Is India re-thinking support for Nepali Maoists?

In the din and mayhem of the continuing violent protests in Kathmandu as elsewhere – ostensibly spearheaded by the SPA but, in reality, driven by the Maoists their new comrades-in-arms from the sidelines – one key new element in the months-long drama of attempting regime change in Nepal is India’s apparent re-think on the recklessness of its open support for the Nepali Maoists.

That, as all politically savvy people know, was best symbolised by its hosting of Maoists leaders on its soil; intervening in their affairs even to the extent of facilitating a patch-up between Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai a year ago; offering its good offices and more for the cobbling of the 12-point anti-King pact in New Delhi in November last year; and, more recently, of its reported clandestine arms support to the Jana Yudda rebels who wish to establish a Maoist Utopia in Nepal.

A Re-Think?

What, then, are the indications that New Delhi – long known to be divided on the issue of support for the Nepali Maoists – may indeed be drawing back from the brink now that scary visions of a Maoist takeover are becoming increasingly real?

Before addressing that query, it will be germane to recall that while sections of the Indian government, including its important military establishment, were known to have consistently questioned the wisdom of the government in suspending arms supplies to the RNA – the principal bulwark against a Maoist triumph –

the prime minister’s office and senior South Block mandarins, including foreign secretary Shyam Saran, have been in favour of such support, driven by their animus against a King who refuses to kowtow to the Indian hegemony.

Furthermore, pushing in the pro-Maoist direction for long have been India’s legal Communist parties that are linked, through ideology, to their subterranean cousins, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), who since last September are joined at the hip with the Nepali Maoists.

Given that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA coalition government depends on its political survival on the support of those Communist parties, it has cravenly followed their orders vis-a-vis its overall Nepal policy – thus far, including that of not resuming arms supplies to the RNA.

To return, however, to the mainstream of this commentary, there is, for one thing, the unscheduled meeting called on Monday in New Delhi by Prime Minister Singh to discuss the politico-security situation in Nepal with his senior cabinet colleagues, intelligence and military chiefs.

Indeed, according to the New Delhi correspondent of the Kathmandu Post, “the impromptu meeting also discussed at length ways to deal with all possible contingencies if things really go out of hand in Nepal.”

Quite aside from the fact that that the urgent New Delhi pow-wow took place a day after the King’s audience to the Indian, Chinese and American envoys, it has also come when thinking people, not only in Nepal and India, have begun to seriously contemplate the full scope of the menacing implications of a Maoist triumph, in Nepal and beyond.

Here, it must be stated that despite all the SPA rhetoric about it actually calling the shots in the current spate of countrywide demonstrations and disturbances, it is hardly a secret that the driving force has been provided by Maoist cadres waving SPA flags but acting according to orders from their own commanders.

No one who has even a political bone is his/her body can doubt, even for a moment, what the lethal inevitable consequences will be for the SPA constituents, if the Monarchy and the RNA were to collapse.

Changing Indian Attitude

Another indication that the official Indian attitude towards the issue of Maoist insurgencies may be changing is the fact that on 13 April Prime Minister Singh addressed a day-long meeting of Chief Ministers of 14 Naxal (Maoist) affected Indian states including those of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Chattishgarh, and Maharastra to discuss the future course of action to combat the scourge of Naxalism.

The meeting came against the backdrop of increasing Maoist audacity, and gain in strength, including the virtual collapse of the government’s writ in certain areas of India. As of now, Indian Maoist guerrillas operate in 170 districts in 14 states across the country.

Also to be taken into account is the senior BJP figure and former Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani who last Saturday claimed that the UPA government has a “soft corner” for Maoists in Nepal and warned that extending support to their insurgency could prove harmful to both India and Nepal. Referring to that meeting, Advani declared: “I am disappointed by the PM’s failure to mention the well-known link between Maoist insurgents in Nepal and the Naxal outfits in India. I suspect that this is because of the UPA’s soft corner for Maoists in Nepal. This is a dangerous policy.”

Earlier, another former Indian Union Minister, Subramanyan Swami had in a public meeting in New Delhi underlined the need for both India and Nepal to work together and seek a solution to problems created due to Maoist violence which Nepal is currently having to bear and which India would face in the future.

In fact, even as this is being written fresh reports come in of the spread of Red terror in India – including in Madhya Pradesh and in Uttaranchal, which shares borders with Nepal and China and is fast becoming a “catchment area for Maoists.”

No wonder, then, that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has decided, at the first instance, to convene a meeting of senior Congress leaders of Chattisgarh to discuss the party’s strategy on the Naxal menace.

That a significant change in mood and approach to the Maoist issue may be fast developing in India is, incidentally, also underscored in a recent editorial in the Times of India. Revealingly, the lead article in that establishment daily, opens this way: “Indians with a condescending view of Nepali backwardness that has allowed a full-fledged Maoist insurgency to rage in that country would be well to look in their own backyard.” The editorial grimly concludes: “If our political class cannot display the same grit and motivation that the Maosits have, then we are doomed to go the way of Nepal.”

The Other Side

A couple of other indications too point in the general direction that, at long last, India may have discovered the recklessness of playing with Maoist fire to set Nepal alight. Nepal and India are physically linked: if the Nepali house goes on fire, it is unlikely that the Indian house will remain unaffected, if Indians choose to help set it aflame and then cheer from the sidelines.

One is contained in an editorial in the Kathmandu Post, which has become an unabashed vehicle for openly promoting the Maoist cause in its frenzied and myopic anti-Monarchy campaign. Perhaps sensing that India, among others, may indeed have begun to have serious second thoughts about where its hither support it cautions against “patchy solutions.” That I interpret as compromises from both the SPA and the King for the purpose of defusing the Maoist threat whose sombre implications for the body politic is now startlingly clear before all and sundry.

Even more telling, of course, is the joint statement issued 17 April by Prachanda and Bhattarai saying that “in the event of any quarter attempting to scuttle the movement half way as happened in 1951 and 1990 through deceitful compromise, we make a special appeal to the true democratic forces, civil soviety and the general public to move ahead by strong opposing such a development.”

That smacks of the duo’s assessment that changes against their interest, including India’s backing, may be about to change.

The next few days should thus see significant new developments.

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.