Nepal: The ticking time-bomb
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Issue Vol 24.2 Apr-Jun 2009 | Date : 04 Aug , 2014

A China tourism hoarding outside Kathmandu airport with the message, 'Welcome to Nepal - Gateway to China'.

Nepal is at a critical crossroad; in fact the rebirth of the country as a new nation-state is in question. To assess the evolving situation, I recently undertook an extensive tour of the country. During the tour, I had wide interaction with various segments and classes of Nepal including some important personalities and political leaders across the political divide.

Overall Situation

From my observations and interactions, I aver that Nepal is struggling for a new identity and soul, as never before in the last two centuries. There is confusion, uncertainty, despair, apprehension and despondency amongst all segments of the Nepalese society. There is near paralysis of administration. Law and order, which was very respectable under the monarchy has totally degenerated, particularly in the Terai belt. There is abnormal increase in murders, kidnappings and extortions, and other criminal activities. Road-blocks (bandhs) for days together have become an endemic feature. This is adopted not as a last resort tactic, but the first one. This is something the society has learnt from the Maoists. Electricity supply in important places like Kathmandu, Janakpur and Pokhra is limited to four or five hours a day.

There is a distinct fault line operating the East-West Highway, threatening to vertically split Nepal.

Many people especially in the Terai region questioned the very concept of Nepal as a nation-state. Even in the hills of eastern Nepal, the Limbuans (martial class like Limbu, Rai, Magar), are questioning their association with Nepal. The Tharus and the Muslims have been demanding special status and exclusion from the Madhesh identity, something which the other Madheshis and their leaders feel, has been engineered by the Maoists to drive a wedge in the Madheshi unity. Many hill people (paharis) have been compelled to leave Terai and flee to the hills after selling off their properties cheap. The Maoists have lost much of their influence in the Terai region, and have been supplanted by a plethora of Madheshi organization, some of which are no less criminal in their intent and activities. Elsewhere too, the Maoists influence has considerably waned, but there does not appear to be strong alternatives in the minds of the people particularly in the hill region.

There is a distinct fault line operating the East-West Highway, threatening to vertically split Nepal. The ultimate instrument of security, i.e. the Nepal Army is being humiliated and marginalized by the Maoists in the government. The Maoists have not renounced violence. It is only the Maoists, who appear to be working with a clear purpose and objective, the other political forces are either weak or in disarray. There is an unprecedented interaction at all levels between Nepal and China. The Maoists have subverted the very idea of a Constituent Assembly by declaring policies that legally can only be adopted once the new constitution comes in force. There is a sense of disquiet amongst a large segment of the people, most political parties and the Nepal Army about the agenda and working pattern of the Maoist leaders at the helm of the government. A faint trigger may just explode Nepal.

New Moorings

The moot question, as also echoed by Kamal Thapa, King Gyanendra’s home minister, is – what is going to be the new philosophical mooring of the new state? To effect a paradigm shift in the type of polity and political dispensation, the most rudimentary imperative is that the protagonists must shun violence, which the Maoists have not done. They insist on calling their militant cadres, ‘Peoples Liberation Army’ (PLA), on the Chinese lines. As per the Himalayan Times, 21 March 2009, published from Kathmandu, “former General Secretary of CPN-UML Madhav Kumar Nepal recently stated that it was a great mistake of political parties to bring the Maoists to the government while they still had a parallel army and they were still carrying arms.” He further said: “there is a risk that the nation could face chaos due to wrong doing of the Maoist led government… We cannot expect respect, honour and political culture from the Maoists as they are guided by weapon-oriented ideology.” The Maoist leadership on so many occasions has threatened to re-launch their armed struggle if their key demands are not met. As per Mr Harihar Dahal, member of the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee, the Maoists were adamant that the word ‘democratic’ should not figure and the country should be just called ‘Peoples Republic’. After much of persuasion and cajoling, they conceded to include the word ‘democratic’.

Even the declaration of Nepal as a secular country by the Maoist leadership does not enjoy public approval.

Even the declaration of Nepal as a secular country by the Maoist leadership does not enjoy public approval. In Madhesh as well as in the hills, the overwhelming refrain was that if a referendum were to be held, 90 percent of Nepal would vote in favor of a Hindu state. The latest move by the government to accord special status to Muslims is being seen as contrary to the basic tenets of secularism. Many in Nepal feel that the Maoist leadership has not declared Nepal a secular state out of any love for secularism, but, because they feel that religion can pose the biggest antidote to their radical left politics. One of the reasons that the Maoists created mid-western Nepal as their initial stronghold was because they felt that the ethnic groups in that region were less influenced by Hindu religious moorings.

The other issue of Nepal being a federal state is also mired in controversy. Mr Ram Chandra Jha, a UML leader and Local Development Minister, told me that there was a proposal by the Maoists to have two parliaments, one for Madhesh and other for hill region. He said that he opposed the move as it would not be a ‘federation’, but confederation as such. I added that the move would ultimately result in the vertical split of the country. There is another proposal to divide Nepal into 13 to 14 regions based on ethnicity. Mr Jha and some other political leaders questioned the efficacy of this proposal, as they maintained that Nepal had more than 200 ethnic groups, however in no district of Nepal, any particular ethnic group was in majority.

