Nepal's Maoist Movement and Implications for India and China
Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee ·       

Sandwiched between China and India, Nepal has traditionally befriended both. Naturally its links to the south, nurtured carefully over a century and a half by the British, were stronger and deeper. Even though a trans-Himalayan nation, most of Nepal's population live in the south and its natural communication links, as well as the flow of its rivers are also in this direction. Historic ties, military to military links and a shared and open border have been powerful influences generating friendship between peoples and cordiality between governments of India and Nepal. Since the breach in India-China relations in the late 1950's this relationship also acquired a strategic dimension.



A study of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal has to be seen in the context of this backdrop. The book does well to highlight this and it is also where Nischal Pandey's study scores over other comparable work. One of Nepal's leading young strategic analyst today and the head for over a year of its only strategic think tank, the Institution of Foreign Affairs, the author brings to the study not only his deep knowledge and understanding of the socio-economic backdrop of this insurgency, he does it also from a geo-strategic perspective. He narrates the history and evolution of the communist movement in Nepal, situates it in the political milieu of today and only then begins to draw implications for India and China of current developments in the country.




Democracy did not come easily to Nepal. Even though an attempt was made in early 1960's, it was soon replaced by a guided democracy called the Panchayati Raj. This was inadequate of course, but it could have provided lessons for the future. When popular government did emerge with the end of the Cold War in 1990, it proved far from satisfactory. Kleptocracy may be a better word to describe the nature of governments that followed, even though there was some economic progress, brought about largely by generous grants from international donors.




This state of affairs aroused initial expectations in the people but delivered little. This is what Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai and the Communist Party of Nepal (United People's Front) successfully exploited when they launched their armed insurgency in February 1996, with a forty point Charter of demands. It is necessary to remember that the first nine of these were largely directed against India.



The book does several things and does them rather well. It highlights the reasons for the emergence of insurgency. It traces its early history and development. Explodes the myth that lack of development caused it to entrench itself in Rolpa and Rukun in the mid west, for indeed these are not the poorest of Nepal's regions. He explains some of the early actions of the Maoists and their modus operandi. Highlights the fact that in the early stages the only weapons they had were the Khukris, the traditional Nepalese close quarter weapon, graduating later to pt 303 rifles and now to the INSAS and the M-16. Finally, he compares it to two insurgencies of Asia in Myanmar and Vietnam and draws some very apt lessons. By doing all this he provides a unique perspective and admirable analysis to this strange conflict in the Himalayan Kingdom. A war that has till now claimed close to fourteen thousand lives.



Of more fundamental interest to the reader are the last two chapters, on implications of this insurgency for India and China. It may be useful to consider the latter first. China's interest, given the memory of the Khampa rebellion, is to see that US military presence and influence remain far from its vulnerable southern flank. It is thus ready to extend whatever support may be necessary to the regime in Kathmandu to undermine this presence. Also, having a so-called Maoist rebellion here, when Maoism has vanished from China, is not a favourable development at all and can raise problems to the totalitarian regime in Beijing that has no popular mandate.



On India, the author draws attention to "twelve grave consequences" for New Delhi. Some of these are valid, but of major interest are two particular issues. First, is that a prolonged conflict in this country of 24 million people could turn it in to a "failed state", for all that it connotes for some of the poorest and ill governed provinces in adjoining India. Second, is the spread of violent Marxism. With a thriving Marxist insurgency going on already in many parts of central India the possibility of further linkages across borders has grave consequences for all of South Asia. For India in particular, it fundamentally jeopardises the enormous all round progress recently made in the country.


It is in this context that Indian government's utter policy paralysis in Nepal is astounding to say the least. India does not have to side with any of the three principal players in Nepal, the King (and the Army), the political parties or the Maoists, all with blemished records. It has to firmly align only with its own national interests. In the short term this will necessarily be with that group which can provide a firm stand against Marxist political violence. Having assisted Nepal to achieve that goal first, to then help it build a stable democracy, according to the wishes and genius of the Nepalese people themselves, whatever form that may then take.