A Himalayan Red Herring? Maoist Revolution in the Shadow of the Legacy Raj - Saubhagya Shah

 A Himalayan Red Herring? Maoist Revolution in the Shadow of the Legacy Raj - Saubhagya Shah

Written during the Maoist guerilla war in Nepal, an analysis of how the Maoists and the conflict were put to use by Indian diplomacy as part of their wider regional domination.

"...The core tensions of the Legacy Raj are sustained by the polymorphous character of the post-independence power elites, whose conception of self and mission oscillates between that of anti-colonial heroes on the one hand and heirs to the British Raj on the other. It is this contradictory impulse that generates cycles of destabilisation outwards into the regional system in the form of economic pressures, political subversion, proxy wars and military adventures."

... "Precisely because India lacks formal treaty rights commensurate with its ambitions in Nepal, New Delhi has undertaken a range of diplomatic and covert manoeuvres to 'mold the political evolution of Nepal in its own image and to establish some kind of de facto protectorate'." ... "The familiar historical terrain the Maoists have traversed over the past seven years en route to their final rendezvous with the Legacy Raj provides a basis for identifying the Maoist war as a replication of the conventional form of oppositional politics, rather than a revolutionary break from it. All successful oppositional engagements have so far entailed a coupling with Indian interests in order to encircle, coerce and compromise the Nepali state, and it appears that the Maoists have also opted for this proven strategy, albeit in a different guise."

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'If the impetus for conflict develops externally, if the strategists, supplies, and grounding ideologies come from outside the country, and if all of these are structured principally to benefit foreign goals, what is the relevance of the concept of internal war?' (Nordstrom 1999)

'What if these theorists are so intent on combating the remnants of a past form of domination that they fail to recognize the new form that is looming over them in the present?' (Hardt and Negri 2000)

The notion that the armed campaign launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in 1996 is a reaction to chronic poverty, inequality, lack of development, corruption and general neglect by the government has assumed the status of a truism among the Maoists' apologists and critics alike. As general descriptions, these characteristics certainly hold true, and to a large extent they help to legitimise and rationalise the rebels' actions. Such generalisations, however, do not explain why the present insurgency chose a particular time-space coordinate or a specific form for its manifestation. Nor does the argument that destitution and underdevelopment were causal factors explain why Rolpa, Rukum, Salyan, Dang and Pyuthan districts of Rapti zone became ground zero for the Maoist insurgency. If social and economic marginalisation alone were responsible for the emergence of the communist revolt, the hill districts of Karnali, Seti and Mahakali zones would be far more likely candidates, not only because of their grinding poverty and chronic food shortage, but also because of the nature of their terrain and their inaccessibility from state centres. By national standards, Rapti zone displays average developmental indicators: most of the district headquarters are linked by a road network, the area is traversed by the all important east-west Mahendra highway, and it enjoys a network of basic rural telecommunication facilities (Gurung 1998: 171). Rapti zone also boasts a relatively prosperous agricultural countryside. In recent years, Rapti hill districts have even achieved a small measure of commercial success in exporting cash crops such as fruits, spices and vegetables.[1] It is therefore apparent that the epicentre of the Maoist uprising is by no means the most marginal region in Nepal. A holistic analysis of the Maoist insurgency must therefore move beyond simplistic economic causality and engage with the other processes and forces that are at work: the economic context can only be a point of departure, not the analytical conclusion. I suggest that the factors that led to the rapid growth of the insurgency include: acute disunity within the ruling parliamentary parties; the ideological and structural weakness of the Nepali state; the rapid ethnicisation of the Maoist movement; a long-standing culture of recruitment into foreign armies in the Maoist heartland; extra-territorial linkages; and, most significantly, the general retreat of the Nepali state during the initial phase of the conflict (Shah 2002).

The immediacy of the Maoist crisis has caused many to forget that this is not the first time that Nepal has experienced an armed rebellion in its hinterlands. Similar disturbances in the past were quickly defused when the state displayed sufficient determination and coherence in its response. A decisive stance on the part of the state prevented minor uprisings from developing into protracted guerrilla wars. In contrast, the reaction of the state to the Maoist insurgency has been characterised by utter confusion, to the extent that even after six years of particularly destructive violence the government in Kathmandu had yet even to define the nature of the threat. Official pronouncements continued to describe the Maoist insurgency variously as a simple law and order problem; as a socio-economic malaise; as terrorism; or as just another 'political issue'. In the absence of any conceptual clarity among the ruling elites, public security deteriorated rapidly, even as the Maoists consolidated their organisation and military assets at a brisk pace between 1996 and 2001.

Rather than seeing the people's war as a phenomenon unto itself, I will argue that the present conflict does not merely exhibit strong parallels with the oppositional politics of the past century in Nepal, but is in fact a continuation of that tradition - a tradition that is sustained by the particular nature of South Asian inter-state relations and wider global opportunities and constraints. The recourse to history and geopolitics not only makes familiar what otherwise appears unique, but also offers a tentative trajectory for the current conflict in Nepal. We are, after all, enjoined by Mao himself to 'Look at its past, and you can tell its present; look at its past and present, and you can tell its future' (Mao Zedong 1967: 11).

In linking the Maoist movement to the wider regional context, the unit of analysis must always extend beyond the national borders, especially those of a nation characterised as a 'periphery of a periphery' (Cameron 1994). What happens across the porous boundary often has more influence on events than what goes on inside. Therefore, I argue for a historically linear and geopolitically horizontal frame of reference for the people's war. Furthermore, the notion of national security as the sum total of internal and external determinants implies that any examination of the Maoist issue in Nepal must be attentive not only to the internal dynamics but also to the external forces that shape the present conflict (Thomas 1986, Gordon 1992). Theoretically and empirically, the challenge is to recognise the internal and external sources of the war and trace the specific pathways of their intersection.

Methodologically, the topic of Maoism in Nepal is still highly problematic for a scholarly assessment because the complexities of the guerrilla conflict expose the limitations of both anthropological and social-scientific approaches. On the one hand, the arbitrary violence and physical risks of a war zone make a sustained ethnographic rendering of the insurgency impossible.[2] On the other hand, the sudden twists and turns, public posturing, hidden agendas, and a shifting nexus of clandestine alliances at both national and regional levels overwhelm standard social science tools. Any attempt at drawing a coherent picture of the on-going war has to rely largely on newspaper reports, the elliptical public utterances of the protagonists, party political literature, and cryptic pronouncements from various government sources. In the fog and din of war, hazarding meaning in the silences and absences of the propaganda campaign often rests on a creative deployment of Max Weber's notion of verstehen and Paul Ricoeur's suggestion of a 'hermencutics of suspicion'.

I have found 'oppositional politics' to be a much more useful conceptual tool in explicating the Maoists' motives and actions than splitting hairs over the semantics of 'terrorism' or 'people's war', which are overburdened with ideological and moral expediencies. When shorn of its rhetorical posture, the CPN (Maoist) seeks quite simply to overthrow the present regime and monopolise state power. The means employed to achieve this goal will be seen as 'terrorism' or as 'people's war', depending upon the sympathies of the evaluator. Moreover, by examining the present conflict as a form of oppositional politics geared primarily to capturing the whole or a part of state power, it becomes possible to establish explanatory connections and continuities with earlier forms of oppositional politics in Nepal and their external implications.

THE COERCIVE ENVIRONMENT

Considering the numerous wars, ethnic and secessionist conflicts, nuclear stand-offs and foreign military interventions of the last five decades, the description of the post-colonial settlement in South Asia as 'intrinsically unstable' comes across as an understatement (Gordon 1992: 19, see also Ramana and Nayyar 2001, Ganguly 2001, Kothari and Mian 2001, Sisson and Rose 1990). A combustible mix of colonial legacy, imperial ambitions and religious extremism ensures that the whole region, home to a fifth of all humanity, is never far from Armageddon. At the heart of the subcontinental maelstrom is the Legacy Raj Syndrome: a regional milieu characterised by a high level of inter-state depredation and bad faith. The core tensions of the Legacy Raj are sustained by the polymarphous character of the post-independence power elites, whose conception of self and mission oscillates between that of anti-colonial heroes on the one hand and heirs to the British Raj on the other. It is this contradictory impulse that generates cycles of destabilisation outwards into the regional system in the form of economic pressures, political subversion, proxy wars and military adventures. Independence, which bequeathed the greater part of the British Raj to the Indian republic, also left it with a split personality. Ashis Nandy's examination of the post-colonial mind is apposite in this context:

It is not an accident that the specific variants of the concepts with which many anti-colonial movements in our times have worked have often been the products of the imperial culture itself; even in opposition, these movements have paid homage to their respective cultural origins. I have in mind not only the overt Apollonian codes of Western liberalism that have often motivated the elites of the colonized societies but also their covert Dionysian counterparts in the concepts of statccraft, everyday politics, effective political methods and utopias (Nandy 1982: 198).