Dwindling Nationalism

In the Madhesh region acute anger against Kathmandu was palpable. People brazenly questioned their nationality. They argued that there was not a single good reason for them to be part of Nepal. They maintained that they have been neglected, rather ignored, by both Nepal and India, despite constituting 50 percent of the population. Most influential positions in governance, they said, have been traditionally enjoyed by the hill people. Most blamed the pahari dominated dispensation of destroying the ecology and environment of the region. They complain that the entire ecology of the region was destroyed during the construction of the East-West highway and nothing has been done to restore it. A few decades back, the Terai region was characterized by dense forests, which have disappeared with the connivance of government officials (predominantly paharis), causing much devastation and floods in Terai and the contiguous areas in India.

The Terai people accuse India of looking at Nepal through the prism of the Gurkha soldier, Gurkha sentry (darban), and Gurkha servant. Leave alone Indian citizens, even the Indian diplomats, they felt had little knowledge and awareness about them. The only ambassador, who made an attempt to address their concerns, was Mr Shyam Sharan. They averred that their past, present and future is intertwined with the contiguous states and regions of India, as their economic and social well-being was not dictated by northern Nepal, but India and the Indian people with whom they have familial ties. The hunt for bride and bridegrooms invariably extends into the Indian territory. They were generally of the strong contention that legally and historically they were part of India. Some of them invoked history to argue their case.

It is only the Maoists, who appear to be working with a clear purpose and objective, the other political forces are either weak or in disarray.

One scholar pointed out that the entire region of Madhesh was given on lease to one Mukunda Sen by the Mughal emperor Shah Alam-II for 13000/- Rupees. Mukunda Sen divided the Terai region between his two sons, who were known as Palpa Raja and Makwan Raja (Gandaki to Kosi). After Prithvai Narayan Shah, annexed these regions, he continued to pay tribute to the East India Company something which continued till the rule of Jung Bahadur Rana (hereditary prime minister). The lease extended upto Lehariasarai and Darbhanga in Bihar. After the battle of Sagauli in 1816, the East India Company took back Terai, but after two years gave it back on lease. The East India Company forces had reached upto Hetauda and were threatening to capture Kathmandu. However, the British thought it wise to enter into a treaty as their principal security concern lay in Afghanistan. The King of Nepal’s position was that of a subordinate. The British never called the Nepal King as ‘His Majesty’. Pleased with the contribution of Gurkha soldiers of the Nepal army in defeating the Indian war of Independence–1857, the British revoked the lease of Terai and permanantly awarded certain areas in the region refered to as Naya Nepal.

The Madheshis find it amusing and discriminatory that they are referred to as ‘people of Indian origin’ by the hill people. Their contention is that many hill tribes including the Shah family and the Ranas are basically Indians, who migrated to Nepal at some point of history.

The lack of development, continued self-destruction of economic assets, and total external dependence, have made the people of Nepal cynical and despondent about their country. They feel economically extremely vulnerable and apprehensive about Nepal being a totally consumer country. It produces only seven percent of its consumer needs. Nepal, today basically subsists on remittances, which last year amounted to Rs. 1 trillion. People in the Terai said that there is relative peace in the region because most of the Madhesh population between 18 to 35 years of age was outside the country, especially in Southeast Asia and the Gulf. As per a banker, remittances coming in Janakpur, amounted to Rs.10 crore a month. They apprehend that if there were to be reverse inflow of Nepalese labour due to global recession, there will be chaos in Terai.

The ultimate instrument of security, i.e. the Nepal Army is being humiliated and marginalized by the Maoists…

The assertion of ethnicity is not only confined to the Terai, but the hill region as well. The Limbuans of Eastern Nepal constituting of martial castes like Rai, Limbu, Magar are demanding separate rule based on the contention that they came under the Nepal monarch, Prithvi Narayan Shah under a special arrangement, but now, since the monarchy is gone, they are no longer part of the country.

Even in the hills, therefore, the concept of Nepali nationalism is very vague. Some people attributed the lack of nationalism to the historical reason that Nepal comprised more than 50 different principalities/petty-kingdoms unified artificially by Prithvi Narayan Shah. In the small state of Nepal, there are a host of external players like China, US, UK and Pakistan. Its geographical proximity to China and the changes taking place there (Tibet) lends Nepal immense strategic importance. The lack of hostile neighbours and the Kathmandu centric orientation of the country have also contributed to the lack of nationalism. One political leader quipped that there is no one in Nepal who is ready to die for his country. One politician even made a euphemistic suggestion that if India were to somehow extend the Sixth Pay Commission to Nepal, the country would happily accede to India.

Fault Line

The people in the Terai region draw their political inspiration from the Indian political template. On the other hand, the people in the hills are little aware about the contours of Indian politics. Even domestically, compared to the people in Terai, they are less politically active because of their day-to-day hard struggle for subsistence and survival. Nevertheless, the hill people see the Terai and its people as an extension of India. They see the Maoists as just another political force rather than being influenced by any ‘ism’. While the Terai people are apprehensive about any strong inroads by China and share the Indian perspective and concern, the hill people are hardly sensitive on the issue. Many people in the Terai region even supported the economic blockade by the Rajiv Gandhi government. They maintained that the blockade did much to compel the monarchy to restore democracy.

