Maoism in South Asia - Republican Nepal & Indian Naxalites

Cops attack anti-monarchy protesters; Katmandu, April 2006
Cops attack anti-monarchy protesters; Katmandu, April 2006

A brief look at the recent activities of Maoists in Nepal and India.

Submitted by Red Marriott on December 25, 2007

Under pressure from the Maoists, the government has finally declared that Nepal will become a republic. For several months the political process towards elections has been stalled in Nepal. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (who entered Parliament following the end of their 10 year guerilla war) originally agreed that any decision on the future role (if any) of the monarchy would be postponed until after the elections for the Constituent Assembly.

But since the end of the war the Maoists have lost much popularity; largely because of their strong-arm tactics in their long-running protection/extortion rackets levied on local businesses and residents. They have also exercised a form of periodic censorship against newspapers critical of their activities, by intimidating workers and enforcing strikes to disrupt distribution. In the southern Terai plains region they have been involved in inter-ethnic rivalry, resulting in several deaths (see previous report here).

Seeing this drop in support, the Maoists became determined to postpone the elections, buying time to improve their electoral prospects. So three months ago they left the government, announced they were now demanding the abolition of the monarchy and threatened a return to civil war if their demands were not granted. After months of wrangling, they have got their way. The abolition appears now as only a legal formality soon to be delivered; "If the elected [constituent] assembly endorses a republic by a simple majority, ... the king [will] be stripped of his crown". The Maoists have also forced some changes to the electoral system: Prime Minister Koirala, "who had also been opposing the Maoist demand for a fully proportional electoral system, has now reached a compromise with the rebels to hold the polls employing a mixed system in which 60% of the seats will be chosen proportionally and the remaining 40 through straight contests." The King was already a spent force, stripped of all power and most of his wealth - his last card was played when he suspended Parliament in 2006, but was forced to back down by a Seven Party Alliance coalition (including the Maoists) of bourgeois parties and by popular street protests. But he has played one final strategic role - as a political pawn for the Maoists. How the mighty are fallen.

For the wider Nepali ruling class, the Maoists represent a continuing problem. Any hope that the former guerillas' integration into Parliament would lead to a more normal democratic process has been dented further by recent events. The Maoists still retain their ace card - the threat of a return to guerilla war is laid on the table whenever negotiations are not going in their favour. The Maoists are now ready to rejoin the government.

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A few observations on Indian Maoism
The Nepal Maoists have had strong links with the much older Maoist 'Naxalite' movements in neighbouring India. There is a long and interesting article on past and present aspects of this movement, here;
The article reveals that whereas universities were previously the heartlands of recruitment for the Indian maoists - leftist guerilla movements traditionally recruited their functionaries from over-qualified students with few career prospects due to stagnent economic conditions - now the booming IT-driven economy and accompanying growth of the skilled middle class has destroyed this cadre recruitment for the the Maoist movement.

The article also reports that in those remoter forest areas with great potential for mining and other resource extractions the Maoist threat is being used by vested government and business interests as an excuse to use terror to clear forest villages and herd villagers into less remote camps near main roads. This separates them from their traditional means of subsistence in preparation for a new life as wage labour in the mines or other extractive industries. The new enclosures... or in the sanitised jargon of modern security specialists - "strategic hamleting".

The article reports too that in some areas the Maoists are well accommodated within the local political ruling structures and have a clever scam operating with them; the Maoists keep up sufficient level of activity to show 'evidence' of them being a security threat - this justifies regular applications by the remote local government to the central government for increased security funding. Once secured, the proceeds from the government funds are then divided amongst the Maoists, local politicians, government officials and security forces.

After several decades of activity the Indian Maoist guerillas only have any control over the remoter densely forested areas where there is either minimal or no state presence. The article describes how this has led some Indian Maoists to drop the gun and adopt more mainstream political tactics, similar to the change in tactics of the Nepali Maoists. But most Naxalites still look with scorn upon what they see as the sellout of the Nepali party since it laid down the gun.

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The local and the global
From a Western point of view the struggles of Asian peasants, landless labourers and the wheelings and dealings of their political masters may seem of little consequence. But their circumstances mirror to varying degrees the situation of large parts of the world. Though rapid population shifts to the cities are accelerating, the population of both India and China, the two fastest growing economic giants, is still massively rural - in India 70%, China around 40%. One in 10 people on earth live in rural India. Only in 2007 has the balance in the global population begun to shift to an urban majority. The exploitation of diminishing energy supplies and other limited resources (such as mining and deforestation) destroys environments and cultures; an industrialising process that relentlessly eats away at traditional means of subsistence - with brutal ecological and social consequences of global significance (e.g., deforestation as a major contributor to global warming; "responsible for 25% of all carbon emissions entering the atmosphere, by the burning and cutting of about 34 million acres of trees each year").

Whether displaced, dispossessed and forced into urban shanty towns as cheap labour for the 'Export Processing Zones' supplying the global market (with those left behind in the rural village often dependent on the urban wage of relatives - a typical scenario being parents leaving their children to be raised by grandparents); or slaving down the mines that occupy their former lands; or subsisting as a semi-proletarianised reserve army of casual labour; or perhaps even as insurgent rural rebels freed from the shackles of Maoist guerilla dogma - the impoverished masses of rural Asia will be a factor of some importance. The new enclosures create new struggles.