It is an October replete with irony. The most definitive treatment to date on Mao Tse-tung’s final crime against humanity, his "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," is out to solid reviews. Peru, in confirming the life sentence of Marxism’s self-proclaimed "Fourth Sword," Comrade Guzman, has ensured that the country would not have on its streets a "democratic politician" whose only tangible achievement was to unleash the Maoist nightmare that left 60,000 of his countrymen dead. In Thailand, amidst the buffeting of democracy, the 14 October anniversary passed with hardly a thought. It was on that date, in 1973, that the authoritarian state crumbled, beginning the process through which democracy defeated Maoism. And in Nepal, the Maoists, sensing power just ahead, again issued a slew of statements denying that their Maoism and the catastrophe it has brought to the country has anything to do with the bloody 20th Century crimes of Marxism-Leninism.
What is striking in the Nepali scenario has been the crucial role played by the clueless united front allies of the Maoists, especially groups that bill themselves as ‘civil society’ or even as ‘nonaligned’. They have lent critical strength to what otherwise would be a political movement in much the position as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) prior to its participation in the peace process, when its front, the Sinn Fein, at peak garnered less than a fifth of the electorate.
What remains ill-understood is that the Maoists are not using even the same vocabulary, much less the same game plan, as the present political system. They continue to see themselves as a people’s war on the offensive, and are simply proceeding along an avenue of approach complementary to armed action. Violence and non-violence are but two facets of a unified struggle, very much as, in boxing, feints and movement of the body are as necessary as punches thrown.
‘People’s war’ is a strategy for armed politics. The mistake is to think it is merely ‘war’, by which we normally mean action between armed forces. To the contrary, people’s war is like any parliamentary campaign – except violence is used to make sure the vote comes out in your favour. Significantly, sub-state rebels such as the Maoists claim they are merely doing what the state itself has been doing all along. In Nepal, they claim, there never has been ‘non-violent politics’. Rather, they assert, echoing Lenin, the democratic politics practiced by the ‘old-order’ – ancien regime – is but a façade for an oppression that is carried out using the violence of the state through its armed component, the security forces, as well as the ‘structural violence’ of poverty and injustice.
Thus the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a struggle for liberation, even of ‘self-defense’. Such a struggle proceeds along different but orchestrated lines of operation.. Use of violence, now ‘in support’, is just one line of operation, which comprehends many forms of violence, from assassinations, such as that of Armed Police Force (APF) head, Krishna Mohan Shrestha, in 2003, to main force attacks, the large actions that seek to overrun District capitals. These forms of violence, in turn, were ‘bundled’ into campaigns, such as the campaign of terror that the Maoists used to eliminate all who opposed them in local areas, whether individuals or police. The family of Muktinath Adhikari, for instance, the teacher was hanged for the ‘crimes’ of teaching Sanskrit and failing to give ‘donations’ to the Party in early 2002, has recently surfaced to demand justice.
Yet such terror occurred for a reason: to clear the space for political action, to eliminate competitors. This is why Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML, a parliamentary party,) activists were such particular targets. They advanced a competing programme which had won a majority of seats in Nepal’s 3,913 Village Development Committees (VDCs). They had to be driven out so that the Maoist cadres would have uncontested access to the electorate. Only in this way could the Maoists mobilize a mass base using their own ‘electoral platform’, if we may call it that – they call it their ‘mass line’.
Of course, such methods are anathema to democracy as generally understood, even as certain portions of their (Maoist) party platform are attractive. It is for this reason that the Maoists have sponsored a multitude of front organizations, the wide variety, for instance, of ethnic and community rights organizations. On the surface, they are not Maoist, but in reality they are controlled by the Maoists. The student and labour organizations are especially prominent in this respect. The important thing about fronts is that they can present themselves as independent, even as they are being used to enhance Maoist strength. Lenin called those who unwittingly join such fronts, thinking they are acting on their own, "useful idiots".
Even as this goes on inside the country, the Maoists work outside. States tend to focus upon the tangible links, such as the Maoist presence in India. Much more important is their information campaign, designed to present their movement as almost benign. As states make mistakes, such as instances of indiscipline by military units, these are exploited to claim that the state itself is the problem, and terror is projected as a natural component of the solution. In the Nepal, the sheer level of terror inflicted by the Maoists has been quite forgotten in the rush to attack the Army, the APF, and the hapless police (who, recall, at one point in the conflict, had actually suffered a majority of all dead when considered as a proportion of the total victims).
For a Maoist movement, the goal is always power. This has been stated quite openly by all major Maoist figures. They must have power, because their ‘end-state’ is to refashion society. They are not seeking reintegration. That would be to accept the structure that exists and to play by the rules of that structure. Quite vocally, they reject the legitimacy of that structure and its rules. That is why they are adamant that there must be a constitutional convention. They see themselves in the driver’s seat. They are like any political machine in a rough neighbourhood – they can ‘deliver’ the vote. It is ‘boss politics’ played by ‘big boy rules’.
