October 25, 2010
The Maoists’ vision of the perfect Nepal seems inextricably linked to its infatuation with Chinese patronage. Numerous ever-more-bold pro-Beijing dalliances have made headlines in the first half of autumn.
Members of the Maoist junket included two former deputy chiefs of the PLA, Barsha Man Pun Ananta and Janardan Sharma Prabhakar. Both are sitting Maoist MPs, while Sharma is also the former Maoist peace and reconstruction minister. Along for the ride were Onsari Ghartimagar, a Maoist lawmaker (and Ananta’s wife), as well as PLA spokesman Chandra Prakash Khanal Baldev. Rounding out the group of ex-guerillas were
Division One Commander Yam Bahadur Adhikari, Second Division Commander Suk Bahadur Rokka at Dudhauli of Sindhuli, Fourth Division Commander Tej Bahadur Oli at Jhyaltung-danda of Nawalparasi and Sixth Division Commander, Mahendra Bahadur Shahi at Dashrathpur of Surkhet.
Astoundingly, the current caretaker government claims it had no information of the Maoist PLA trip ahead of time. It seems the Maoists left the country under the cover of Dashain holidays, when few Nepalis pay attention to anything else.
But the government fumed, once it caught wind of the international excursion. According to Nepali Congress leader and member of the newly-appointed Special Committee Ram Sharan Mahat, “We learnt about the visit from the media, and we still don´t know the details. If those who visited China are registered Maoist combatants, it’s a serious matter.”
Minister for peace and reconstruction Rakam went further and announced that the government would seek an explanation from the United Nation's Political Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), as regards the visit of the PLA men to China.
"The government is planning to seek clarifications from UNMIN because its role is to monitor the PLA and their arms", said Chemjong. “What was the objective of their trip to China…was it political, military or personal…and, who authorized them to leave the country? The UNMIN must clarify its position".
It will indeed be interesting to hear UNMIN’s response, particularly since its viability as a watchdog has come under fire in recent months.
As for the Maoist party’s explanation for the trip, leader CP Gajurel rather dusted up the issue by claiming that the Maoists “placed the PLA under the Special Committee. So the committee may know the answer. I only heard that some organizations sponsored the visit, and it was purely personal.”
Is the public really expected to believe that Gajurel had no personal knowledge of his close allies’ trip? Apparently so: no one has come forward to challenge his professed ignorance.
Not so incidentally, at the same meeting, Gajurel made a point of disclaiming the notion that Maoists were pro-Chinese: “It may seem we are closer to China than India. We have smooth relations with China because we have not found China interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs.”
Really? China is not interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs?
Going back a few years, it will be remembered that the end of the monarchy affected China adversely. The king was perceived as being closer to Beijing than Delhi. It fact, it was King Gyanendra who initiated the successful effort to secure China an “observer” position in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – a move that nettled Delhi and has not been forgotten.
Then, when the Maoists came to power, Prachanda made it clear by his choosing China as his first international visit (as apposed to the traditional courtesy call to Delhi), that he was inclined to do China’s bidding. When “Free Tibet” activity increased in Nepal in 2008, Prachanda proved that he could be counted on to suppress anti-Chinese spectacles in Nepal.
More recently, China’s increasing role in Nepal’s internal affairs became apparent when Nepali reporters intercepted a tape of a telephonic conversation between Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and an unidentified Chinese official, wherein Mahara was heard requesting 500 million rupees (US$11.2 million) to secure pro-Prachanda votes of 50 members of parliament.
Last month – and equally controversial in the international community – China pressured the caretaker government to interfere with Tibetan refugees in Nepal, who were voting in the Diaspora elections for leaders of the Government-in-Exile (headquartered in Dharamsala, India). Security forces absconded with ballot boxes and the boxes are still missing.
