Narratives give definition to fluidity. The question is whether such a definition is what we need. The recent decision by the Nepal Tourism Board to launch the Guerrilla Trail, a special trekking route connecting sites in western Nepal that were heavily affected during the Maoist rebellion, symbolizes Nepal’s incomplete peace process and underscores the need to give due importance to the process of reconciliation and healing.
Prachanda, in his speech while opening the trail, spoke about the importance of ‘capitalizing the memory of war’. What he gleaned over is that there is no single ‘memory’ of war but several ‘memories’ of the war. Remembering the Maoist rebellion entails recognizing the multiplicity of memories and the contested nature of collective recalling. At a stage when the political process has not even been able to deliver a truth and reconciliation commission or any instrument to that effect, selective memorials may impede the process of reconciliation by unduly shaping the emerging narrative that does not do justice to those affected.
Further, while it is easy to reduce this issue to whether we as a country approve of the violent means that were used during the Maoist rebellion or not, the central focus needs to be how we can emerge as a stronger nation in spite of the recent bloodshed. This entails recognizing a divided past and thinking about how we can heal the society as we go along. By Prachanda’s logic, economic transformation may need to follow political upheavals; however, economic growth alone does not suffice. An explicit focus on restorative justice is needed.
Some have argued that the Guerrilla Trail is valuable as a symbolic reminder of the suffering and pain the Nepali people, particularly from western Nepal, have gone through. Such a line of thinking is undoubtedly needed to remind us of the potential for violence in the country and to emphasize the social justice aspect of Nepal’s development. However, the orientation of the Guerrilla Trek is inherently outward. Memorializing in the form of a Guerrilla Trek is not sufficient to help the people of the region and the Nepali society at large heal together as a nation.
The Guerrilla Trail is bound to get attention and generate revenue for tourism entrepreneurs. The trek may also be a well-deserved catalyst for a region of Nepal that has remained wanting in investment. While this would certainly help accomplish the mandate of the Nepal Tourism Board, we must also ask at what cost. The Guerrilla Trek further reinforces the romanticism surrounding the Maoist movement and draws a tenuous connection between the Maoist rebellion and the political transformation of Nepal. The logical extreme of such a narrative would be the imposition of a version of ‘victor’s justice’. This is particularly problematic and unjust if we consider that there were, arguably, no ‘winning sides’ in the Maoist rebellion.
In addition, we must also be careful not to attribute the Jana Anadolan II and subsequent political changes to the Maoist rebellion alone. Without a convergence of interests among a broad base of domestic and foreign actors, the monarchy would not have been toppled and the leaders would not have been able to institute a federal democratic republic interim constitution. Judging the success of the Maoist rebellion by using the abolition of the monarchy as a benchmark is a dangerous proposition. Narratives reflecting and recognizing this delicate balance will provide the space necessary for a reconciliation process.
The argument against labeling trekking routes as ‘Guerrilla Trails’ should not be seen as an attempt to undermine Nepal Tourism Board’s idea of expanding tourism to different parts of the country that receive little attention. However, we cannot remain oblivious to how Nepal’s story of political and social change is presented to the outside world and what that presentation symbolizes.
It is certainly possible to celebrate the Maoist rebellion’s contribution to political change in certain facets. Yet, the pertinent issue is that the launch of the Guerrilla Trail simplifies the dynamics of the political change in Nepal to the point of romanticizing the Maoist rebellion. In a country that is still going through a peace process with truth and reconciliation issues yet to be resolved, this step by Nepal Tourism Board is contestable and out of place in Nepal’s current peace process. If we are to initiate healing and focus on reconciliation, the first step would be to accept the multiplicity of narratives and take concrete steps for restorative justice.
The author is a PhD candidate at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on climate change, energy policy and international negotiations