In seeking ‘peace’ and proclaiming that they are ‘not for violence’, what the Maoists mean is that they would much rather have the state deliver power to them (the Maoists), rather than make them (the Maoists) fight for it. They are not fools. They are not interested in dying. They are interested in ‘building a new world’. Yet they hold that violence has been the indispensable tool for creating a new correlation of forces, a new electoral map, if you will. That is why they will not give up their weapons (alternatively, they say, all forces must lock up their weapons, but this does not include their local forces, their ‘people’s militia’). They have run the opposing parties out of the neighbourhood, and now they are demanding a vote. They do not see this as hypocrisy – they see it as doing precisely what the state has been doing in years past. But they hold that their motives are superior, because they aim to revolutionize society, to make Nepal a ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ democracy, because they are carrying out the will of history and ‘of the people’.
Have they worked out the details of what this new democracy will look like? No, aside from vague notions of ‘sectoral’ representation. They have stated, as the Maoist chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ ‘Prachanda’ recently did, that they oppose ‘parliamentary republicanism’, by which they mean democracy as Nepal has, but with the Parliament sovereign. But they have not laid out what their ‘real democracy’ alternative will be. That is the beauty of being the political challenger. Today’s realities are opposed with tomorrow’s promises. This is what politicians always do, even those who run ‘on my record’. The danger of left-wing ideologues, such as the Maoists, is that their worldview dramatically constrains their spectrum of possibilities.
They tend to think of fantasies, such as ‘self-reliance’ and ‘independence’, as ends that can be achieved if only ‘will’ is harnessed. It was just such fantasies, implemented through violence, that gave us the astonishing crimes of the past century – crimes, it must be noted, the Maoists deny occurred. Yet there is no doubt what went on under Lenin, Stalin, and Mao (photos of all these individuals are used as veritable deities by the Maoists), any more than there is any question as to what occurred under Hitler or Pol Pot. What they shared was a startlingly similar worldview.
The Nepalese Maoists’ way of dealing with this is, first, to deny reality (just as the leader of Iran seeks to deny the Holocaust); second, to claim that Nepal will be different (which is easily claimed, since there is a shocking lack of knowledge in Nepal of what has gone on globally in similar situations); and, finally, when all else fails, to claim that the critic has no right to speak. None of three ways, it bears reiterating, addresses the issue: the Maoists really have no answers to the challenges facing Nepal. They simply claim that they will do better than the bumbling (and bloody, they claim) incompetents who have preceded them.
The Maoists have used the monarchy as their foil. If the ‘feudal monarchy’ is swept away, they endlessly repeat, all will be well. In this, they certainly have been assisted by the tragic circumstances which placed the incumbent, King Gyanendra, on the throne. Similarly, they have been assisted by his errors in maneuvering through the maze of Nepali politics. However, having forced the monarch to a position most claim he should occupy, that of a ceremonial monarch in a parliamentary democracy, the Maoists are still left with the fundamental issue: what to do about Nepal? They see structural issues that can be addressed by ‘will’. Most of us see a population that has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.
Though marginal in an objective sense, Nepal and its troubles have implications for the region and beyond. The decimation of a democracy, the turning over of a people to the same tired solutions that have led to tragedy after tragedy, is of concern enough. Just as serious are the regional implications of allowing an armed, radical movement to force its way to power through terror.
India is the ultimate arbiter in Nepali affairs for reasons of geostrategic interest and Nepal’s geo-fiscal realities. From Nepal’s standpoint, this has not always worked out well. From India’s standpoint, it has worked out reasonably enough. Nepal has steered clear of engaging in behaviour that threatens India’s interests, and Nepalis have proved a valuable component of the Indian labour pool (including militarily, where Nepalis apparently comprise one-eighth of the manpower of India’s infantry battalions). India’s interest in the current situation is in having a stable neighbour, especially one that does not contribute to India’s own growing Maoist problem. To achieve this goal, New Delhi desires in Nepal a functioning democracy committed to addressing the needs of its people. Balancing elements of this general prescription has long been the challenge of Indian regional foreign policy and has led to some real flies-in-the-ointment at times.
Irony again surfaces, because it is India (not the Maoists) that has seen its policy of the past decade go awry. Hence it finds itself in bed with Maoist insurgents and in search of a ‘soft landing’. New Delhi’s strategy is to get one by facilitating in Nepal the creation of a ‘West Bengal’ or a ‘Kerala’ – States where the tamed Indian Left rules, where it continues with its nasty verbiage and bizarre worldview, but where it must respond to the realities of power and hence stays within the lanes on the national political highway. What New Delhi has overlooked is that such realities occur in India only because of the capacity of the national state to force compliance. Subtract the Indian military, paramilitary, and police forces from the equation, and India would be an anarchy. Not surprisingly, that is the very term being used by many to describe the situation in Nepal.