Apparently, the Maoists influence has been supplanted by the Madheshi movement, even though the Maoists leaders are trying their best to split the Madheshi ranks by instigating the cause of Tharus and Muslims. In 2007, more than 20 Maoists were slaughtered at Gaur in a public meeting. Last year fierce clashes took place between the Madheshis and the hill people (Paharis) in the Terai region. Video tapes of Madheshi-Pahari clash were shown in various places in Terai to arouse passions. The customs office at Bittha More on the Indo-Nepal border near Janakpur, was attacked and in its wake there were no border officials to be seen for the next 20 days. Most paharis were compelled to sell their properties at throughaway prices and migrate to northern regions. The Maoist government did nothing to stop this as part of a deliberate strategy to cause polarization and confusion in Nepal. Some petty Pahari businessmen, however, are trickling back since then.

The lack of hostile neighbours and the Kathmandu centric orientation of the country have also contributed to the lack of nationalism.

The common people in Terai do not harbour much hatred for the hill people and they consider them extremely innocent, but are bitter about the pahari heavy dispensation over the years. Both, influential hill people and Terai people that I interacted with, were cagey and cautious while discussing the issue, but a sense of disquiet and apprehension was discernable.

A distinct fault line presently operates alone the East-West Highway dividing the hill people from the people in Terai. The chasm was growing by the day, but off late the realization is creeping in that the fault line is adversely impacting both on the hill people and the Terai population. As long as the hill people were there in the Terai, the markets were thriving. The exodus of hill people from the Terai has caused severe labour problems; as a result all economic activity has come to a halt. The only beacon of hope seems to be the President of Nepal Dr Ram Baran Yadav, who is increasingly being seen as a Gandhian and  a statesman; the President, a qualified heart specialist, has been repeatedly stressing on the unity of the people of Nepal, which is being extremely well received by the people due to their growing exasperation with internecine violence and mutually ruinous hatred.

Hurtling towards a failed state

When I crossed the Nepal border, there were no customs officials. Despite deployment of large number of police personnel in various areas in the Janakpur region, there was no indication of active policing. People were traveling on the roof top of buses with gay abandon, something which never happened under the monarchy. Schools are closed for most of the period. Cheating in exams, which was an unknown feature, has now become rampant. I visited a school in Pipra village near the border, where the Indian government has given three crore rupees for refurbishment and expansion, the foundation stone for which was laid by Ambassador Shyam Sharan. Construction work stopped midway due to extortion demands of the Maoists and other groups. People maintained that the education system in Nepal was better than India in many respects. However, now, to compensate for the loss of school hours, children could be seen in hordes with their school bags going for tuition classes. Students in Madhesh are considered to be very promising and hardworking, but do not see much future in Nepal.

In Madhesh as well as in the hills, the overwhelming refrain was that if a referendum were to be held, 90 percent of Nepal would vote in favor of a Hindu state.

There are now more than three dozen outfits espousing the cause of ‘One Madhesh One Pradesh’. Most of these outfits are nothing but criminal organizations indulging in arson, loot, murders and extortion. I met a banker living bang opposite the residence of the SP, who confided to me that he was compelled to pay one lakh rupees to one of these organisations. These organisations are now flush with finances and new weapons. Most of these organisations have been infiltrated by ex-Maoists. Kidnapping has become a industry with money being shared with the police. The general feeling was that the situation was not as bad even during the peak of Maoist agitation, and the Maoist leadership was working to a plan of destroying the entire system.

Road blockades and bandhs in Nepal are so frequent that people have become inured to it. Road blocks and bandhs are never partial but complete, and it extends for days together, causing much hardship to the people in the hills due to acute shortage of essential supplies, triggering abnormal price rise of commodities. I could not proceed from Janakpur to Kathmandu by road due to bandh imposed by the Tharu community, which had entered its 23rd day. There was not even a modicum of effort by the government, and its law and order agencies to enforce a solution. The Janakpur-Kathmandu road link constitutes the main artery for the Kathmandu valley. Again my travel from Kathmandu to Pokhra by road was interrupted by a road blockade created by a student group during student elections. More than hundered vehicles with tourists lay strung on the road. Large posse of policemen was seen to be moving up and down, but did not attempt to clear the blockade.

After four hours, I and others were compelled to pickup baggage and walk 5 to 6 km before I could find another means of conveyance on the other side of the blockade. People were of the opinion that the culture of bandhs and road blocks in utter disregard to the needs and hardships of the countrymen was introduced in the political culture of the country by the Maoists, and therefore now when in the government, they do not have any moral authority to condemn and contain the very same method, which they engaged in with telling effect.

 The peace pact and the democratic process, they consider, as just another halt or a stepping stone in their journey to a Maoist state.

Both in the hills and Terai, power cuts range from 16 to 18 hours a day. This includes Kathmandu and Pokhra as well. The void created by the monarchy and its institutional framework has not been supplanted by other effective mechanisms. In fact, the existing institutions are in complete confusion and disarray. There is a growing feeling that it is a part of deliberate Maoist strategy to destroy or marginalize all existing institutions including the army.