While India's representation of itself as the 'largest democracy', its anti-colonial legacy and its Gandhian profile offer a certain moral high ground on the world stage, New Delhi's ability to shake things up in the immediate neighbourhood provides the masters of the Legacy Raj with experiential proof of their imperial inheritance and a direct measure of their self-worth. Because the history of empires in recent centuries has been dominated by white Euro-American expansion and hegemony, even the most astute observers have failed to recognise the derivative imperial practices of black and brown sahibs, even when their impact is no less consequential for millions (Ahmad 1983, Ludden 2002, Hardt and Negri 2000). The 'pathological urge to dominate' (Mannoni 1990: 102) apparently transcends racial and territorial discontinuities. The chasm between India's international persona and its regional practices has led some to the 'sobering thought that colonial powers such as Britain, France and USA should display greater respect for UN principles than democratic India' (Datta-Ray 1984: 60). Thus, the lived experience at the regional margins is out of line with the two dominant tropes of South Asian scholarship and discourse: 'post-colonialism' and 'independence'.

Following their anti-colonial struggle, the Indian elites cultivated a progressive internationalist identity by subscribing to the principles of Panchasheel (the five principles of peaceful coexistence in interstate relations), non-alignment, and the United Nations. Nehru and his generation of Indians claimed the moral leadership of the Third World in a discourse of de-colonisation and Afro-Asian solidarity. This was projected in moral opposition to the Western powers, which were seen as tainted by colonialism and slavery. Paradoxically, however, within South Asia the Indian nationalists mimicked and consolidated the British colonial worldview and practices (cf. Rose and Scholz 1980, Jayawardena 1992, Jalal 1995, Werake 1992). Consequently:

The long anti-colonial struggle left the Congress party with a hybrid security policy. It was a policy that was shaped both by the nature of the predominantly non-violent struggle and by British colonial attitudes to security. The two made uneasy bedfellows. Generally, this innate tension was resolved through application of the Gandhian doctrine of non-violent conflict resolution in India's dealings on the world stage and adherence to the colonial inheritance in its actions on the subcontinent (Gordon 1992:6).

The duality was apparent in many of the Indian leaders. Even as they chased the British out of the subcontinent, Nehru and others '...sought to have India recognized as the rightful successor to the British Raj' in the region (Wriggins 1992: 97). Accordingly, India's goal of 'quarantining the subcontinent from what it would regard as outside interference' has remained the basic foreign policy objective since independence (Gordon 1992: 172-3). India made its proprietary claim to the quarantine zone in January 2002, when Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, visited Nepal to offer support to the government in its fight against the Maoist rebels. The Times of India,[3] a mainstream newspaper that consistently reflects the Indian government's thinking on regional matters, expressed its objection to Powell's visit thus: 'If Pakistan-based cross-border terrorism violates Indian sovereignty, the same sovereignty is no less transgressed when, despite the 1950 treaty with Nepal, Indian sensibilities are ignored by Mr Powell's explicit offer of military aid to the Himalayan kingdom' (22 January 2002).

Independent India came to nurture great power ambitions and was not satisfied with merely maintaining the level of influence the British had exercised over the Himalayan kingdoms (Khadka 1997: 76-8, Dhanalaxmi 1981). While the British had largely limited themselves to defining the Himalayan states' foreign policy options, India sought to control their domestic politics as well. According to one assessment, New Delhi's primary goal has been to 'obtain both regional and external acceptance of India's hegemonic status in the subcontinent' (Rose 1978: 60). While reinforcing the basic tenets of British imperial policies, 'Indian hegemony over the subcontinent
has been modulated in a number of phases that involved the integration of the princely states, the forcible absorption of Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Goa, the annexation of Sikkim, an imposed protectorate over Bhutan, a dominant presence in Nepal and Bangladesh, and finally the humbling of Pakistan' (Ziring 1978: vii).[4] In the eastern
Himalayas, a treaty concluded in 1950 turned Sikkim into an Indian 'protectorate'. As it turned out, the danger to Sikkim did not come from any adversary, but from the protector itself: twenty-five years after Sikkim signed the treaty of friendship, India annexed it through a two-stage process of destabilisation and military occupation (see Datta-Ray 1984). A similar treaty concluded with Bhutan obliged the latter to be 'guided' by India on foreign affairs and defence (Rahul 1971). It can be argued that the inner contradictions of India's regional policies have contributed much to making South Asia one of the world's most volatile and violent regions, and that Indian officialdom tends to regard its actions as both righteous and successful.

Nepal's relationship with postcolonial India posed different problems. Because of its older national roots and a monarchical line that pre-dated the British consolidation of India, New Delhi could not convert Nepal into a formal dependency through treaty instruments as it did with Sikkim and Bhutan. Nepal was described as 'a wholly sovereign state' and India had 'no legal title to interfere in its affairs. The treaty of friendship concluded by the two countries in 1950 provides only for consultations in the event of a threat to the security or independence of either party' (Myrdal 1968: 194). Even though the last Rana prime minister, Mohan Shamsher, had made significant concessions to India in the 1950 treaty in a desperate bid to prolong the Ranas' rule, this was apparently not enough to satisfy New Delhi's ambitions in Nepal.

Precisely because India lacks formal treaty rights commensurate with its ambitions in Nepal, New Delhi has undertaken a range of diplomatic and covert manoeuvres to 'mold the political evolution of Nepal in its own image and to establish some kind of de facto protectorate' (Myrdal 1968: 195). These initiatives have yielded mixed results for India, and have had profound consequences for Nepal. One of the most consistent features of this policy has been the covert and overt support India has provided to various oppositional outfits fighting the Nepali state, in order to exert leverage over the latter. Indian goals in South Asia and the means employed to achieve them are best framed in terms of the closely linked concepts of 'compellene' (Schelling 1966), 'coercive diplomacy' (George 1994), or 'strategic coercion' (Freedman 1998). 'Strategic coercion' refers to the 'deliberate and purposive' use of threats to 'influence another's strategic choices' in inter-state relations (ibid.: 15): 'The distinguishing feature of coercion is that the target is never denied choice, but must weigh the choices between the costs of compliance and non-compliance' with some room for bargaining as well (ibid.: 36).

Examining the linkage between terrorism and the concept of strategic coercion, Lepgold observes that in recent decades there has been an 'increase in politically motivated, state-sponsored or state-assisted violence against citizens and governments of other states' (Lepgold 1998: 135). This form of coercion can include active participation in specific terrorist acts across the border, or a more passive tolerance where a 'government is looking the other way while terrorists or drug traffickers are operating on its territory' (Lepgold 1998: 145).

Syed Ali brings the framework of 'strategic coercion' to bear on India's strategic policies towards Tibet, Kashmir and Sri Lanka, and argues that India is characterised by its use of 'covert coercion' as an instrument of regional policy. The major advantage of this form of coercion is its plausible deniability:

Those engaged in coercion have tended to be reluctant to spell out their specific demands and deadlines. Instead they have appeared to rely on the target interpreting their activities as establishing the parameters of acceptable behavior (Ali 1998: 249).

The concept of strategic coercion in interstate relations illuminates and complements Blackstock's earlier notion of 'subversion' as a foreign policy tool which falls between open diplomacy and covert military action. A state which is pursuing subversion against another can utilise local 'counter-elites', which can be either political or ethnic formations. These elements are deployed in a variety of ways in order to cause the 'splitting of the political and social structure of a victimized state until the fabric of national morale disintegrates... These tensions or vulnerabilities may be exploited by setting such groups against each other in hostile, uncompromising opposition' (Blackstock 1964: 50). A subversive strategy leads finally to:

...the undermining or detachment of the loyalties of significant political and social groups within the victimized state, and their transference, under ideal conditions, to the symbols and institutions of the aggressor. The assumption behind the manipulative use of subversion is that public morale and the will to resist intervention are the products of combined political and social or class loyalties which are usually attached to national symbols, such as the flag, constitution, crown, or even the persons of the chief of state or other national leaders (Blackstock 1964: 56).