As has been discussed previously by any number of sources, it is difficult to tell precisely where "our Indian friends," as Prachanda has taken to calling them, currently fit in. A number of elements figure in New Delhi’s calculations. First, as the hegemonic power in an unstable subcontinent, India seeks the restoration of order. Disorder produces refugees, unleashes intra-Indian passions, transfers elements of the conflict to Indian soil, and sucks New Delhi into foreign policy nastiness. Second, having opted for order, India has played a hand well known to its smaller neighbours: intervention. The only question has been how to intervene.
Here, there are several schools of thought. My past work in Sri Lanka has led to my being less than charitable as to Indian official motives. In the Sri Lankan case, New Delhi was into everything from supporting terrorism to running covert ops in a friendly, neighbouring democracy. Only when the Frankenstein it helped to create, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), turned on its former benefactor did logic and morality reassert themselves in New Delhi. In Nepal, it is perhaps too early to speak in such terms. What we know at the moment is that the weak position of the coalition government in New Delhi, combined with its normal ‘Great Game’ psychology and the eagerness of certain Indian personalities, especially on the Left, to expand their own role and spheres of involvement, led to a policy shift that supported the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists (SPAM). It seems equally clear that India, as it did previously in Sri Lanka, went into the present endeavor quite misinformed by its alleged experts, not to mention its intelligence organs, and that it is quite ignorant as to the actual nature of the Maoists – no matter the efforts of those same personalities just mentioned to claim how wise, thoughtful, and caring Prachanda and other members of the Maoists leadership are.
In once again misreading the situation in a neighbouring state, India was initially and virtually pushed by the nationalism of the King. Whatever else he is, the monarch is a Nepali who does not think it is for India to dictate Nepali realities. Ironically, this is a position also held by the Maoists. They have simply realized, of late, that it is a position best relegated to the shadows. Better to rail against the old bugaboos of Indian politics, especially in unison with those who think the Cold War is still going on: ‘America and world imperialism’.
As the US Ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty, has made quite clear – and the cases of Hamas and Hezbollah illustrate well – there are consequences connected with actions that seek to talk peaceful politics but engage in behaviour labeled terrorist by virtually the entire world. It is noteworthy that, in their quest to carve out an identity as ‘independent’ actors, the Maoists claim to see exemplars in very unsavory types – Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea. One can understand why these odious regimes are ‘picked’ – on the surface, they stand for a divorce from the present world-order, which Maoist dogma holds responsible, in league with the Nepali local representatives of ‘world-capitalism’ (that is, anyone who owns anything and makes a decent living), for the lack of development that is the country’s present-day reality. In fact, Cuba and North Korea have long been economic basket-cases noted for their political repression, while Venezuela and Iran are political basket-cases determined to remain as such by exploiting a single resource, oil, something Nepal certainly does not have. Cases such as Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia also offer a certain fascination for the Maoists, since these states claim to be ‘socialist’. Each, though, has particulars not relevant to Nepal. Indeed, the most apt comparison for Nepal would seem to be to the Albania of the Cold War, when its lack of resources and close affinity with Maoist ideology reduced it to a complete backwater.
What now looms for India in Nepal is what Israel has faced with Hamas and Hezbollah. Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, thought they could be both in government and carry our terrorist actions. Their fellow citizens have paid a terrible price for such folly. Hamas is particularly tragic, because the Palestinians thought they could elect a group that both wanted to defy world norms and be supported by its money. The similarity to the Nepali case is compelling. Hamas and Hezbollah, one could argue, have behaved as the Nepali Maoists seem determined to behave: to participate in ‘the system’ only to use it for their own ends. Those ‘ends’, obviously, have now made life even worse for the Palestinian and Lebanese populations.
In the Nepal case, it was disappointing and tragic that the SPA and the Palace could not have a meeting of minds. Parliamentary democracy should have been the ultimate bulwark against the Maoist challenge, but the very nature of Nepali parliamentary democracy, with its corruption and ineptitude, led to its marginalization. The increasingly bitter split between the SPA and the King became all but inevitable in such circumstances, but personalities also played a central role, as they do in all that occurs in Nepal. It was the nastiness between Congress personalities, for instance, that incapacitated Government at the precise moment when focus and response were most needed against the insurgent challenge. India has sought to alter this reality long after the fact, by coming down squarely on the side of ‘democracy’. Yet, as was the case in Sri Lanka, New Delhi’s political class seems to have seriously miscalculated.
Though certain Indian commentators hold there are no connections between the Indian and Nepali Maoists, this has never been the case. Indeed, the two sides have openly discussed their linkages, and individuals from the two movements were apprehended or killed in operations "on the wrong side of the border." Only with a move to exploit the nonviolent line of operation did the Nepali Maoists stop claiming to be integrally linked not only with South Asian Maoism, through the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA), but also with global Maoist forces through the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). Of course, these were never ‘command’ relationships, only liaison and, in the case of the Indian groups, some presence. It is naïve to claim the radical wing of a radical Maoist movement will simply salute and call it a day, even if the leadership decides reigning in the combatants is the best tactical course of action.