suffered a heavy loss?

The Maoists were badly defeated in the recent election for a number of reasons. There was a general anti-incumbency wave (the Maoists were blamed for much that went wrong in recent years). The leadership could not fulfill its promises and alienated large sections of its support base. Their loss may also indicate that there were fears and misgivings about the consequences of federalism based on ethnic identity, a cause championed by the Maoists and several other parties (though their defeat by no means indicates a rejection of federalism and inclusion as such).

The parties that won the election ruled during most of the 1990s. Leaders who were powerful in the pre-1990 days of absolute monarchy have emerged as prominent faces in the newly elected Constituent Assembly. There is triumphalism among these parties at the moment. Some of their leaders appear keen to reverse the gains of recent years, such as secularism and the efforts to include historically marginalized groups in the state structures. This is a worrying development.

What are you doing currently?

I completed my manuscript last year. Since then I’ve done some writing and analysis work for various organizations.

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