If they are viewed in terms of Blackstock's framework, the past five decades of Nepal-India ties stand as a classically subversive relationship. The overall thrust of New Delhi's policies towards Nepal has been inspired by narrow national interests and not universal values, even if concerns about democracy, human rights and progress are occasionally raised to legitimise aggressive pursuits. A brief survey of Nepali oppositional politics and its interface with Indian strategic interests is necessary to further clarify and concretise these concepts and processes.

CO-OPTED OPPOSITION

After Jang Bahadur's bloody coup in 1846, a motley opposition began to coalesce around the exiled monarch, Rajendra, in Banaras. Unfortunately for Jang Bahadur's opponents, the British had already made a pact with Nepal's new ruler by this time. As a result, the East India Company firmly discouraged the opposition groups from organising any resistance to the usurper from Indian territory. The first serious opposition to Jang Bahadur dissipated after a brief battle in the Alau plains near present-day Birganj. King Rajendra was subsequently captured by Jang Bahadur's troops and imprisoned for the rest of his life. The defeat of the purely domestic opposition stabilised Rana autocracy for another hundred years (Bhandari 1970/1: 115, Tyagi 1974).

Nepali oppositional groups would find favour in the Indian plains only after the departure of the British from the subcontinent in 1947. With Nehru's barely concealed support, the Nepali Congress was able to quickly dislodge the 104-year-old Anglophile Rana autocracy in 1950 after a few skirmishes in the tarai towns (Nath 1975, Rowland 1967). New Delhi helped to install the first democratic government in Nepal, in the expectation that it would remain dependent upon India for its policies as well as its security. 'As much as we stand for the independence of Nepal,' Nehru made it known, 'we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier [the Himalayas] to be... weakened because that would be a risk to our own security' (Gordon 1992: 7-8). However, when China attacked India in 1962, it pushed across its long and disputed border with India: Beijing had no need to detour through Nepal's mountainous terrain to get to India. Even though Nehru's concerns about the security of Nepal's northern frontier were thus proved to be largely unfounded, successive generations of Indian leaders and bureaucrats continue to use the issue of Himalayan security to place conditions on Nepal's independence.

Along with the imperial prerogative of 'security', India has used its democratic credentials to give a moral colouring to its acts of economic and political manipulation in Nepal. India's decision to oust the Ranas and install a Nepali Congress Party government has accordingly been interpreted as a strategic response to the new threat posed by communist China's arrival in Tibet, or as a logical extension of India's democratic mission in the Third World. But if India was motivated by an urge to spread democracy in South Asia, why would it exclude Bhutan - a country that is under treaty obligations to abide by New Delhi's advice - from its democratic mission and instead support a non-democratic regime there? As one of the more insightful writers on power illustrates, various ideological claims 'have furnished explanations and warrants for imperialist domination and resistance to it, for communism and anticommunism, for fascism and antifascism, for holy wars and the immolation of infidels' (Wolf 1999:1). It is an irony of democracy that great powers have tended to buttress authoritarianism among useful clients while wishing democracy on non-acquiescent states. South Asia is no exception to this global paradox.

Having been ousted from power by King Mahendra in 1960, the Nepali Congress was in the midst of an armed revolt in the early 1970s. After strong protests from Kathmandu, the then Indian foreign minister Swaran Singh issued a statement assuring the Nepal government that India would not allow its territory to be used for anti-Nepal activity (Gaige 1975: 187). Later, when the Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, further curtailed his political activities, the Nepali Congress leader B. P. Koirala gave up the path of armed rebellion and returned from exile with a new policy of 'national reconciliation'. As a consequence there was a cessation of India-based violence in Nepal for the next decade or so.

A cursory review of the fate of oppositional politics in Nepal shows that there is a high probability of success when there is sufficient foreign support. When such patronage is lacking, political opposition has had to compromise with the Nepali state. 'You can't be victorious in an armed struggle,' reminisces K. P. Bhattarai, the former prime minister and one of the founding members of the Nepali Congress Party, 'unless you have a false border'.[5] Like a flirtatious wink, Bhattarai's 'false border' is more than the unregulated frontier between the two countries: the wink is, rather, an allegory for the furtive affair with the alien. Frederick Gaige had come to the same conclusion from an academic standpoint almost a quarter of a century earlier when he concluded: 'Although the terai is a natural base of operations for the Nepali Congress or the Communist party...it is unlikely that without the blessing of the Indian government, opposition parties will be able to mount another serious campaign against the government' (1975: 193). Some of the notable examples of failed insurrections include Dr K. I. Singh's revolt against the agreement reached in New Delhi in 1950 between India, the Ranas, the Nepali Congress and King Tribhuvan; and the violent campaign launched by the Marxist-Leninist faction of the Communist Party in Jhapa in the early seventies. Both of these uprisings lacked external backing. In the former case, Indian troops actually intervened to capture K. I. Singh from within Nepal (Rowland 1967: 147, Sharma 1970).

Following King Mahendra's royal coup in 1960, the Nepali Congress began its second armed rebellion from bases in India. These attacks, organised by Subarna Shamsher, were developing into major threats to the regime when the Indo-China war broke out in 1962. Distracted and demoralised by the Chinese invasion on its northern frontier, the Indian government abruptly suspended its proxy campaign against the Nepali government (see also Jha 1977 and Chatterji 1980). Thus, the newly introduced Panchayat system received a reprieve that lasted for thirty years.

Although this is denied by the new orthodoxy in Nepal, New Delhi contributed significantly to the eventual dismantling of the Panchayat system in 1990. The bold proclamation made by the Indian leader Chandra Shekhar during the initiation of the people's movement in Kathmandu 1990 was not very different from Nehru's rationalisation of the ejection of the Ranas, which he issued in an expansive moment in the Indian parliament almost four decades earlier. Nehru declared, '...we have accordingly advised the government of Nepal ...to bring themselves into line with democratic forces that are stirring the world today and that there can be no peace and stability in Nepal by going back to the old order' (Rowland 1967: 146-47). Addressing an opposition rally less than a kilometre from the royal palace in Kathmandu, Chandra Shekhar, who later became India's prime minister, invoked the same moral sanctimony in attacking King Birendra and the Panchayat regime: '...no man should consider himself god, and... they [the people of Nepal] should take courage from the overthrow of tyrants like Ceausescu, Marcos and the Shah of Iran' (Khanna and Sudarshan 1998: 53). One unalloyed acknowledgment provides a rough estimate of the extent of external collaboration in the 1990 oppositional project:

The pro-democracy movement in Nepal can never he too grateful to all Indian political parties and leaders who have supported it. Chandra Shekharjee's involvement in our movement deserves a special mention because he not only helped to organize support for it on such a wide scale in India but has also inspired the people of Nepal themselves to take part in the peaceful struggle for the restoration of their freedom and rights through his historic speech at the Nepali Congress conference in Kathmandu on 18 January 1990 (ibid.: 58-9).

Although India extracted a number of favourable treaties after 1990 and has since enjoyed the convenience of dealing with a more compliant government in Kathmandu, underlying bilateral irritants such as territorial occupation, unequal sharing of water resources, trade and transit hurdles, issues of immigration and citizenship rights for Indian nationals, and the Bhutanese refugee problem have become even more acute between the two countries since 1990. Vir Sanghvi, an Indian intellectual, acknowledges that New Delhi has played different forces off against each other in the past, and that India is now having second thoughts about what it achieved in 1990. Bilateral issues have soured such that 'Today, we are actually much worse off in terms of India-Nepal relations than we were at any point in the 1980s' (Sanghvi 2001). So, has the less than full satisfaction with the post-1990 status quo in Nepal led India to contemplate alternative possibilities? The shifting regional patronages and expedient alliances necessitate a scrutiny of the transition from the people's movement of 1990 to the present people's war.

If New Delhi's strategic goal is to exert a de facto dominance over Nepal which it does not enjoy through de jure means, a condition of perpetual disruption serves this end. Frequent shifts in alliances and regimes keep the clients on their toes, forcing them to concede more to retain regional patronage. Insecure, transient rulers in Nepal are more likely to acquiesce to Indian demands than those who do not owe anything to India for their survival. It is no surprise that many of the most controversial treaties and accords with India have been concluded by insecure Nepali rulers threatened by an externally-backed opposition, or immediately after a regime change when the new elites are burdened with gratitude for the external patronage they have received. For example, all of the controversial Indo-Nepal treaties on the exploitation of Nepal's natural resources were enacted immediately after a change of regime in Nepal: the Gandak and Koshi treaties after the ousting of the Ranas in 1950, and the Tanakpur and Mahakali treaties after the overthrow of the Panchayat in 1990. Indeed, Mohan Shamsher signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 at his weakest moment, when his regime was already beginning to crumble.