Meanwhile, Prachanda got a political leg-up on October 13, when he was appointed the coordinator of the seven-member high-level task force for “sorting out differences in constitution writing and completing the remaining tasks of the peace process.” The people were assured that the task force would submit its report on October 24.
October 24? Wait a minute: that was yesterday. Why wasn’t the report submitted as promised?
The fact that Prachanda – head of the task force – was currently in China, might have something to do with it. Presumably, the Nepali people will have to wait until after Prachanda has enjoyed his tour of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and has met with central leaders of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
And what was Prachanda’s purpose for visiting China? Just before flying out of Tribhuwan International Airport, he told reporters: “While in Shanghai and Beijing, we will be holding talks over matters related to Constitution drafting, peace process and Chinese support in Nepal’s overall development.”
So much for Maoist leader Gajurel’s claim that China never interferes in Nepal’s internal affairs.
India’s “Meddling” reputation
While China manages to convey the impression of staying out of Nepal’s domestic issues, India is perceived – at least by large contingents of Nepal’s public, press and politicians– as the Great Intruder. The Maoists have capitalized on Delhi’s tarnished reputation by stepping up anti-Indian sentiment in Nepal.
Last month, for instance, the Maoists warned that they would prohibit work on nearly a dozen hydropower projects – most of which are being developed by Indian investors – as they were against "national interests".
Even more serious is an event that took place on October 6. Maoists attacked Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood’s convoy in northern Nepal.
Sood had flown to the Solukhumbu district to inaugurate an eye camp that benefited local school children. After waving black flags at him at the local airport, a group of protesters led by former Maoist minister for culture, Gopal Kiranti, threw stones as well as shoes at the Indian ambassador's motorcade, accusing him of trying to foment anti- China activities in a sensitive area close to Nepal's border with China-controlled Tibet.
(The Maoist insult to the Indian envoy stood in stark contrast to the extra smooth reception received by the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Qiu Guhong, who was also touring northern Nepal.)
In any case, two-and-a-half weeks later, Nepal's caretaker government has failed to take any action against the former Maoist minister who led the attack against Sood. But this week, India's external affairs ministry picked up the gauntlet by summoning Nepal’s ambassador to India, Rukma Shumsher Rana, calling the incident a "gross violation of diplomatic norms," as well as reiterating that the attack had been a breach of the Vienna Convention that guides diplomatic privileges. To date the Nepali government has not bothered to offer a formal apology to the Indian government.
Calling the Nepali ambassador on the carpet goes well beyond paying diplomatic lip service. The last time New Delhi was this perturbed was in 1989, when India objected to Nepal buying arms from China, which resulted in an Indian blockade of Nepal, which, in turn, preceded the historic Jana Andolan of 1990 – the mass protest which brought down the Panchayat system in Nepal.
Additional Indian concerns
On October 5, the Indian government warned all the Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected states of a sinister turn in the fight against Indian Maoists — hundreds of Maoists were being trained in Nepal by the People’s Liberation Army of Nepal Maoists and were being supervised by terrorists from Lashkar-e-Toiba. The warning gave deals of the cross-border movement and requested the respective state government to be on the alert.
Specifically, the report asserts that, on June 28, five Maoists from Andhra Pradesh (led by “Comrade Pankaj” from Bihar) crossed over to Malangwa in Nepal and joined 20 trainees undergoing training by the Nepali Maoists’ PLA. The warning also claims that the government has information regarding 234 Maoists training in Nepal under supervision of Naxalite leaders like Vinod Gurung, Prakash Mahato, and LeT members like Latif Khan from Karachi and Razzaq Ansari.
Is this article part of a larger propaganda war in which Indian news outfits become vehicles of a concerted disinformation campaign fed by the Delhi government? It's odd that the story hasn't received more traction. Have Nepalis reached a level of apathy and/or anti-Indian sentiment that they don't care what stories the India press release?
The anti-Indian mood: Much of it can be attributed to Maoist maneuvering.