Influence of the Maoists

Most people including those inhabiting the areas of Maoist stronghold maintained that the electoral success of Maoists was due to a combination of extraordinary factors. In the remote hill regions, there was no presence of any other political force other than the Maoists, therefore the poll results in favor of the Maoists was a foregone conclusion. In other areas, fear of the Maoists and intimidation by them were the factors. And in the areas where the Maoists were a weak force, they adopted a humble political posture requesting the voters to give them a chance, as they had tried all other political players in the past. The general public failed to see the danger posed by the radical ism of the Maoists. The Maoists even threatened to continue their armed struggle if not voted to power. Fed up with a decade of violence and hardship, many people decided to give the Maoists a chance. The Congress leaders disclosed that Mr Koirala, in the very late stages was given intelligence inputs regarding the emergence of Maoists as the leading political force, yet he did nothing to scuttle the elections. Therefore, in a way he did favor to the Maoists.

To win over the people, the Maoist used a simple tactic. Mr Kamal Thapa, former home minister and now a member of the Constituent Assembly representing the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, said that he was intrigued by the switchover of loyalties by the cycle-rickshaw pullers to the Maoists in his constituency ‘Hetauda’. It was then revealed to him that the Maoist had asked the cycle-rickshaw pullers, as to what their daily earnings were, and how much did they pay everyday to rickshaw owners as hiring charges–which was Rs. 30 and Rs. 100 respectively. The Maoists issued a diktat that henceforth they would pay only Rs.70 to the rickshaw owner and contribute Rs.10 to the Maoist fund. Happy at the increase of their earnings from Rs.30 to Rs.50, they changed their loyalties overnight. Then they issued a diktat that no restaurant worker will be paid less than a stipulated amount. Such tactic worked, but now the politics of distribution of the Maoists is facing new hurdles on account of shortages, rising inflation, fast deteriorating infrastructure, and sharp decline in the tourism industry, which is critical to the Nepalese economy. Most Indian industries are either closed or have relocated on account of labor problems. Many industries in Birganj–Pathlayia corridor have been closed or on the brink of closure. Same is the case with industries at Itahri. All industries were there due to cheap labour and 15 percent duty difference, which will become nil after 2010 when WTO provisions come into force.

Road blockades and bandhs in Nepal are so frequent that people have become inured to it.

As per Mr Kamal Thapa, like the Congress, the Maoists were not averse to partnering with the monarchy. In fact, the Maoist leadership had sounded the King that the institution of monarchy could well fit in their scheme of things, as in the case of Cambodia. They urged the King to join forces with them to wipeout other political parties from the scene of Nepal, a proposal Mr Kamal Thapa said, the King refused to buy. When this did not work, the Maoists struck common cause with the political parties, which was part of their design of incremental progress towards establishing a Maoist state. There were others, who believed that the King was also not averse to use the Maoists as a counterpoise to the political parties. In that they cite the security forces operation in Holari, wherein the entire Maoist top leadership was surrounded and would have been easily eliminated but for the intervention of the King.

Acutely conscious of their limited influence the Maoists then joined hands with the other political parties. The King declared his resolve to destroy the Maoists and appeal to the political parties and the people for the need to prolong ‘emergency’ with the promise to restore democracy once the Maoist terrorism was vanquished. However, by then King Gyanendra and his son had become hugely unpopular, and ceased to enjoy any respect or patience with the monarchy. The Maoist then collaborated with other political parties to overthrow King Gyanendra, not because of their opposition to monarchy and love for democracy, but for sheer survival and for elimination of another rival power center to pave the way for the realization of a Maoist state. It may be mentioned here that some Maoist supporters still hold Gyanendra’s predecessor King Birendra in very high regard, and so do many in the Nepali Congress and other political parties. I was told that in the late 80s, Mr G P Koirala had in fact expressed his desire to King Birendra to join forces with monarchy, but the latter insisted he should launch a movement, for democracy, as the other royal family members were targeting him (King Birendra) of being soft and overly disposed in favor of democracy at the cost of monarchy. Sans Gyanendra therefore, the people carry some very revered memories of the monarchy, something which the Maoist have to contend with, but are determined to efface. They therefore see the Nepal Army as a vestige of the monarchy, which must be radically altered in the colour of ‘Red’ and on the lines of the PLA of China.

It is with this objective that the Maoist leadership is insisting on absorption of their armed cadres into the Nepal Army and has objected to routine recruitments by the Army. They recently tried to deny extension to the eight Brigadier Generals against the established convention. Unfortunately, the Maoists do not have the numbers to bulldoze their agendas in the Constituent Assembly, but are nevertheless moving incrementally with a clear purpose. Interestingly and much to the discomfiture to the Maoist leadership, the Madhesh Liberation Tigers (MLT), during its negotiations with the government, demanded that its 10,000 armed cadres should be treated like the Maoist armed cadres, who are enjoying the facilities provided by the state and should be absorbed in the Nepal Army.