In 1990, the Panchayat government had been similarly disabled by the mutually reinforcing actions of opposition demonstrations and the year-long Indian trade embargo. At a moment of extreme vulnerability, New Delhi sent a new treaty proposal on 31 March 1990 for the king to sign in return for the possibility of relieving the pressure on his beleaguered government. The terms of the new proposal were so harsh that they 'virtually put the clock four decades back to July 31, 1950' (Kumar 1992: 18). The crux of the treaty proposal rested on four restrictions on Nepal: 1) Nepal would not import arms or raise additional military units without Indian approval; 2) Nepal would not enter into a military alliance with any other country; 3) Indian companies would be given first preference in any economic or industrial projects in Nepal; 4) India's exclusive involvement would be ensured in the exploitation of 'commonly shared rivers' in Nepal.[6] Rather than sign the treaty with India in the hope of saving the Panchayat regime, King Birendra instead pre-empted New Delhi's calculations by abruptly handing over power to the alliance of the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front without seeking Indian assistance or mediation. While some of the Indian demands contained in the proposal were later fulfilled in the Joint Communique of 10 June 1990 signed by the interim prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in New Delhi, and other secret agreements entered into by the newly-elected prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala in 1991, many of the demands still remain unmet.[7] Viewed from this perspective, the Maoist insurgency now provides a convenient leverage against the Nepali state to assist the Indian government in its pursuit of the strategic objectives contained in the treaty proposal of 1990. Moreover, the unresolved territorial dispute between the two countries, the efforts to grant Nepali citizenship to Indian immigrants, the lingering Bhutanese refugee issue and the controversial trade and transit treaty are other Indian interests that would be directly affected by the duration and direction of the Maoist insurgency.

THE RELUCTANT RULERS

During the first two years of the Maoist insurgency it became clear that the government's half-hearted, directionless approach to fending off the rebellion was failing. Instead of taking the necessary measures to contain the Maoist threat, successive governments chose the easier path of simply vacating the areas contested by the rebels. As more and more districts were lost, the Nepali police, the government's mainstay against the Maoist guerrillas, began to suffer crushing defeats, even in its defensive retreats. The gravity of the military situation aroused calls in various quarters for the deployment of the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) against the guerrillas. However, an outcry against army deployment from within and without the ruling party weakened the leaders' political resolve and they backed away from taking the hard decisions.[8] After causing sensations on several occasions by making public statements in support of deploying the army against the Maoists, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala performed a famous volte face when he reportedly said 'What if the army also fails like the police, do we then invite the Indian army?'

Why was the Nepali government so loathe to employ the legitimate force at its disposal in order to contain an armed rebellion that was clearly spinning out of the control of the demoralised police force? The absence of the political will and vision necessary to defeat a growing insurgency not only provided the Maoists with spectacular morale-boosting victories and battle experience against the civil police, but also enabled them to amass significant quantities of arms, ammunition and communication equipment from government armouries. Furthermore, the rebels superbly exploited the chronic infighting between and among the government, parliament and the political parties as they played one side off against the other (Shah 2001). The extreme disunity within the ruling circles prevented the Nepali state from articulating a clear, consistent and convincing response during the most critical phase in Nepal's history. The ambivalent attitude of the leadership towards the armed rebellion during its formative years enabled a small fringe outfit to grow into a fearsome military machine within a few years. Had political will and unity been present, the initial disturbances would have been contained with minimal loss of life and property in 1996 and 1997 when the Maoists were still testing the political waters. Instead, the problem was allowed to fester and develop into a full-blown war that is now shaking the very foundations of the Nepali nation. In this sense, the Maoist crisis reflects a spectacular failure of leadership and governance at the highest level.

One reason for this reluctance could be the political culture of the new ruling class. Having been so recently engaged in a long struggle against the Nepali state from both within and without the country, there is still some residual discomfort and ambivalence among the new political elites in identifying with the core responsibilities of the Nepali state. The progressive, anti-establishment image cultivated during long periods of exile and opposition has not entirely worn off, nor has the romance of populist identification. It is not unusual for such politicians to experience a degree of ambivalence about employing the ultimate state power against those who happen to employ the same anti-establishment discourse, using similar populist idioms. The public perception of corruption and incompetence amongst the politicians also undermined the new elites' moral authority to take up the Maoist challenge with sincerity. Besides these personal dilemmas, there was perhaps a structural element which fostered inertia and a sense of futility among the ruling circles and prevented them from taking up the Maoist threat with a sense of conviction and purpose. Some inkling of the broader sources and inspirations behind the Maoist movement, the politicians' own experiences during the long years in opposition, and some appreciation of the nature and fate of previous oppositional movements in Nepal could have had a significant impact on the will and morale of the post-1990 democratic regime as it pondered the Maoist hazard.

DIAGNOSTIC EVENTS

An important part of the Maoists' mystique rested on their aura of being rooted in the red hills of Rukum and Rolpa. This provided them with unassailable political authenticity and moral legitimacy. It is from this moral high ground that the Maoists could label everyone else as anti-national stooges of Indian and imperialist masters. However, the sheer pace of a number of 'diagnostic events' (Moore 1994) in the recent past has chipped away at this well crafted aura of authenticity and unassailability.

The first of these ruptures in the Maoist narrative was brought about by the murders of King Birendra and his family on 1 June 2001, which came as both an unexpected bonanza and a potential pitfall for the CPN (Maoist). Prior to the regicide, the Maoists had maintained a theoretical opposition to the monarchy, but had refrained from any direct attack on the institution as they systematically isolated and eliminated the police, local critics, and lower echelon workers of other political parties. It appears that the Maoists too were momentarily taken aback by the sudden turn of events in the palace. They nevertheless came to a tactical decision to seize the moment of fear, sorrow, and confusion to fast-forward their plan for a general urban uprising.

The Maoists portrayed the dead king as a patriotic figure who had been slain by the American and Indian intelligence agencies and local reactionary elements for standing up to oppose hegemonic designs on Nepal, and for refusing to participate in the larger imperialistic strategy of encircling China. The top Maoist ideologue, Baburam Bhattarai, stated in an article in a Kathmandu paper that the massacre was the handiwork of 'reactionaries', 'expansionists', 'fascists' and 'imperialists'. The Maoist leader declared that 'anyone crowned king will only be a puppet in their [the imperialists] hands' and added, 'from any point of view, traditional, feudal monarchy is dead and the birth of the republic has already taken place' (Bhattarai 2001 b). The Maoists accused the 'Gyanendra-Girija clique' (the new king, Gyanendra, and the Nepali Congress government headed by Girija Prasad Koirala) of being part of a larger external conspiracy. Claiming to be the only nationalist force left standing in the illustrious patriotic lineage of Prithvi Narayan, Mahendra and Birendra, the Maoists implied that they were the rightful inheritors of the dead king's patrimony and legitimacy. The rebels called on the RNA to desert and urged the public to join a gencral insurrection.

In order to spark off a general uprising against the new king, the Maoists unleashed an unprecedented series of attacks across the country in an attempt to destroy the morale of the government forces. Dozens of policemen were killed in these well-coordinated attacks, and numerous barracks were destroyed. On the night of 12 July 2001, the Maoist forces captured the Holeri garrison in Rolpa without much fighting and took more than seventy policemen hostage. At this point the government finally ordered the army to rescue the captured police personnel from the Maoists. Although many details of the army's operation in Holeri remain obscure, and none of the captives were rescued as a result of it, the Maoists suddenly ceased their offensive and entered into talks with the government. The army's entry into Rolpa was not a battleground defeat for the rebels, nor was it a tactical success for the government, yet it succeeded in abruptly shifting the focus of the Maoist campaign.[9] It is probable that a number of considerations encouraged the Maoist high command to retreat from armed confrontation with the army at the time. First, the intensified military campaign had failed to spark the expected general insurrection from the public. A journalist commented on the failed putsch:

There just wasn't enough critical mass in the protests for the Maoists to instigate an urban uprising by piggy-backing on public anger and shock, and the spontaneous outpouring of public grief indicated that deep down Nepalis believed, even respected, the institution of monarchy (Sharma 2001).

