Maoist Movement in Nepal: Impact on India

No review of the Maoist insur­gency in India can ever be com­plete with­out an analy­sis of the impact of the Maoist move­ment in Nepal. Did India score a self-goal by sup­port­ing the Maoists in Nepal? Time alone will ful­ly answer that ques­tion. The writer pro­vides a very crit­i­cal Nepali per­spec­tive to the Maoist prob­lem that now spans vast regions of South Asia. The writer states can­did­ly — India faces a seri­ous threat from an acute growth of Nax­alite insur­gency with­in its ter­ri­to­ries. It is true that the porous Indo-Nepal bor­der helped sus­tain the Maoist insur­gency in Nepal for a decade. And it is an open secret that Nepalese insur­gents received shel­ter and some kind of cov­er in India dur­ing the days of insur­gency. She right­ly con­cludes that the bulk of the Indi­an estab­lish­ment realis­es that pro­longed polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty in Nepal can only help the cause of the Nax­alites in Indi­an states as well as give Chi­na the pre­text to increase its engage­ment with Nepal.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India
Defence and Security Alert (DSA

Polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty in Nepal has always posed pol­i­cy chal­lenges for India. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, geo­graph­i­cal­ly, cul­tur­al­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly, link­ages between the two coun­tries have deter­mined Indi­an for­eign pol­i­cy vis-à-vis Nepal. But the con­tin­ued polit­i­cal flux in Nepal has made a rethink of Indo-Nepal rela­tion­ship a neces­si­ty.

Nepalese Maoists and India have always had a strained rela­tion­ship. It is wide­ly believed that Dr Babu­ram Bhat­tarai, in return for India’s back­ing for his prime min­is­ter­ship, is now pro­mot­ing India’s inter­ests in Nepal. India, like­wise, seems keen on pro­long­ing the stint of the Bhat­tarai-led Maoist gov­ern­ment. India’s changed pol­i­cy in deal­ing with UCPN (Maoist), how­ev­er, does not explain India’s his­tor­i­cal­ly dubi­ous role in deal­ing with the for­mer rebel par­ty.

When they emerged from the hid­ing in 2006 to join main­stream pol­i­tics, UCPN (Maoist) were viewed with skep­ti­cism because of their bloody his­to­ry, not only inside the coun­try but also on the inter­na­tion­al are­na and most impor­tant­ly in India.

Although India pro­vid­ed the major impe­tus for the peace process, the dil­ly-dal­ly­ing in con­sti­tu­tion writ­ing is still under­stood in many quar­ters as man­i­fes­ta­tion of cam­ou­flaged Indi­an inter­est. This is the rea­son ques­tion over India’s dubi­ous posi­tion is raised time and again.

Secu­ri­ty con­cern

India’s con­cern over Nepal regard­ing secu­ri­ty issue seems to have changed lit­tle even though Nepali pol­i­tics has come a long way in the last six years. Once an armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary par­ty, UCPN (Maoist) has now been dis­armed and has not just joined main­stream pol­i­tics, but is now also lead­ing the Nepalese gov­ern­ment.

Secu­ri­ty has always been India’s main con­cern while deal­ing with UCPN (Maoist) or Nepal as a whole. Now India faces a seri­ous threat from an acute growth of Nax­alite insur­gency with­in its ter­ri­to­ries. It is true that the porous Indo-Nepal bor­der helped sus­tain the Maoist insur­gency in Nepal for a decade. And it is an open secret that Nepalese insur­gents received shel­ter and some kind of cov­er in India dur­ing the days of insur­gency. There was exten­sive report­ing on how Nepali Maoist com­bat­ants were receiv­ing train­ing from their coun­ter­parts in India. It is not clear whether New Del­hi chose to ignore the close ties between the insur­gent groups on either side of the bor­der.

At this point, only a small sec­tion of the Indi­an polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment wants to see unrest con­tin­ue in Nepal because they believe that a state of ‘con­trolled chaos’ in the Himalayan coun­try suits India’s inter­ests the best. But the bulk of the Indi­an estab­lish­ment realis­es that pro­longed polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty in Nepal can only help the cause of the Nax­alites in Indi­an states as well as give Chi­na the pre­text to increase it engage­ment with Nepal.

As the strug­gle for glob­al suprema­cy between India and Chi­na grows, both the coun­tries are keen on increas­ing their pres­ence in Nepal. Chi­na wants Nepal to crack down on the Free-Tibet move­ment in the coun­try. On the oth­er hand, India seems keen on play­ing up the move­ment to counter the Chi­nese influ­ence.

Like­wise, India wants to keep Indi­an air mar­shals at Trib­hu­van Inter­na­tion­al Air­port (TIA) in Kath­man­du. Although the stat­ed rea­son for this is to pre­vent inci­dents like the 1999 hijack of Indi­an Air­lines flight from Kath­man­du, it could also be that India wants to keep an eye over the Chi­nese in Nepal in addi­tion to keep­ing a close tab on Maoist activ­i­ties.