Ever since, the Maoists have taken over the mantle of governance they have been losing political ground and popularity due to increasing instability in the country. Even amongst the supporters, I did not find any reverence for the Maoist leadership. In some parts of the Terai region, the mere mention of the names of Maoist leaders invites peoples’ wrath. The Maoist leaders do realize that they cannot override the rising Madheshi sentiments, therefore they have adopted different tactics. They are trying to drive a wedge in the Madheshi ranks by instigating ethnic groups like Tharus and Muslims to demand ‘special identities and privileges’. The recent Tharu and Muslim agitation is believed to have been engineered by them. It is also alleged that they are floating Madheshi organizations under different names and secretly imposing their leadership in Madheshi avatars. There are insinuations that two former Maoist leaders, Upendra Yadav (Foreign Minister) and Maitrika Yadav, now heading Madheshi organizations, remain fundamentally Maoists. That these two leaders have so far strongly supported all controversial decisions lends credibility to the suspicion. For the Maoists, the foreign minister portfolio is most critical and it is intriguing that it should have been given to a political rival.

…see the Nepal Army as a vestige of the monarchy, which must be radically altered in the colour of ‘Red’ and on the lines of the PLA of China.

The decision of the government led by Maoists to increase the salary of the MPs (601 in the Constituent Assembly) from 14,000 to 50,000 has not gone down well with the people. Most people find the tax regime in Nepal oppressive. With regard to vehicles, the yearly tax slab is Rs 1,800 for 100 CC motorcycles, Rs 3,600 for 150 CC motorcycles, Rs 15,000 for 1500 CC cars, and Rs 50,000 for cars above 1,500 CC. Under the Maoist government, the state-run schools are hardly functional due to various reasons, and people are seeking recourse to private institutions. There are some 9,000 private schools in 56 districts of Nepal. Each of these schools has a minimum of 20 employees. A five percent tax has been levied on students studying in private schools. As it is private schools are paying 25 percent income tax, 1.5 percent tax for rural education development programme, 10 percent building tax, even if the school is being run from own premises. The Maoist leader Babu Ram Bhattarai had recently threatened to close all private schools. Exasperated the Private School Association threatened to close the schools from the very next day.

While I was in Nepal, the Students’ Union Elections were being held throughout the country. A lot of significance was being attached to it so as to gauge the following of the Maoists amongst the youth. With 48 seats, the Student Wing of the Maoists ANNISU (R) were placed third after ANNFSU (student wing of UML) and NSU (student wing of Nepali Congress) with 86 and 61 seats respectively. The Maoists had placed a lot of premium on the elections and provided substantial funds to their student wing.

The Maoists do not seem to be perturbed over their waning popularity, since they have armed muscle. The peace pact and the democratic process, they consider, as just another halt or a stepping stone in their journey to a Maoist state. They are very well utilizing the present opportunity to bolster their armed might and infiltrating key institutions of governance. Before they entered the peace process, they carried out frantic recruitment of new cadres in their armed wing, which they insist on calling the PLA. During the peace process, they took the position that their PLA has 30,000 cadres. The UN Monitoring Committee reckoned it at 18,000. These cadres organized in special camps under the UN supervision continue to be trained. It is widely believed that some of hard core cadres and the most potent weapons remained outside to be used when required. In addition, the Maoists have raised the ‘Youth Communist League’ (YCL) with the membership of one lakh as claimed. They are being liberally armed and financed by the Maoist leadership, now running the government. It may be mentioned that the YCL cadres took out a protest march against the Supreme Court’s stay on the defence minister’s decision of not granting extension to eight Brigadier Generals. It may be mentioned that the defence minister Badal was the head of the armed wing of Maoists before joining the government.

Maoists have also indicated to certain quarters I interacted with that in the event of being voted out in the Constituent Assembly, they would quickly seize power by force.

As per some key sources, the Maoists are preparing for an eventuality of an armed show down with the assistance of China, in case they are politically overwhelmed by opposing forces. Maoists have also indicated to certain quarters I interacted with that in the event of being voted out in the Constituent Assembly, they would quickly seize power by force.

India Factor

The people in the Terai nurture a deep grievance that their pro-India orientation has been overlooked and subverted not only by Nepal, but India as well. They pointed out that without a liberal and open border regime, their very survival will be at stake. They asserted that for everything right from sustenance to good future for their children they have nowhere to look, but India. Even the hill people, who have the means are hedging their chances by acquiring properties in India. There are numerous advertisements in Nepalese newspapers regarding sale of flats in Delhi. As per report, more than 150 Gurkhas of the British Army have bought properties in Gurgaon.

The complementarities between Nepal’s Terai and India were accentuated during the recent road block by the Tharu community, when people travelling from Birganj to Janakpur, two important towns of Terai, had to do so through the Indian territory. They also brought out the impact of happenings and internal administrative measures by the contiguous states on Nepal’s Terai. For example, they cited that many criminals and anti-social elements have crossed into the Nepal’s Terai region after tightening of law and order machinery by the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. They therefore warned that a Maoist takeover of Nepal will have deep ramifications in India.