Clearly, the Maoist republicans had over-estimated the level of anti-monarchy sentiment among the urban populace, and especially in the army and other state organs. Without the synergy of a popular uprising, the heightened military campaign made unsustainable demands on the rebels' capabilities. Similarly, despite its rhetoric, the Maoist high command might also have come to the conclusion that it was not yet ready to take on the army. Thus came the classic tactic from Mao's book: 'one step backward'. Even though what happened in Holeri was not the Nepali army's finest hour by any stretch of the imagination, the prospect of a face-off with the army seems to have momentarily dampened the Maoist leaders' euphoria (see S. J. Shahi 2001).

The next turning point came in the form of a dramatic revelation in August 2001 that the Maoists were operating from bases in India: this cast them in an entirely new light (see Onta 2001, Lal 2001, Regmi 2002). The damning expose not only shattered the Maoists' virtuous image of being rooted in Nepal, but also raised the spectre of sinister political duplicity. Numerous intellectuals in Kathmandu pointed out the Maoists' doublespeak on India - public defiance, secret complicity - the false coin of Nepali nationalism. The columnist Puskar Gautam asked why the Maoists had chosen India as a base and why India was hosting them on its territory, and wondered if the 'People's War and the republic thereof will turn out to be the result of Indian generosity as well' (Gautam 2001/2). Given India's political interest in Nepal and the open border between the two countries, it must be considered a considerable feat for the Maoists to have concealed their Indian ties for so long.

The revelation of the Maoists' secret links with India would have been less damaging were it not for their initial shrill opposition to India. Having identified New Delhi as the hegemonic power which presided over Nepal's semi-colonial condition, the Maoists had fed the masses for years on strident anti-India rhetoric. In a leaflet distributed throughout the country on 13 February 1996, the CPN (Maoist) denounced the Nepali government for 'prostrating itself before the foreign imperialists and expansionists and repeatedly mortgaging Nepal's national honour and sovereignty to them. The present state has been shamelessly permitting the foreign plunderers to grab the natural water resources of Nepal and to trample upon our motherland' (CPN [Maoist] 1996a: 18). In one interview, Prachanda asserted that his army would ultimately fight and defeat the Indian army in Nepal. However, such strident anti-India rhetoric was not accompanied by any tangible anti-Indian action. Apart from burning a few buses belonging to schools owned by Indians, the revolutionaries fastidiously avoided touching any of the substantial Indian economic interests in Nepal, even as they systematically destroyed the national infrastructure.10) In fact, the Maoist insurgency coincided with a quickening in the pace of New Delhi's encroachment upon Nepali territory and the unilateral damming of border rivers (see Gautam 2001/2). While the Maoists intimidated Nepali citizens who wished to join Nepali military and police forces, they displayed a remarkable tolerance of the continued recruitment of Nepali youth into the armed forces of India and Britain. This was despite the fact that in the ultimatum they served on the government in 1996 the Maoists had demanded an immediate end to the recruitment of soldiers into foreign armed forces.

The secret ties with the Delhi Durbar proved to be a costly embarrassment to the Maoists, to the extent that their 'nationalist credentials are currently in tatters' (Gyawali 2002: 37). The paradox of receiving Delhi's patronage is that while it invariably leads to power and privilege in Kathmandu, the tie itself is a great drain on moral legitimacy. That is why the Nepali elites and counter-clites continue to marshal much intellectual and political labour to deny, mystify and glorify their Indian connections, deploying the circular logic of cultural kinship, geographical proximity, and historical inevitability. The Maoists likewise gained a decisive military edge from their collaboration with the Indian state. The military advantage, however, came at a significant loss of political authorship and moral autonomy as the collaboration quickly degenerated into an asymmetric clientpatron dependency.

Before the Maoists could recover from this expose, the 11 September attacks on the United States pummelled them further onto the defensive. The United States' sudden military presence in South Asia prompted Pakistan and India to try to outbid each other in their anti-terrorism credentials. Pakistan took the difficult decision to sacrifice the Taliban it had nurtured for a decade, in the futile hope that it could rescue its Kashmir front. The retreat from Afghanistan brought Pakistan's long quest for 'strategic depth' vis-a-vis India to an abrupt end. The intrusion of an external power in such a violent fashion was also a different kind of setback for India's strategic goal of quarantining the subcontinent from external forces. India knew better than to oppose the US military expedition at this juncture of world history. Instead, it sought to capitalise on the new regional equation in two ways: first, by having the US lean heavily on Pakistan to rein in the militants fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, and, second, by bringing Pakistan to submission by emulating the new American posture on terrorism.

Despite India's efforts to project Islamabad as the 'epicentre of terrorism', Pakistan does not enjoy a monopoly on state-sanctioned terrorism and proxy wars in South Asia. External subversion, despite its redefinition as 'terrorism' in the new political lexicon, remains a standard foreign policy instrument in South Asia (see Singh 1992, Little 1994, Ali 1998, Sardeshpande 1992, Piyasena and Senadheera 1986). The use of proxy wars and subversion as instruments of foreign policy is so pervasive that when the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee exhorted the nations of South Asia to desist from all types of terrorism at the eleventh summit conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Sri Lankan President, who has lost an eye to bombs planted by terrorists, reminded the regional dignitaries that 'We can't encourage and finance friendly terrorist organizations in one place and attempt to defeat the others [elsewhere]".[11]

Outside the region, Western nations had all along been urging the Nepal government not to seek a military solution, and to solve the Maoist issue through peaceful negotiations. After the attacks on New York and Washington DC, the West became less willing to counsel peace. The sudden turn in global events is likely to prove unfavourable for the Maoists in the short run. The Maoists reacted to the new US war on terrorism with their usual defiance. They accused the United States of being the biggest terrorist and even threatened to fly planes into Singha Durbar (the government secretariat) and Narayanhiti royal palace to fulfil their objectives.[12] However, this public bravado was belied by a discernible and urgent desire for peace among some Maoist leaders. Kathmandu observers spoke of a

...completely changed Prachanda at the moment from what he used to be or the manner he used to serve ultimatums to the government...this changed stance of Comrade Prachanda could be due to the September 11 events in America which has tentatively vowed to wipe out the menace of terrorism from the world's map. Secondly, and most importantly perhaps, Comrade Prachanda and his insurgency got a major jolt the day the Indian leadership branded their organization as terrorist.[13]

Just as the sudden Chinese attack on India's northern defences caused Nehru to halt the Nepali Congress armed operations in 1962, the attacks on the United States in September are likely to strengthen the hand of the Nepali state against the Maoists. At the very least, the events of 2001 forced some of the main contradictions of the Maoist movement into sharp relief. As the diagnostic events discussed above indicate, the Maoists found themselves looking at a potentially adverse external environment, a more cohesive Nepali state that was gradually becoming less responsive to their intimidations, and their own ideological front that was cracking under the pace of events largely out of their control.


THE NOVEMBER 2001 OFFENSIVE

Taking everyone by surprise, the CPN (Maoist) gambled on a bold military exit from the political stalemate of late 2001. On 21 November Prachanda announced that his party was walking out of the peace talks. Immediately, the guerrillas launched a well-coordinated series of attacks across the country, destroying government headquarters in Dang, Syangja, Makwanpur and Solukhumbu districts. Dozens of security personnel and civil servants were killed and the guerrillas made off with a huge quantity of weaponry from government armouries and millions of rupees from the banks. It became clear that the rebels had used the four-month long ceasefire to strengthen their organisational base, improve their logistics, rearm, and get hundreds of their battle-hardened comrades released from detention. Up to this point the Maoists had carefully avoided confrontation with the army as they mauled the police force at will, but on 23 November they attacked the army camp in Ghorahi in western Nepal, and on the same night the government headquarters in Dang and Syangja were destroyed. The large amount of army ordnance looted from the Ghorahi army camp added automatic weaponry to the Maoists' arsenal and raised their morale enormously.

Historians will debate whether the Maoists were too successful for their own good in this offensive. The rebels probably intended to inflict quick, crushing military defeats to force the government to accede to more of their demands, a tactic that had worked in the past. However, the scale of the devastation shook the government from its slumber of denial and appeasement and caused it to muster the political will to finally face up to the aggression. On 26 November a State of Emergency was declared and the RNA was ordered to fight the Maoists, now officially described as terrorists.