Thus we again see that secu­ri­ty is at the top of the Indi­an for­eign pol­i­cy con­cerns vis-à-vis Nepal. There­fore, the Indi­an polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al cir­cle wants the polit­i­cal cri­sis in Nepal to be resolved as soon as pos­si­ble. But they also want the main cred­it for the res­o­lu­tion to go to India.

India faces a seri­ous threat from an acute growth of Nax­alite insur­gency with­in its ter­ri­to­ries. It is true that the porous Indo-Nepal bor­der helped sus­tain the Maoist insur­gency in Nepal for a decade. And it is an open secret that Nepalese insur­gents received shel­ter and some kind of cov­er in India dur­ing the days of insur­gency. There was exten­sive report­ing on how Nepali Maoist com­bat­ants were receiv­ing train­ings from their coun­ter­parts in India. It is not clear whether New Del­hi chose to ignore the close ties between the insur­gent groups on either side of the bor­dert to counter the Chi­nese influ­ence

Con­cern over anti-Indi­an activ­i­ties

Many of the rad­i­cal Maoists, both in Nepal and India, con­demned the 2006 peace accord between Nepal gov­ern­ment and Maoist rebels. But when UCPN (Maoist) became the largest par­ty in Nepal and went on to lead the gov­ern­ment twice, India start­ed wor­ry­ing that the devel­op­ments in Nepal would some­how abet the Nax­alite move­ment back home. India’s major con­cern is that any kind of anti-Indi­an sen­ti­ments in Nepal could be exploit­ed by Nax­alites in India.

It doesn’t help that the Maoists in Nepal have con­sis­tent­ly spo­ken out against Indi­an inter­ven­tion in Nepalese pol­i­tics. The then Prime Min­is­ter Push­pa Kamal Dahal (Prachan­da), the chair of UCPN (Maoist), had to resign as prime min­is­ter in May 2009 because in his own words he was not ready to “kneel down in front of for­eign mas­ters,” which was a thin-veiled attempt to expose India’s role in his demise. Anoth­er impor­tant fac­tor is that the Maoists in Nepal often fan anti-Indi­an sen­ti­ments as a proof of their nation­al­is­tic cre­den­tials.

But as Nepal is com­plete­ly depen­dent on India, only by accept­ing India’s geopo­lit­i­cal con­cerns can Nepal expect to gain a sem­blance of polit­i­cal sta­bil­i­ty.

Back­ground

Since they launched an armed rebel­lion in 1996, the Maoist organ­i­sa­tion steadi­ly gained in strength over time as the state failed to check its grow­ing influ­ence in the coun­try­side. How­ev­er, using mil­i­tary pow­er to fight a rebel group proved to be a wrong move. The more the state tried to sup­press the spread of Maoists around the coun­try through the use of force, the more the Maoists were able to ral­ly the youth to their cause. Mean­time, polit­i­cal par­ties also start­ed view­ing the nation­al army as a tool of monar­chy that could pose a threat to their own pow­er.

UCPN (Maoist), dur­ing their cam­paign for inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion, had utilised the offices of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Inter­na­tion­al Move­ment (RIM), an organ­i­sa­tion that espous­es left wing extrem­ism world­wide, as well as Coor­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee of Maoist Par­ties and Organ­i­sa­tion of South Asia (CCOMPOSA), cre­at­ed in West Ben­gal, a bas­tion of the extreme left in India.

India, for the most part, has pro­vid­ed cru­cial sup­port to UCPN (Maoist) and oth­er polit­i­cal par­ties to main­tain its hold over Nepali poli­ty. With about 800 kilo­me­ters of porous bor­der to exploit, the Maoists were able to smug­gle in arms and explo­sives to train their sol­diers.

Accord­ing to a secu­ri­ty expert in Nepal, “India regard­ed Maoists as a tool to over­throw monar­chy and believed that it could always play the Maoists against the state.”

Oth­er secu­ri­ty experts believe there were two phas­es to UCPN (Maoist)’s strat­e­gy — estab­lish­ment of a demo­c­ra­t­ic front and launch of a ‘social rev­o­lu­tion’. They believe that the Maoists have already com­plet­ed the first phase by cre­at­ing a unit­ed front to remove con­sti­tu­tion­al monar­chy and trans­form the coun­try into a fed­er­al repub­lic. They hold that the Maoists are now in the phase of social rev­o­lu­tion aimed at con­sol­i­dat­ing their hold over the Nepali poli­ty and larg­er soci­ety.

About the Author
Shree­jana Shreshtha — The writer is Defence News Cor­re­spon­dent of Repub­li­ca Eng­lish dai­ly, Kath­man­du, Nepal.

Note by the Author:
Many of the rad­i­cal Maoists, both in Nepal and India, con­demned the 2006 peace accord between Nepal gov­ern­ment and Maoist rebels. But when UCPN (Maoist) became the largest par­ty in Nepal and went on to lead the gov­ern­ment twice, India start­ed wor­ry­ing that the devel­op­ments in Nepal would some­how abet the Nax­alite move­ment back home. India’s major con­cern is that any kind of anti-Indi­an sen­ti­ments in Nepal could be exploit­ed by Nax­alites in India

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