A few other examples can be given with regard to the complementarities. The BP Koirala Institute of Medical Science at Dharan, established with Indian assistance has more than 70 percent patients from Bihar. There are also eye hospitals in the Terai at Lahan (established with German assistance), Janakpur, Birganj, Bhairawah and Getta. Again, 70 percent of patients in these eye hospitals are from the Indian side. The Indian patients find it very convenient and economical as treatment fees is fixed and there is no fleecing or hidden costs involved. The fixed rate for a cataract operation is Rs 1,000/-. A senior functionary of the National Academy of Medical Sciences proposed that the same model be replicated with regard to dental hospitals. In that India should assist in establishing dental hospitals at Jaleshwar, far-western Nepal, mid-western Nepal and eastern Nepal. Some of these hospitals will benefit India as well. It may be mentioned here that Nepal is ahead of India in anti-blindness programmes, Vitamin-A programmes, Polio eradication, mother and child health programmes, and oral health programmes (in Asia, only Thailand is ahead of Nepal).

…India-bashing is a compulsion, even as they fully realize that India has been more than indulgent, benign and generous towards Nepal all through.

The people of Nepal are very impressed with India’s economic growth and expect India to be more magnanimous in view of its burgeoning economy. I told the some Nepalese leaders in the government that without doubt Nepal is a sovereign country, but Delhi-Kathmandu state-to-state relations paradigm is detrimental to the development and well-being of Nepal. The geographical truism is that Nepal has borders with Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, UP, and Uttrakhand, some of which are presently not the best performing states of India. Development of Nepal can only take place if the complementarities of these Indian states with Nepal are taken into consideration by both the countries. There is a pressing imperative that the Chief Ministers of bordering Indian states are included in the decision-making loop with regard to the relations between the two countries and development activities undertaken in Nepal with Indian assistance.

Most people in Nepal, (lesser extent Terai), are unaware about India’s security sensivities like externally sponsored terrorism and activities of the country’s belligerent to India like Pakistan and China. Mired in their own problems, they tend to overlook the fact that India has direct security interface with five other neighbors. In fact, there is a propensity amongst some policy-makers to indulge in India-bashing, whenever they interact with other SAARC members. This propensity is exploited by powers inimical to India. Many leading politicians were candid enough to tell me that to be counted in Nepal’s politics, India-bashing is a compulsion, even as they fully realize that India has been more than indulgent, benign and generous towards Nepal all through. There are others, who accuse India of suffering from big-brother syndrome. They portray the Indian embassy in Nepal as a state within Nepal. There is a tendency to blame the Indian embassy and the RA&W for all the shortcomings of Nepal. This constituency in Nepal completely ignores the fact that given the unique nature of India–Nepal geopolitical interface, a modicum of reciprocities is expected from Nepal. They are sensitive about their concept of ‘sovereignty’ to ridiculous extents. They chased away the Indian technicians working on the hydro-electric project on the River Karnali on the plea of preserving Nepal’s sovereignty. They have done the same at other places as well. They also chased away Indian engineers and workers, who had gone to Nepal for repair of the embankment of the Kosi River. Nepal after Brazil has the highest potential for hydro-electric power, yet most of Nepal is today suffering from daily power-cuts of 18 hours.

The Nepal government has been selling the argument to its people that electricity shortages are due to disruption of 500 MW of power supply from India.

An Indian pilot, who has flown extensively in the domestic circuit of Nepal observed that most of the airfields in Nepal have been constructed with the Indian assistance, and the plaques mentioning the same has deliberately been allowed to deteriorate and are obscured by wild grass.

The Nepal government has been selling the argument to its people that electricity shortages are due to disruption of 500 MW of power supply from India. It does not realize that India is a precarious power-deficient state and can ill afford to persist with the arrangement indefinitely.

About one thousand crore rupees is disbursed by India as pension for Gurkha ex-servicemen yearly by the Indian Pension Establishment in Nepal. The officers and the staff of the establishment travel to remote areas, but their movement has never been disrupted even during the peak of the Maoist insurgency. It is intriguing that many Gurkha ex-servicemen also get afflicted by ‘sovereignty’ and ‘anti-India’ syndrome. Same is the case with regard to recruitment of the Gurkhas of Nepal in the Indian Army. I attended a recruitment rally at Pokhra. In the preceding two years, the Maoists had created hurdles in holding recruitment rallies, again citing ‘sovereignty’. These elements were conveyed that it was not India’s problem but Nepal’s, as India has enough voluntary aspirants for the Indian Army. After the reality sunk in, and under public pressure the Maoist leadership had no choice, but to finally yield.

Much of the Indian assistance to Nepal is not only taken for granted, but misused as well. As per a functionary of the Indian Consulate at Birganj, India had recently gifted some ambulances to Nepal, and a few months down the line, he said that he was horrified to see them being run a taxies.

China Factor

Some of very important non-Maoist ministers in the present government, conveyed their alarm in the abnormal increase in the number of visits by Chinese delegations to Nepal. There have been 28 official delegations from China to Nepal ever since the Maoists have come to power. It was pointed out that in the last four months, there have been nine Chinese delegations and only four Indian. As per sources in Nepal’s Army, the number of unofficial Chinese delegations is even more. The non-Maoist ministers revealed that the current Nepalese dispensation and China are moving very fast on realization of the extension of Tibet Railway to Kathmandu. In fact, recently, the Nepal government has officially requested China in this regard. These leaders were of the opinion that if the preliminary work was to begin on the project, it would be impossible to thwart it, as public opinion would go against India. They therefore, proposed that India should immediately take cogent action towards extension of railway from India to Kathmandu and beyond upto the Chinese border.

