Implosion in Nepal will subsume ‘red corridor’

Implosion in Nepal will subsume ‘red corridor’

A precept of the Pashupati to Tirupati theory of sub-continental Maoism was the seamless meshing of Nepal’s rebellion with that of India’s. While there certainly were fraternal links—providing sanctuary; attending key meetings; occasional training of cadre; and such—Nepal’s war was its own.

With renewed militancy of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or UPCN (Maoist), which has brought government near to standstill, and disrupted economic activity in this already impoverished country, there is again speculation of Maoist meshing. Those who indulge in it fail to acknowledge Nepal’s dynamics; and the fact that developments in Nepal can have far-reaching implications for India beyond the obvious laboratory lessons of Left wing extremism and its immediate aftermath.

Nepal had for long been at a dead-end politically and economically, which in great part assisted Maoists there to achieve their initial goal in 12 years—from the first attack on a police camp in 1996 to helping to overthrow a seedy monarchy and to run a democratically elected government for several months, until May. As premier, the sharply dressed Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who encourages the nom de guerre of Prachanda (fierce) even led a business delegation to India.

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India’s Maoists are lower in the revolutionary arc, as it were. They are the first to acknowledge that their task of national domination is made difficult on account of India’s socio-economic growth, increasing opportunities for that growth and expanding power of government, armed forces and police.

The danger in Nepal today is one of socio-economic implosion as much as its corollary: a resumption of hostilities between hardline Maoists, and a coalition government undermined by charges of nepotism and corruption. The government, controlled by moderate Marxists and the Nepali Congress, is at loggerheads with Dahal’s party over several issues.

Arguably the most contentious of these is the integration of Maoist combatants—now located in seven major peace camps across Nepal—into the mainstream. Proposals call for integrating them with former enemies: Nepal army and police. The Maoists’ public spat with the then army chief over this enabled in great part for Dahal’s former allies in the constituent assembly, the Marxists, to pull the plug on his government last year.

Among other things, subsequent turmoil has slowed progress towards Nepal’s Holy Grail, the promulgation of a new constitution by this May. The constitution is crucial for the process of peace and reconciliation, further guarantee that decade-long hostilities, which took an estimated 14,000 lives and ended in 2006, do not resume.

Maoists make no secret of an ambition to resume power—a legitimate objective of a party. Dahal and his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, have told me, as they have several media persons, of their goal. Maoists are clear that they will employ any approach short of outright war, thus far, to achieve it. Dahal is fond of using the word bisfot, or explosion.

And though their supporters and critics alike are agreed that there can be no lasting peace in Nepal without Maoist participation, the Maoist cause has been diminished, for instance, by their employing the often-thuggish Young Communist League (YCL). A growing paramilitary, YCL is used to enforce trade unionism—most hospitality industry unions in Kathmandu are Maoist-controlled—intimidate opponents, and provide numbers at Maoist rallies.

To increase all-round pressure, Maoists are reaching out to groups that shored up the rebellion—and voted for them in the 2008 elections. UCPN (Maoist) declared its “fourth phase of struggle" last week. Mass gatherings are to be held between 19 January and 24 January, addressed by the crème of Maoist leadership in regions that represent ethnic minorities such as Limbu, Kirant, Sherpa, Tharu, Bhote-Lama, and Madhesi—long-disenfranchised people of Indian origin concentrated in Nepal’s southern Terai belt—and caste minorities, which together make up about 70% of Nepal’s population.

There is talk of autonomous regions based on this mix. Should it come to pass, it would dilute the influence of the hill Bahun, or Brahmin, community and upper caste Hindu leadership long-dominant in politics, the bureaucracy and army.

The exercise for India and other countries will now be to gauge the tipping point for robust democracy—or an irredeemable one. The latter outcome will contribute to conditions of an implosion of Nepal. Large-scale migration of destitute into India; a 1,700km-long unstable border with worrying security implications; and weakened economic interaction with Nepal—India accounts for 70% of its trade—will subsume any concern of a Red Corridor.

Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.

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