For the first time in the six-year-old war, the Maoists were facing a credible resistance internally and growing isolation externally, especially in the West. In their decision to resume their violence, the rebel commanders seem to have underestimated the resolve of the government and the capability of the RNA, which had not seen sustained action since the Nepal Tibet war during the 1850s except for brief skirmishes with Tibetan guerrillas in the early 1970s (see McGranahan 2002). The Maoist gamble to take on the ultima ratio regis at this point was no doubt, among other things, influenced by the often dismissive assessment of the RNA as nothing more than a 'ceremonial' and 'token' force lacking substantive purpose or potency. Despite the terrible body blows it received in the battles of Ghorahi, Achchani, Gam, Sandhikharka and Jumla, the RNA did not simply crumble, as was the case with the police force. What the army lacked in terms of tactical brilliance and offensive flair was partially offset by its ability to absorb Maoist poundings without organisational collapse. During its first year of deployment the army not only checked the further growth of the Maoist military but also reoccupied some of the positions earlier vacated by the police. In all this, the army proved its critics wrong, at least for the time being. Even though the RNA lacks an advanced arsenal or adequate logistics, it has substantial historical depth and an institutional coherence that is absent in some other organs of the Nepali state. Indeed, some of the core regiments of the army predate the founding of the Nepali nation and as such they were directly involved in the national unification campaign that began from Gorkha in the 1740s. As a consequence, the army is under a greater ideological imperative to resist the Maoists than other, younger state organs.

THE COSTS OF LIBERATION

The sequence of events since 11 September 2001 and its impact on the Maoist war in Nepal makes one acutely aware of how significantly the fate of the peasant eking out a subsistence in Jumla is tied to that of a broker working in the World Trade Centre in New York or a clerk at the Pentagon in Washington DC, even if the connection is not of any consequence in the reverse direction. The most interesting realisation, however, is not that soft states like Nepal are buffeted strongly by regional and international currents, but that even an avowedly revolutionary opposition often subsists by colluding with the same hegemonic structure it claims to resist.

To what degree can an autonomous resistance movement subsist in a vulnerable nation-state? Paradoxically, movements that promise liberation may deepen dependency when the intensification of the struggle causes the protagonists to raise their bids for external support in order to vanquish internal foes. After fighting Nepal's rulers for over three decades from India, B. P. Koirala wrote, 'If the struggle is dependent on someone else's support, that person will later impose his interests and we too become ingratiated to him' (Baniya 1997/8: 40). It is too early to predict which specific demands New Delhi might seek to project through the Maoists, but it is clear that it will want to strengthen its bargaining position on several of the outstanding bilateral issues discussed earlier against a government which is internally distracted and weakened. Such motives will be disavowed, but that is the nature of 'strategic coercion':

It may also be in the interests of both parties to deny that coercion has played a role even when it has: the coercer may not wish to appear a bully while the coerced may wish to dispel any idea that he is a weakling. What is at issue here is the way in which the actor constructs reality: the quality of that construction is a separate issue (Freedman 1998: 16).

The costs of acquiring foreign patronage add up on both sides of the present conflict. If he did not have the Maoists to vanquish at home, Sher Bahadur Deuba would not have rushed to put Nepali airspace and airports at the disposal of the United States in its war on Afghanistan. The immediate cost of this was the sacrifice of the principle of non-alignment which had been the hallmark of Nepal's foreign policy for four decades. Even though non-alignment appears anachronistic in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it had nevertheless been one of the few avenues in which Nepal had asserted its independent identity after it emerged from the shadow of the Ranas and their British patrons. Indeed, the quest for an autonomous existence within the nation-state system had been a major part of the Nepali nation-building project since the 1950s.[14]

Non-alignment was not only of ornamental value for Nepal, it had real material consequences as well. From the Indian sepoy mutiny to the two world wars, the Nepali government contributed men and material to the British war effort. Such tributary practices continued even after Indian independence, when Mohan Shamsher dispatched a Nepali military contingent to assist Indian forces during the Hyderabad crisis. After it joined the non-aligned movement, Nepal did not feel compelled to send troops to any of India's many wars in the region. It is no surprise that a section of the Indian ruling circle had been rather cool towards Nepal's bid for non-aligned status.[15]

The enduring frustrations in the bilateral relationship emanate from a silent struggle between Nepal's post-colonial aspirations and the neo-colonial ambitions of the Legacy Raj. The bilateral stress has also served to neatly bisect the Nepali political landscape into two antagonistic camps since the 1950s. The successors to the Ranas, the Nepali Congress Party and King Tribhuvan, were content with the new political order at home and with India's assumption of the British suzerain role. After King Tribhuvan's death, an alternative political formation soon coalesced around King Mahendra and other nationalists which sought to take the emancipation from the Ranas to its logical conclusion by seeking not only an internal transfer of power but also liberation from India's external domination. The crown's ideological shift has caused New Delhi to maintain a rather critical, and occasionally hostile, attitude towards the Nepali monarchy since the 1960s.[16] S. D. Muni, a prominent Indian academic whose views help articulate New Delhi's policies on Nepal, represents the dominant Indian position when he argues, in his recent comments on the Nepali Maoists, that 'The constitutional monarchy in the Nepali context is an inherently incompatible arrangement' which poses 'the one real obstacle' in synchronising Nepal's 'developmental interests vis-a-vis India' (Muni 2003, emphasis added). By implication, it would appear that the Indian ruling establishment finds all other political forces in Nepal, including the Maoists, to be amenable to its interests.

The underlying contest between the two ideological forces in Nepal (broadly characterised as the Indo-centric and the proto-liberational formations) has largely determined the contours of Nepali political life over the past fifty years, and will continue do so. The schism is a double bind for Nepal: on the one hand the ideological fault-line disables the articulation of a internally cohesive polity, on the other hand the same fissure continues to offer a convenient point of ingress for Indian political and economic manipulation.

FLEXIBLE IDEOLOGIES, ETHNIC REALPOLITIK

Despite their appropriation of Mao's legitimating brand name, the Nepali Maoists have displayed little fidelity to the Great Helmsman's economic and political programmatic.[17] Seven years into their people's war, they have yet to articulate a coherent economic, political and social vision for the country. The forty-point ultimatum issued to the prime minister in 1996 (see Appendix A) was a listing of individual grievances rather than a cogent revolutionary reordering of the economy, state and society. After entering into peace negotiations in July 2001, the Maoists put forth three substantive demands: the abolition of the monarchy, the formation of a interim government, and the election of a constituent assembly. By the third round of peace talks in November 2001, the rebels were insisting only on the constituent assembly. In light of the fact that the Maoists had not spelled out what is wrong with the present Constitution or what they would like to replace it with, the insistence on electing a constituent assembly to frame a new Constitution seems like the proverbial cart before the horse.

There does indeed exist a disjuncture between Maoism as a Iegitimating ideological discourse and the CPN (Maoist) as its practitioner in Nepal. The core thrust of Mao's programmatic was two-pronged: liberation from foreign domination and the reordering of internal class relations were two sides of the same revolutionary struggle. So far, the Nepali Maoists have displayed no real appreciation of Nepal's neo-colonial position in the region or any commitment to the dual thrust of Mao's strategy. Internally, they have moved decisively away from their vaguely defined 'semi-feudal' and 'semicolonial' mode of class rhetoric to the mobilisation of a militant ethnic constituency (See Lecomte-Tilouine in this volume, Magar 2001).[18] Theoretically, Maoist publications still continue to represent ethno-national liberation as contingent on the resolution of the class conflict. Tactically, however, the Maoists' proposals for ethno-religious and regional mobilisation are far better articulated than their formulations on economy, class, or state. The CPN (Maoist) has declared the right to self-determination for all 'nationalities', 'oppressed' and regional groups (CPN [Maoist] 2001: 538). The process of ethnic polarisation and mobilisation calls the claims of the Nepali state to represent the diversity of the Nepali population into question, and wins the Maoists recruits and bases among the ethnic minorities.

With this objective in mind, the Maoists have created or aligned themselves with ethnic and regionalist outfits such as the Limhuwan Liberation Front, the Khambuwan National Liberation Front, the Magarat Liberation Front, the Tharuwan National Liberation Front, the Tarai Liberation Front, and the Newa Khala. Analysing the relationship between the Magar ethnic revival and the Maoist war, Marie Lecomte Tilouine (forthcoming) finds a strong convergence between the growth of the Maoist movement and ethnic assertiveness among various groups during the past decade. Even though the Maoist leadership is predominantly Bahun, Chetri and Newar, the rank and file, and especially the fighting units, are reported to contain a higher concentration of ethnic groups (Onesto 1999: 3). The selection of Rapti as the Maoist core zone is no coincidence: Magars are the largest ethnic group in the area and have contributed significantly to the Maoist guerrilla units. In an interview, Prachanda is quoting as saying. '...these nationalities are so sincere and such brave fighters - historically they have had this kind of culture' (Onesto 2000: 6). The paternalistic homology thus established by the Maoist leader between race, culture, honesty and bravery is reminiscent of the colonial discourse on martial races.