India should immediately take cogent action towards extension of railway from India to Kathmandu and beyond upto the Chinese border

A large number of Nepalese students are being lured by China to avail technical education facilities especially created for them. These are basically those students, who fail to enter engineering and medical institutions in Nepal or India. It may be mentioned that Nepal with a population of 2.5 crores has 14 medical colleges. The Chinese have a very blasé attitude towards the fulfillment of academic and professional aspirations of the Nepalese students. The objective is not education, but to subvert these students and further Chinese influence. Extensive visits to the prosperous parts of China forms part of the curriculum. These institutions are very poorly equipped. For most practical classes, video tapes are shown. The standard of students graduating from the medical institutes is so poor that the Nepal Medical Association has begun to conduct exam for certification and practice in Nepal. Members of the Nepal Medical Association, who visited China told me that the institutions in China catering exclusively to Chinese students are much superior, rather state-of-art.

Since such exams by the Medical Association cannot be confined to Chinese graduates, others including Indian and Nepal graduates have also been brought in the ambit. Very recently, some 600 graduates appeared for licensing exam of which only 40 percent qualified and most failures were graduates from China.

The stranglehold of China on the Maoist leaders was quite evident when it prevailed over Prachanda to decline invitation to participate in the recently held India Today Conclave. Not only the Maoist leaders, but also the Madheshi leaders like Upendra Yadav and Maitrika Yadav are also considered extremely close to China, and indirectly and secretly supporting China in furtherance of its agendas in Nepal. Maitrika Yadav has just returned from his visit to China.The recent statement by the Chinese Ambassador in Nepal to the effect that China will not allow Nepal’s sovereignty to be interfered with is significant and unequivocally demonstrates the Chinese resolve to wean Nepal from its special relationship with India.

The evolving contours between Nepal and China under the Maoist dispensation is best signified by a huge hoarding of Chinese tourism just outside the Kathmandu airport.

The evolving contours between Nepal and China under the Maoist dispensation is best signified by a huge hoarding of Chinese tourism just outside the Kathmandu airport. It reads ‘Welcome to Nepal, the Gateway to China’.

Marginalization of the Army

The Maoists have been consistently humiliating the Nepal Army. In fact, they have been treating the army as an enemy force. They feel that the Nepal Army is the only institution, which can challenge their armed might. They have been raising hue and cry over recruitment by the army to fulfill vacancies, which occur routinely on account of retirement and other reasons. The present Army Chief General Rookmangad Katawal has been fighting a lonely battle against the government headed by the Maoists, and the defence minister is a one time foe being the head of armed wing of the Maoists. The Army Chief earlier enjoyed a very high protocol status under the monarchy and was entitled to state sendoffs and receptions. The Maoists have ensured that today he is no one. Nevertheless, General Katawal, who was the adopted child of King Mahendra, is a powerful personality and the only one in the army hierarchy, who can protect the Nepal Army from subversion and marginalization attempts of the Maoists. Unfortunately, he is to retire in June.

During my visit to Nepal, the Maoist insistence of absorption of its armed cadres into the Nepal Army was a hotly debated issue, and then during my stay, another extremely contentious issue regarding the extension of eight Brigadier Generals came up. These Brigadier Generals are Pradeep Bikram Rana, Pawan Bahadur Pandey, Kumar Budhathoki, Narendra Bahadur Rawal, Raju Pratap K C, Ramesh Bista, Nara Bahadur Kandel and Shiva Poudel. It has been an unbroken tradition in the Army to grant three years extension to a Brigadier General and as such is provided in the Army Act as well. Some of these officers are considered to be highly qualified and experienced, having done their courses in India and some other western countries. It may be mentioned that the expansion of the Nepal Army from 50,000 personnel to the present strength of about 90,000 personnel took place in the later stages of Maoist insurgency and therefore, 70 percent of the personnel are below seven years of service.

When Mr GP Koirala was the Prime Minister, who also had the defence portfolio in the interim government, was persuaded by General Katawal  not to delegate powers of deciding on the issues pertaining to the army to the cabinet, as he was apprehensive that the Maoists leadership would further its agenda of destroying the institution of the Nepal Army. Unfortunately, it was this very provision that Badal, as the defence minister, used to deny extension to the Brigadier Generals. This move of Badal was meant to send strong signals within the army ranks that for future career prospects, the Nepal Army officers had to depend on the largesse of the Maoist leadership. The move was opposed by other political parties including the UML. The President appeared to be constitutionally helpless under the circumstances, and to make matters worse, none of the political parties, who had opposed the move, approached him to remonstrate. It would have certainly been lapped up by the media and strong signals would have been sent to the Maoist leadership. Fortunately, a few days later, the Supreme Court put a stay order on the retirement of the concerned Brigadier Generals.

…an violent clash between the Maoists versus the rest. The latter will include all other political forces and the army as well.