But Delhi must shoulder blame as well. All too often, Indian officials have bungled their relationship with their Nepali counterparts by heavy-handed approaches and just plain dunder-headed bullying. Such strong-arm tactics go back decades. India’s 1975 annexation of Sikkim is still very much in the minds of Nepalis with long memories.
Where Nepal is concerned, India simply doesn’t seem to understand the basics of good public relations. Their blunders are as recent as a few weeks ago. As Asian Times reported on October 20, 2010:
[This year] India was awarded a contract by the Nepali government for printing its passports. The Maoists opposed the decision. When the Kantipur Group [Nepal’s largest media house], which was vocal in its criticism of the decision, published a leaked letter from the Indian ambassador to the Nepali government requesting its cooperation on the awarding of the contract as it involved Indian security, an embarrassed and annoyed India struck back.
First, the embassy withdrew its advertisements in the Kantipur's publications. Then advertisements from Indian companies dried up, too. Then came a deadlier blow. Indian customs authorities at Kolkata port stopped newsprint meant for Kantipur publications.
When the Kantipur Group went public on the spat, Nepali public sentiment swung against Indian "bullying".
While the dispute has since been resolved somewhat with Kantipur agreeing to adopt a more "constructive" editorial position and India releasing the newsprint, the damage to India's already plunging stock in Nepal has been done.
Then came allegations by lawmaker Ram Kumar Sharma, a Madhesi politician who recently crossed over to vote with the Maoists. Sharma alleged that an Indian Embassy official had warned him that his daughter would be thrown out of an Indian government-run school in Kathmandu if he did not vote as told, i.e. not for Prachanda.
While the veracity of his claim has yet to be established, what is clear is that the gloves are off in Nepal, with Delhi and the Maoists engaged in a no-holds-barred war of words and more.
The Maoists have stepped up their stoking of anti-Indian sentiment in the country, while India's determination to keep the Maoists out of power is growing.
So far, the Maoists are ever more strident, particularly when it comes to India-aided projects in Nepal such as the hydroelectric plants and eye clinics in far-flung Nepali outposts.
But who are the real losers, if not the average Nepalis? One of the great handicaps for Nepal is its lack of infrastructure. Can the nation really afford to thumb its nose at Indian projects that would clearly benefit the Nepali people?
Take the plan by the Indian government to improve railway links between northern India and southern Nepal – a plan to boost trade between both countries. India had pledged to develop Nepal’s railway at five border points: Janakpur, (connected to Jaynagar in India), Biratnagar (linked with Indias Jogbani), Nepalganj (connected to Nepalganj Road in India), Bhairahawa (linked with Nautanwa in India) and Kakarbhitta (to be linked with Indias Jalpaiguri).
The Jaynagar-Janakpur conversion and its expansion was accorded top priority and was expected to be completed by 2015, with Rs.447 crore allocated by the Indian government.
But on October 22, the plans were jeopardized when villagers in Bardibas (under the aegis of the Maoists) brought work to a standstill.
Local Maoist leader Dev Narayan Mahato claimed that the survey has been stopped because the project would lead to the displacement of about 200 families and the authorities had not informed the villagers about the consequences.
The protesters were also said to have uprooted survey poles erected near the Bardibas market.
Thus, an extremely expensive Indian project was interrupted by a few Maoists, thereby sending a strong message to the Indian government – not to mention leery private investors in the subcontinent – that Maoists don’t mind biting the hand that would feed their beleaguered nation.
Would the Maoists behave the same way if confronted with Chinese railway constructors? Would they yank out the surveyors’ poles and complain of uprooted families? Of course not. They dream of the day when a streamline Chinese railroad will wind its way from Lhasa southward to the Kathmandu Valley. It is never asked by these idealists if the Chinese might expect something in return.
The Maoists have a utopian dream.
They call it the New Nepal.
I call it Chinapal.
And I fail to see lollipops, rainbows and moonbeams along the way.