The Maoist declaration of the 'right to self-determination' for ethnic groups no doubt follows the precedent set by Mao in China and Lenin in the former USSR. Following Sun Yat Sen, Mao proclaimed the right to 'self-determination' for minorities and the need to protect their 'spoken and written languages, their manners and customs and their religious beliefs' (Mao Zedong 1965: 306). Once the communists had taken over China, however, the promise of self-determination amounted to little more than costumed affairs at state pageantries, while in the former USSR forced relocations and assimilations were the order of the day during most of the Soviet Raj.

There is a certain sophistry involved in establishing equivalence between the Chinese and Soviet notion of a 'minority' and Nepal's closely interspersed and interlocking fields of castes and ethnicities. Unlike the former USSR and China, Nepal has no clear majorities or minorities, nor are there clearly delineated ethnic territories. It was basically due to this absolute power differential between the majority and the minorities that the Soviet and Chinese communists could promise the right to secession and later deny it, with few repercussions.

If the Nepali Maoists are earnestly committed to the project of creating multiple ethnically homogeneous states out of present-day Nepal, they will clearly be deviating from the precedent set by Mao, who made an expedient use of the minority constituency during the revolutionary war. But if instead the CPN (Maoist) is seeking to fully emulate Mao by taking the ethnic fronts for a power ride, the experiment could be entirely different in Nepal. After the Maoists attain their political goals and seek to demobilise, the ethnic genie, raised on ambitions of secession and separate statehood, may not wish to go back into the bottle so quietly: ethnic chauvinism has a tendency to take on a life of its own. Unlike Mao and Stalin, the Nepali Maoists would not have the wherewithal to contain the ethnic firestorm they had ignited.

Even as the CPN (Maoist) continues to promise the ethnic fronts a self-determination that would, in theory, re-establish the pre-unification baise and chaubise principalities, in the same breath they also speak of being the true guardians of unified Nepali nationalism as founded and expounded by the House of Gorkha (Bhattarai 2001b). The Maoists have been very critical of all other political forces for their alleged anti-national credentials, and they have asserted with puritanical zeal that they alone stand for the territorial integrity of a single country.

As if its diametrically opposed positions on the nation and multiple 'nationalities' were not confusing enough, the CPN (Maoist) passed an even more intriguing resolution at its second national convention in early 2001, calling for Nepal to enter a soviet-style federation of South Asian republics (Waglc 2001, also see Sharma in this volume). Short of a military conquest, the prospect of such a regional union emerging in South Asia through mutual consensus is highly unlikely. Despite the serious political and historical obstacles which stand in its way, it is interesting that the leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India have also aired their hopes for the realisation of a subcontinent-wide 'Akhand Bharat' nation, basing these hopes on brahmanic assumptions about the religious and cultural unity of South Asia.[19] The apparent convergence in the world view (or regional view, to be more precise) of India's far right and the Nepali far left is quite interesting.[20] All three of the Maoist propositions
reviewed here - the promise of self-determination which, when taken to its logical conclusion, would entail dividing present-day Nepal into multiple ethno-states, the nationalistic pledge to consolidate the existing nation-state; and immersion into a sub-continental federation - cannot be true at the same time. In fact they stand as mutually exclusive. Despite being often accused of dogmatism by their detractors, the Nepali Maoists display a remarkable degree of ideological mobility and deliberate ambiguity, and have proved to be particularly dexterous in maintaining contradictory positions. The drift from both Maoist and Marxian doctrine was officially institutionalised in early 2001, when the party's second national conference declared its governing ideology to be 'Prachanda Path', appropriately conveying the double meaning of 'extreme path' and 'path of Prachanda', after their party's powerful chairman.

While the Maoists are shifting internally from the rhetoric of class conflict to that of ethnic polarisation, externally, their rhetoric on imperialism and hegemony notwithstanding, they have so far exhibited little interest in undoing Nepal's subordination in the regional or global matrix. On the contrary, the rebels have adopted a Machiavellian pragmatic to turn the Nepali state's historic external limitations into potent assets. These strategies, while conveying the appearance of novel breaks with the past, invoke historical precedents at several levels. Karl Marx's sense of dejà vu is particularly illuminating here:

...just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language (Marx 1978: 595 [[i]The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte]).

The familiar historical terrain the Maoists have traversed over the past seven years en route to their final rendezvous with the Legacy Raj provides a basis for identifying the Maoist war as a replication of the conventional form of oppositional politics, rather than a revolutionary break from it. All successful oppositional engagements have so far entailed a coupling with Indian interests in order to encircle, coerce and compromise the Nepali state, and it appears that the Maoists have also opted for this proven strategy, albeit in a different guise.

A cursory survey of the fate of recent communist insurgencies in the Third World provides us with some possible scenarios for Nepal. Under favourable external circumstances, it is conceivable that the state will defeat the Maoists, as was the case in Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Alternatively, if the regional milieu continues to favour the Maoists, the present strife could degenerate into a long war of attrition as in Colombia at present, and Guatemala and El Salvador in the past, before the rebels finally made peace with the state. Although the CPN (Maoist) models itself on the Shining Path movement and takes much inspiration from its Andean comrades, the Peruvian State under President Fujimori largely destroyed the Peruvian Maoists. Unless the prevailing international context alters radically, the Maoists are unlikely to replicate the classic communist victories once seen in Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Korea and China.[21]

Although it is a relatively weak state, Nepal has in tile past displayed a remarkable ability to defuse, co-opt or neutralise armed rebellions when the rebels have lacked sustained foreign backing. If the Maoists are denied Indian support and Western governments continue to back the Nepal government in the present conflict, the Maoists will find it hard to repeat their spectacular successes. On the other hand, whenever there has been adequate extra-territorial support for Nepali oppositional forces, the Nepali state has had to concede not only to them but also to their foreign patrons. Sensing the lack of enthusiasm for orthodox communist doctrine among important constituencies both within and outside the country, the CPN (Maoist) leadership in 2002 began to quietly back-pedal on its revolutionary goal of a Maoist one-party state and a communist economy.

The only revolutionary objective now retained is the destruction of the 'feudal' monarchy (RW 2002, MIM 2002).[22] The latest ideological repositioning is seen as a tactical manoeuvre to check the growing isolation from the middle classes and to make the insurgency more acceptable to a Western audience which might be opposed to communism but sympathetic to a republican cause arrayed against a 'feudal monarchy'. The ideological dissimulation from the dictatorship of the proletariat to what Maoist leader Bahuram Bhattarai describes as a 'bourgeois democratic republic' has already contributed to a vertical split within the Nepali Congress in 2002. If the ruling party fissure becomes a catalyst for a wider realignment in the underlying bipolarity of Nepali politics, the process will produce strategic military and political options and assets for the CPN (Maoist).

It is interesting that even as the Indian government stepped forward to condemn the Maoists and offer the Nepali army some military hardware,[23] newspaper reports suggested that the Maoists continued to receive supplies and shelter in India.[24] By supporting and supplying both sides of the civil war in Nepal, New Delhi has perfected the imperial art of divide and rule. This is not the first time it has done so. Before Mohan Shamsher signed the controversial treaty with India in 1950, Nehru went on assuring the Nepali prime minister that India would come to his aid even as New Delhi was readying the Nepali Congress for the eventual assault against the Ranas (K. C. 1976: 12). As B. P. Koirala put it, 'It seems that India always had two opposing jaws; one would direct [us] to stay with tile king while the other would encourage [us] not to he afraid of going against the king' (Koirala 1998: 305).[25] The clashing of jaws is a powerful metaphor for the internecine conflict that is violently churning up the entrails of the divided Nepali polity today.

The editorial in the Times of India which sought to chastise US secretary of state Cohn Powell for offering the Nepal government some support against the Maoists also gave an indication of India's relationship with the Nepali rebels by contrasting them favourably with Osama bin Laden. 'Unlike the Taliban and many outfits inspired by Osama bin Laden, the Maoists of Nepal, for all their violence, represent a progressive protest movement which is neither anti-modern nor exclusivist in ethnic and religious terms,' the paper argued.[26] In a cogent critique of the various hegemonic discourses of civilisation, enlightenment and order the British employed to,justify their domination over the Indians, Jawaharlal Nehru noted: 'Thus hypocrisy pays its tribute to virtue and a false and sickening piety allies itself to evil deeds' (Nehru 1966: 63). While it might be too early to judge whether this advocacy of the 'progressive, modern and inclusive' Maoists is inspired by Nehru's 'sickening piety' or by something noble, the message from India's fourth estate was quite clear: one country's terrorists are another's progressive agents. Given the disposition of the Legacy Raj and the oppositional imperative in Nepali politics outlined in this chapter, the contours as well as the final outcome of the present war will depend largely on the manner in which the opaque relationship between the Delhi Durbar and the Nepali Maoists matures in the months ahead.



