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Nepal: Haughty Hegemon Gets Home-Grown Help

Nepal: Haughty Hegemon Gets Home-Grown Help

By Madan P. Khanal

To the uninitiated, the latest escalation of political violence in Nepal would appear to be the exclusive result of a repressive regime’s determination to cling on to power at all costs. For those familiar with the long history of destabilization India has disguised as its Nepal policy, the latest tragic turn of events is scarcely unexpected.

King Gyanendra’s regime has been acting on a basic premise here: the Maoist rebels are driving the current violent movement under the banner of the “peaceful protests” organized by the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA). Even at this late stage, leading figures within the SPA have conceded that their alliance with the Maoist rebels is anything but natural.

Last November’s 12-point accord between the SPA and the rebels, along with the subsequent memorandum of understanding clarifying some provisions, was the creation of one section of the Indian establishment in response to King Gyanendra’s effort to break free from India’s stifling stranglehold. India reacted strongly to King Gyanendra’s dismissal of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s multiparty government and takeover of full executive power on Feb. 1, 2005.

The real reason for India’s displeasure was that the monarch appointed himself as chairman of the council of ministers, instead of any “India-friendly” politician like Surya Bahadur Thapa. Worse, the monarch appointed as his two deputies Dr. Tulsi Giri and Kirtinidhi Bista – who India despised because of their past contributions to raising Nepal’s independent international profile.

It is no coincidence that the SPA-Maoist alliance gained momentum after the Dhaka Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, where King Gyanendra succeeded in rallying the majority of SAARC members behind the inclusion of China – along with Japan – as an observer in the organization. In the view of this section of the Indian establishment, the monarch’s flashing of this “China card” was an audacity that needed to be punished.

The rival section of the Indian establishment, which sees the Nepalese Maoists at the root of the insurgency raging across at least nine Indian states, lobbied hard to prevent this misguided turn in Indian policy. Consisting of the Indian military, internal security agencies and certain blocs within the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, this constituency, among other things, leaked reports to the media about the extent of the India’s official role in forging the SPA-Maoist alliance as an instrument to tame the palace.

Despite his own reservations about the wisdom of fostering this unnatural alliance, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not act accordingly. His coalition is heavily dependent on the communist front, which enjoys close ties with both the communist factions within the Nepalese opposition alliance and the Maoist rebels themselves.

The run-up to the current violence is also instructive. The Maoist rebels had originally announced their own shutdown coinciding with the 16th anniversary of the last political movement in the Himalayan state. Mindful that an SPA movement under the shadow of a Maoist shutdown would justify any level of violence the state might be compelled to use to restore law and order, the masterminds in New Delhi came out with a brilliant idea.

They encouraged the Maoists not only to withdraw their protest program but also declare a unilateral truce in Kathmandu Valley. The absurdity of the whole affair was evident in the haste with which the SPA welcomed the Maoist move, only to announce their own shutdown and protests.

This arrangement has worked well for the Maoists. Having virtually conceded their inability to capture Kathmandu through their decade-old People’s War, which has claimed over 13,000 lives, the rebels have decided to use the SPA, who while in power, one must recall, first branded the Maoists terrorists and deployed the military to crush the insurgency.

Clearly, India’s current policy toward Nepal has been devised to perpetuate Indian hegemony. Democracy, human rights and empowerment have been used as part of its wider strategy of joining the United States, European Union and Japan in the club of “super-democracies”. New Delhi expects such an image to, among other things, help it get a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

However, those guiding India’s Nepal policy may have miscalculated this time. The Maoists have emerged as a grave threat to the Indian union. While the scale of the Maoist attacks has been growing, there has been a dramatic increase in the geographic spread of their influence. In the early 1990s the number of districts affected by varying degrees of Maoist violence stood at just 15 in four states. This figure rose to 55 districts in nine states by the end of 2003 and shot up to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004. At least 170 districts (of a total of 602 districts in the country) are said to be under Maoist influence today.

In a speech in the upper house of parliament in December 2004, General Shankar Roy Choudhary, a former chief of army staff, observed that the Maoist threat is "the main threat which is menacing the [Indian] state today, more dangerous than the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or the situation in the northeast".

This grim scenario has not prevented the Indian government from sheltering, training and arming Nepal’s Maoist rebels. The hope in New Delhi is to force the Nepalese Maoists to disown their allies in India in exchange for formal Indian support as a legitimate political force in Nepal. Although Nepalese Maoist supremo Prachanda has been issuing statements renouncing any links with Indian Maoists or their methods, he does not seem to have impressed too many in New Delhi.

Prachanda and his No.2 Dr. Baburam Bhattarai have a long record of obfuscation and prevarication on almost every issue under the sun – something few in India are unaware of. New Delhi is unlikely to convert the Nepalese Maoists.

Mainstream Nepalese politicians, especially those in the Nepali Congress and the Nepali Congress (Democratic), recognize the true face of the Maoists. They are too beholden to their Indian patrons to come out in public opposition to the SPA alliance with the rebels. In a post-monarchy Nepal, the Maoists would have little incentive not to decimate the SPA and seek total control of the state.

Herein lies the greatest threat to the region. Left-wing insurgents in South Asia have been talking of "liberating" a "compact revolutionary zone" (CRZ), extending from Nepal through Bihar in the north, running through Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, and down to Andhra Pradesh in the south of India. The Indian Maoists are well on their way to creating this contiguous corridor. An official Maoist state in Nepal would only embolden Indian Maoists to strive for more.

While the prospect of the Maoists seizing total power in India is virtually nil, they do pose a serious threat to India’s aspirations to establish itself as a global economic power.
India's combination of low-cost labor and a highly educated, English-speaking work force has made it a significant component in the business of many multinational corporations -- especially in the software, e-commerce and customer-service industries.

The Maoists, for their part, view the high-tech industry as a symptom of an oppressive capitalist system. Moreover, they recognize that foreign investment in India's technology sector is critical for the country's economic growth and thus represents a potential vulnerability for the government they want to destroy. Furthermore, as the U.S.-based think tank Stratfor said in a recent report, “attacking economic infrastructure targets is a central tenet of asymmetrical warfare.”

In engineering the current protests in Nepal under the auspices of the SPA, India feels it can unleash the full force of Maoist violence against the royal regime, prompting it to intensify its crackdown. Having blessed the “indigenous democracy movement,” the Indian media are full of reports on how the government crackdown has triggered a massive influx of Nepalese refugees in adjoining Indian states.

Considering how events unfold in the coming days, India could use this as a pretext to intervene militarily in Nepal, thereby achieving its long-cherished goal of pre-empting any moves for United Nations or third-party intervention. (Something, one might add, that is a central objective of the Left parties backing the coalition government in New Delhi.)

Whether the benefits of New Delhi’s latest destabilization campaign in Nepal outweigh the risks to India – or vice versa – is something that is being studied carefully beyond India and Nepal.


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