When prominent members of the cabinet and opposition leaders asked for my opinion on the issue of absorption of Maoist cadres into the Nepal Army, I gave the example of the Indian National Army officers and men, who were not reabsorbed into the Indian Army despite stiff pressures from the political class on the Army Chief General Cariappa. I said that any army, which has any kind of ideological stream, ceases to be an impartial and effective force. I also quoted the examples of two distinguished Indian Generals, General Thimayya and General Bhagat, who as young officers had offered Mahatama Gandhi their services in the freedom movement after quitting the British Indian Army. Mahatama Gandhi was sagacious to advice them that they must remain in service and serve loyally as their services and experience would be critical to post-independence India. I reminded them that the Bangladesh Army could never become a non-partisan and apolitical force because of the two streams that emerged in the army after creation of the country, i.e. the freedom fighter lobby and the repatriated lobby. I also asked concerned authorities in the present dispensation, what would happen in Nepal if there were to be a rebellion by the police? Who will quell it if the ultimate institution ‘Army’ is humiliated and in disarray? I said that if the army ceases to be an effective institution, Nepal will quickly degenerate into anarchy. I cited the recent quelling of revolt in the BDR by the Bangladesh Army. One politician expressed that in Nepal the people feel that the army has never been employed for any purpose and therefore has little regard for them. I then gave the example of Sri Lanka, which had a ceremonial armed force of 18,000 personnel in the 70s, but circumstances compelled it to increase its size to more than one lakh personnel and over the years have evolved into a formidable fighting machine, so no one knows what role the Nepal Army may have to perform in future. I further added that like the Indian Army, the Nepal Army could become a symbol of national integration and effective instrument of nation-building.

Future Scenarios

Based on my interactions with the general people, politicians, administrators and members of the government, I foresee three very unpleasant scenarios in the immediate future of Nepal, which most institutional players in Nepal concur.

Scenario-A: A total Maoist takeover of Nepal with the tacit support of China.

Scenario-B: An violent clash between the Maoists versus the rest. The latter will include all other political forces and the army as well. As per my inputs, the Nepal Army is not inclined and united to interfere in the political happenings of the country, but if it continues to be humiliated and the situation in Nepal becomes untenable, they may well step-in to salvage the country from the brink of collapse.

Scenario-C: Split of Nepal into various entities.

Evolving Situation in Nepal : Implications for India

The impact and implications of the evolving political and security scenario in Nepal on India are:

  • Advent of Maoist government has not ushered political stability in Nepal and for both India and Bhutan. Consequently the seven states of the NE region face renewed challenge to their stability and security. Coupled with this the Maoists can be expected to influence like minded groups in the 80 odd districts in the Red Corridor along our eastern sea board. PRC is already known for its intervention/interference in NE region
  • Rise of this trend coincides with that of PRC influence in Nepal. Significantly the proposed treaty between Nepal and China will lead to unprecedented regional developments. In this the Tibet card will be effectively lost. PM Prachanda will perhaps make more concessions to PRC when he visits Beijing next. With the western bloc bending over backwards to please Beijing, Prachanda’s position will be alarming. Loss of Tibet card in Nepal for India will have incalculable effects on Delhi.
  • Beijing’s growing assertiveness is exemplified in the manner of preventing Prachanda from participating in the India Today conclave citing the Dalai Lama’s presence. A number of countries have had to bite dust on this subject.
  • With Nepal in its bag, Beijing’s next target will be Bhutan with whom it has a border problem. China has settled this issue with 12 out of 14 neighbours. Its next target of course will be assertion of claims on maritime boundaries that has witnessed increasing shrill in past couple of weeks.
  • While Pakistan remains a source of major threat, the larger role of China cannot be viewed in isolation.
  • The recent US DOD report on China is eloquent on Chinese threats.

Unity of Nepal is critical to India. A divided Nepal will usher in many other forces inimical to India. The gradual but determined imposition of their totalitarian ‘ism’ by the Maoists on the people of Nepal is percitibly turning Nepal into  a volatile state, even as history, relegious moorings and sociology of the nation is at severe odds with ultra-left philosophy, notwithstanding the limited success of the Maoists in the Constituent Assembly elections held under extraordinary circumstances. As it is, elections are temperamental affairs and the largest political bloc with armed muscle cannot be the sole arbiter of a nation-state during its rebirth. The Maoists cannot be allowed to hijack the country in the garb of democracy, in which they fundametally do not believe in. It is a foregone conclusion that the Maoists at no cost will ever be prepared to sit in the opposition, therefore the present democratic process for them is only an avenue towards establishment of a Maoist state.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective, The Military Factor in Pakistan and The Unmaking of Nepal. His latest books are Know the Anti-Nationals (English) and Know the एंटी-नेशनल्स (Hindi).

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One thought on “Nepal: The ticking time-bomb

  1. Nepal was a hindu country. The monarchy defended hinduism. India should have given lot of funds to nepal. Created a strong Nepal Air force with some 100 + fighter air craft. But all this did not happen. The west which always hated hinduism removed the King. Even BJP which is a hindu party did nothing to defend the King. Indian government betrayed the king and nepal went into the hands of Maoist who are nothing but christians. Now Hindu Neapl will be a non hindu in another 50 years. Still I wonder why the nepal army stopped the attack on Maoist. and now the nepal army is sided. We need a pro hindu government in neapl which will restore the king

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