NOTES
1] It may be recalled here that Rapti zone was the beneficiary of a USAID-funded integrated rural development project during the 1970s and 1980s.
2] Conducting research on conflict issues or contested arenas is never risk free, but the sheer violence of guerrilla war is likely to distort the direction and focus of research, or simply make it impossible. These risks are particularly severe for local scholars, intellectuals and journalists. For a pertinent discussion of research methodology in dangerous contexts see Jipson and Litton (2000).
3] For a discussion of the role played by the mainstream Indian media in projecting the Indian government's views on Nepal see Bhusal (2001).
4] After the departure of the British from South Asia, the Americans sought to fill the power vacuum in the region after the onset of the Cold War and China's involvement in Tibet and the Korean war. During this phase the Indians courted US influence, but they also resented the US presence in the region at times. For a brief discussion of the Indo-American relationship in the Himalayan region see McMahon (2002) and Goldstein (1997).
5] From K. P. Bhattarai's autobiography, Atma Katha, quoted in Spotlight, Septembcr 2001.
6] The monarchy faced a range of daunting options when the oppositional movement got underway after the Indian embargo. 'Conjecturally, had the democratic movement in Nepal been prolonged at this juncture, the monarchy would have been confronted with a difficult choice. It would have been imperative for the monarchy and the Panchayat System either to cave in to Indian demands in exchange for (at Ieast) India's critical restraint on the democratic forces in Nepal or order increased repression and bloodshed by further alienating the people' (Kumar 1992: 7). Kumar reproduces the text and a detailed discussion of the controversial treaty proposal.
7] When Nepal's interim government took power in 1990, India ended its year-long embargo on Nepal as a gesture of goodwill. Unfortunately, the democratic transition did not bring subslantial changes to the bilateral relationship. Despite its profession of support for the new government, New Delhi paradoxically insisted on retaining the bilateral regime that had existed during the Panchayat era (diplomatically, it was referred tu as the 'status quo ante'). Many of the political and economic challenges that have confounded bilateral relations since 1990 are a consequence of this contradiction between the profession of democratic endorsement and the practice of coercion.
8] Himal Kabarpatrika 10, 2, 2000 (16 Kartik 2057 v.s.), and various postings on stratfor.com (2001) analyse the debate on army deployment against the Maoists.
9] The Holeri debacle, however, led to the resignation of prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. A number of military officials, including the chief of staff, have indicated in subsequent interviews that the civilian authorities had failed to give the military due orders and specify the rules of engagement to take on the rebels (see Nepali Times, 21-7 December 2001). It is likely that the prime minister issued an equivocal order that left him with enough room for denial should the operation go wrong. The army's reluctance to proceed into combat without full backing from the political leadership and a clear operational mandate was also interpreted in various quarters as a secret plot between the king and the Maoists to discredit the multi-parry system. After the CPN (Maoist) made monarchy its sole target following the royal massacre, conspiracy theories that saw a royal hand behind the Maoist rebellion have largely subsided.
10] Newspapers have reported that the Maoists inflicted 12 billion rupees worth of damage on airports, hydropower stations, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and telecommunication facilities. During the same period, the rebels captured 330 million rupees worth of cash and bullion from public banks (Yogi 2002; Nepali Times, 94, 17-24 May 2002).
11] Telegraph, 25 January 2002.
12] Kathmandu Post, 24 September 2001.
13] Telegraph, 10 October 2001.
14] There might be little substantive difference between Jang Bahadur's march to Lucknow to relieve the British and Sher Bahadur's offers of' assistance during the Afghan war. Both were presented as civilisational wars of their times, and the services rendered can be read as tributary obligations of a dependent condition.
15] A typical view on this issue argues rather condescendingly that, 'Though not impracticable, the conduct of' a non-aligned policy in this geopolitical setting posed concrete difficulties. For instance, if Nepal wanted to seek co-existence with communist China, it inevitably implied a dislocation of the intimate socio-economic bonds subsisting between its people and India' (Nath 1975: 308). See Myrdal (1968), Jha (1977), Khanal (1977), Muni (1977) and Rose (1977) among others for a discussion of Nepal's struggle for non-alignment and neutrality in foreign relations. King Birendra's proposal to have Nepal recognised as a Zone of Peace was rejected by India on similar grounds (Jayawardena 1992: 300).
16] Perhaps the most overt manifestation of this antagonism occurred when the Jain Commission, constituted by the Indian government to investigate the murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, implicated the late Queen Aishwarya as a conspirator in the assassination. Many in Nepal saw the commission's report as a tactic employed to shame and intimidate Nepal's monarchy after the fall of the Panchayat (Samakaleen, 11 Dec. 1997; India Today, 8 Dec. 1997).
17] The Chinese foreign ministry and its diplomats in Kathmandu have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the Nepali Maoists. The Chinese ambassador to Nepal stated that the Nepali rebels were soiling Chairman Mao's name by their terrorist activities (People's Review, 16-22 May 2002).
18] The Maoists continue to analyse and represent the Nepali political economy largely as a feudal enterprise. For instance, Baburam Bhattarai recently described Nepal as being within 'precapitalist socioeconomic relations' (Bhattarai 2002a). However, some economists have argued that the 'Nepali state is no longer ruled by feudals: it has long passed, especially since the 1980s, into the hands of the trading class comprador bourgeoisic' (Gyawali 2002: 37). The Maoists are, in effect. 'trying to overthrow feudalism in a country already ruled by merchants' (ibid.).
19] timesofindia.com, 22 Jan. 2002.
20] Even as the CPN (Maoist) indulges in the systematic destruction of the Hindu religious and cultural edifice in Nepal, senior Maoist leaders have upheld the right of Hindu fundamentalists to build the Rama temple on the disputed Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. Maoists have also sought to win favours from New Delhi by giving credence to Indian accusations that Nepal has become a launching ground for Pakistani subversion against India (Spotlight, 24-30 May 2002).
21] Comparing extreme left politics in Peru and Nepal, Andrew Nickson suggests that a transition from authoritarian rule to a non-performing democratic regime is a fertile space for Maoist revolutionaries. 'In the case of Peru, the early years of the armed struggle launched by Sendero Luminoso went largely unreported in the euphoria created by the return to democracy. There was general disbelief that a tiny faction of the cummunist movement which had been quiescent during the military regime, would choose this moment in time to launch its revolutionary war' (Nickson 1992: 382). While there are some commonalties in the evolution of the CPN (Maoist) and the Shining Path Maoists of' Peru, there are also significant differences, especially in their regional and ethno-religious contexts, which Nickson did not take into account.
22] These ideological shifts were first reflected in two articles posted oil the web by Baburim Bhattarai during the first half of 2002. The first of these is addressed to a Western audience, while the second one is aimed at the Nepali middle classes and Nepali migrants working in the West.
23] After 11I September 2001 the Indian prime minister and foreign minister publicly announced that India would help the Nepali government in its fight against the Maoists, whom they now identified as terrorists. India was the first country to do so (People's Review, 17 Oct. 2001).
24] These contradictory moves from India, especially after 11 September 2001, can perhaps he explained by the possibility that the variuus organs of the Indian state. viz. the foreign ministry, defence establishment and the intelligence agencies, were pursuing different sets of objectives within the same policy framework towards Nepal, and not necessarily working at cross-purposes.
25] A month after the Indian foreign minister had labelled Nepali Maoists 'terrorists' and publicly pledged support to the Nepali government in the conflict, the senior Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara flew in from New Delhi on an Indian Airlines flight to lead the Maoist delegation in the third round of talks with the government held in Kathmandu. Subsequently, many of the Maoist leaders continued to provide regular statements and interviews to various media from different Indian cities.
26] 'Terror Error' (editorial), Times of India, 22 Jan. 2002.

Source; A Himalyan Red Herring? - Saubhagya Shah; Himalayan 'People's War', Ed. Michael Hutt, Hurst & Co., London 2004.