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Exile and the Kingdom

An exclusive excerpt from the autobiography of one of Nepal’s leading Maoists who transitioned from guerrilla warrior to government leader
Hisila Yami and Baburam Bhattarai during their underground days in the Rolpa jungles in 2001

Hisila Yami   |   Published 04.07.21, 12:14 AM

I was relieved once I crossed the border and entered India without getting caught by the police. It was very different from the time I had come here as a student. I was now a serious whole-timer of the revolutionary party. It meant that I would work full-time only for the party. I wore a sari, but had a tough time walking in it, as it was not easy matching that attire to my sprightly gait.

I had put on light make-up as well and, because I was not used to it, I kept smudging my eyeliner and misplacing my bindi as I tried to wipe the sweat off my face. I kept my head covered with the pallu of my sari, as my hair was still short. I also started using different names in different cities. I found it safer, less suspicious to use names of goddesses. I would introduce myself as Durga, Saraswati, Parvati. The PW [People’s War] had turned not only the state of Nepal but also my life upside down. I felt my personality changing. I felt more responsible: from being a free bird I had become a fugitive, an underground party worker.

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On reaching Delhi, I presented a paper on the “Nationality Question in Nepal”. The All India People’s Resistance Forum had organised an international seminar titled “Symphony of Freedom: Papers on the Nationality Question”. It was a front organisation for the underground party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War (CPI[ML]PW). This was my first introduction to the CPI(ML)PW. It was a grand forum attended by many foreign delegates. For the first time, I got an in-depth understanding of the various national movements around the world, including the ones in India... By the time I came back to Delhi in 1996, many events had taken place in Nepal. I recall reading in the papers that the then home minister had declared that the Maoist movement would not last more than three months. The government machinery was frantically looking for BRB [Baburam Bhattarai] because he was one of the few well-known faces of the movement. They had no clue about the identity of Prachanda, the general secretary of the CPN (Maoist). There was even a popular rumour that Prachanda was the king in disguise. One section even thought that it was a movement supported by the monarchy against the parliamentary forces. Some speculated that Prachanda was actually BRB in disguise. Those who were arrested stated that they knew BRB as their leader and had never met Prachanda. This further deepened the mystery surrounding Prachanda, even as he was coordinating events using the phone line from my sister Kayo’s house until it became too dangerous. He nearly got caught when he tried to move out of Kathmandu in March 1996. A spy had tracked him to a bus leaving the valley, but he remained undetected when his wife, Sita Dahal, strategically rested her head on his shoulder to make it seem like they were just another ordinary couple.

BRB’s deep knowledge of the regional structure of Nepal, gathered through his PhD thesis, helped in chalking out zones in the country based on strategic importance. The middle hill regions from east to west were the backbone of the PW. The country was divided into three zones —eastern region, middle region and western region based on the north-south flow of the rivers Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali. The eastern region was put under the command of Com. Chandra Prakash Gajurel (C.P. Gajurel “Gaurav”), the middle region under BRB and the western region under Com. Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal”. Prachanda was in charge of the movement in Nepal as a whole. Thus, they formed the core team. When the PW started, there were altogether 19 central committee members, which included only one woman, Com. Pampha Bhusal “Bidhyut”.

As operating within the country became increasingly dangerous, the top Maoist leadership team decided to shift to India. They used Siliguri in West Bengal and Patna in Bihar as the base for the eastern region. Similarly, Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh served as a base for the middle region, as Lucknow did for the western region. Meanwhile, the government launched the brutal Kilo Sera II military operation in May 1998, which made movement difficult. Forced to operate only during the night, most of the Maoist leaders had turned pale due to the lack of sunlight.

So far, I had been moving around relatively freely in India. My real underground life began when BRB came to Gorakhpur, from where he was running the middle region. He was the party in-charge for that region. BRB was being sought both within the country and outside. I had to be indoors most of the time.

Being accustomed to an active life, it was difficult to adjust to underground life in the beginning. BRB, on the other hand, adjusted quickly because he was a voracious reader and content with a secluded life... To disguise myself, I started growing my hair. I also took to wearing spectacles, even though I did not need them, to alter my appearance. With my saris, bangles, necklaces, earrings and bindis, I looked like a typical housewife. Even my sister-in-law, Durga, could not recognise me when she came to visit.

I got a chance to visit some villages in the Gorkha district in June 1998. It was my first visit to one of the PW-affected districts as a full-time worker in disguise. I was surprised to find that the party had, within a short span of time, reached high mountains and remote areas where the Dalits and members of the Adivasi Janajati (indigenous nationalities) community lived. Before the PW started, our party’s presence used to be concentrated in urban centres, and was limited to Brahmins, Chhetris and men. Now, it had reached the rural poor and women, too. I grew emotional when I saw the first exclusive women’s militant squad, which had been given the duty to look after my safety. I was very touched when my mother-in-law came all the way to meet me with a bottle of milk at night. I safely returned to Gorakhpur after my trip to Gorkha.

Reproduced with permission from Hisila: From Revolutionary to First Lady; Published by Penguin Random House



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