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Impending Crisis in Nepal

Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • April 29, 2010

    A major crisis seems to be brewing in Nepal. The UCPN-Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias ‘Prachanda’ said on April 26 that his party would organize a general strike for "peace and constitution" on May 1 and launch an indefinite nationwide general strike from May 2, 2010. While stating that the agitation on May 1 will be peaceful, he warned that it could turn violent if the government intervenes in it. He claimed that the party was planning to bring about 400,000 Maoist cadres on to the streets of Kathmandu to celebrate May 1. The Maoists are likely to increase the pressure on the government to form a national unity government and complete the process of drafting of the constitution by the deadline of May 28.

    However, there are differences among the Maoist leaders on the method to be adopted during the May 2010 ‘Janabirodha’. While Prachanda favours a general strike for "peace and constitution", hardliners within the party like Ram Bahadur Thapa (general secretary of CPN-M) told cadres at training camps in Sindhupalchowk on April 18 that “the party would first seize the capital and then Biratnagar on May 28, the deadline for promulgation of the new constitution.” Another Maoist politburo member, Devendra Paudel, even stated that the “plan is to create tremendous pressure and topple the government with the least bloodshed” and write “a socialism-oriented constitution.”

    As the deadline to finalize the new constitution draws near, the Maoists are likely to indulge in showmanship and demonstrate their raw power and exert pressure on the government. They are likely to step into the political vacuum created due to the non-performance of the government, failure of the constitution-making process and the near death of the High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM) following the demise of G. P. Koirala. There is a feeling amongst the Maoists that they have been deliberately isolated in the evolving political processes in Nepal.

    Media reports from Nepal, quoting security officials, suggest that the Maoists have done elaborate preparations for the May agitation. They have imparted training to their cadres and arranged all necessary logistics like transportation, food, boarding and funding. It is reported that the Maoists had arranged training programmes (mainly use of Khukris and batons) in Rukum, Rolpa, Dang (19 centres), Banke (09), Bardiya (13), Surkhet, Pyuthan, Jhapa, Bajhang and Doti districts. They have forcefully recruited at least 20 to 50 youths from each village for such training. The politburo has instructed its district committees to send around five thousand cadres each for the agitation.

    According to reports, on April 25, the police seized over 600 sticks (batons) at a security checkpoint at Khawa village along the Araniko Highway. These were being transported to Kathmandu from Kavre by the Maoists for the May 1 mass movement. In another incident, on April 27, a Maoist platoon commander of a satellite camp under the PLA second division in Sindhuli was arrested with a 36M hand grenade and a Khukri at Gondrang of Chitwan district on his way to Kathmandu.

    Media reports also indicated the following action plan by the Maoists. The Maoists have asked Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 15 million as donation for their May agitation from businessmen, pharmacists and other industrialists in Kathmandu and other districts. In this regard, the Rastriya Janaandolan Samiti of the party has issued letters to industrialists and other donors. It is believed that the Maoists may keep their cadres at various private schools which were closed by its student wing protesting against the fee-hike earlier this month.

    The party has divided its cadres into three different groups for the purpose. The assault groups, consisting of the Young Communist League (YCL) and former combatants, will be in the frontline. The second group will include district level party cadres and members of various Maoist front organizations. The third group will include militia who are trained to use batons and Khukris. The outfits have forged a ‘united front’ with Upendra Yadav led Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) for simultaneous agitation in Biratnagar. The MJF cadres are supposed to provide full support to the Maoists.

    In response to the Maoists’ programme, on April 26, leaders of ten political parties asked the Maoists to call off the agitation, and asked the government to take all measures to maintain peace and security during the agitation. They apprehend that such an elaborate arrangement by the Maoists for a long drawn-out confrontation against the State and mobilization of a large number of trained cadres to Kathmandu may paralyze the Sate machinery. In this context, any preventive security action from the State security forces may push Nepal into violence and chaos.

    The international community has already expressed concerns over the impending crisis. European Union ambassadors met Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai on April 26 and expressed their concern at the lack of progress in the peace process and at the heightened political tensions in the country. They also expressed their deep concern at the demonstration planned for May 1 followed by the indefinite strikes. There is a strong belief amongst many international observers that India alone can play a critical role in this context and avert the impending crisis.

    Instability in Nepal is likely to have an adverse impact on India’s political, economic and security interests. India was instrumental in the conclusion of the 12-point Agreement, which mainstreamed the Maoists in the political process and led to the elections in 2008. However, in the meanwhile, anti-India sentiments have grown substantially in Nepal. There is a deep-rooted suspicion, partly fuelled by the Maoists now, that India is trying its best to stop the Maoists’ rise to power. In the recent past, the Maoists have tried to use China to counter-balance Indian influence. They neither hide their suspicion of India, nor conceal their desire to play the China card against India. Moreover, their linkages with the Indian Maoists remain a constant source of worry for India. Interestingly, there has been an increasing attempt by China in recent years to engage the government, the political parties and the people of Nepal. All this has raised Indian concerns regarding the Maoists and Nepal.

    India is faced with difficult choices. Any constructive attempt by India to salvage the situation in Nepal through proactive involvement is likely to be interpreted as unnecessary intervention in the internal affairs of Nepal. But passive indifference to developments in Nepal will be misconstrued as shirking of responsibility by observers at home and abroad. In the final analysis, India cannot ignore developments in Nepal and especially the Maoist reality.

    In view of the above, India needs to undertake an urgent review of the evolving situation in Nepal, and come up with short, medium and long-term policy options towards Nepal. The following approach may be considered:

    • A review of the security situation along the India-Nepal border should be undertaken to verify and ascertain reports about the Maoist blockade of Kathmandu and determine whether it would be peaceful or not.
    • There is an urgent need to review India’s supply lines to Kathmandu and other places in Nepal. Security arrangement in the border region should be reviewed urgently to prevent any spill over. This is important because media reports suggest migration of people from the Bajhang district to India apprehending conflict after May 28.
    • Indian business houses should be provided security; India should issue a travel advisory to its citizens not to visit Nepal.
    • India may suggest to the Nepal government to maintain utmost restraint and peace during the agitation because the Maoists are not likely to capture power by military means.
    • The Maoists cannot be ignored. India should engage with all parties in Nepal including the Maoists with a view to impressing upon them to resolve the crisis peacefully and in a mature manner. India’s good offices should be offered but not imposed.
    • The Maoists and other parties should be sensitized about India’s core security concerns.
    • India must establish contact at the Track-II (think tanks) and track-III (business and other civil society institutions) levels with Nepalese civil society to better understand the evolving situation and also to find out ways of averting the impending crisis.
    • The government should reassure the government and the people of Nepal that it has no interest in interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs and that it would continue to provide all help in assisting Nepal economically and otherwise.