The recent escalation of Maoist rhetoric over an impending Indian invasion is being followed up with frenzied tunnel-digging throughout the country, ostensibly to thwart Indian air raids.
The tunnels are symbolic of the rebel leadership's change of focus towards external enemies: 'US imperialism' and 'Indian expansionism'. The leadership and cadre are at present busy in military and political training, and believe their 'strategic offensive' within Nepal will not be successful unless the external intervention is addressed.
There appears to be greater coordination than ever before between the Nepali Maoists, international partners and Indian Maoist groups. After a meeting in Calcutta last month, Indian Maoists and their South Asian comrades coordinated strategy and mooted the concept of a 'Himalayan Revolutionary Zone' from Kashmir, through Nepal, Bhutan and into Assam.
In their analysis, poverty, ethnic exclusion, and topography make the Himalayan arc ideal for a trans-boundary revolution in which guerrillas can move freely across borders. They want to convert the ethno-separatist agenda of militants in the Indian northeast to fight a united class war. Maoist activities have escalated in western Bangladesh this year and a new Maoist party has been formed in Bhutan. The goal seems to be an umbrella group called a 'South Asian Federation' including militancies throughout the region. Nepal's Maoist revolution is therefore now part of a regional strategy coordinated with international revolutionaries.
Even so, the Nepali comrades are taking advantage of continuing political disarray in Kathmandu and see an opening in the Deuba government's push for elections by April 2005. They expect an election will further polarise the parties and split the anti-'regression' alliance. Those for polls will be seen to be in the 'royal' camp, while those boycotting will be labelled pro-Maoist. If the Girija Congress boycotts polls, its cadre may defect en masse to Deuba.
There is some logic in Deuba's argument that he has to go for elections because talks are not possible. It is doubtful if elections will be free and fair, and turnout will be low. A bloodbath is not inevitable, it will depend on the nature, mechanism and phases of the poll process. And it won't be life-or-death for the Maoists if polls do happen, they will not try to launch unnecessarily costly offensives during it.
Deuba is obviously laying the groundwork for elections with the TADO ordinance and rampant militarisation. He often cites Kashmir and Afghanistan: if elections can be held there with sufficient troop strength it can be held here too.
But the bottom line is that the 'people's war' in Nepal is now not just Nepal's headache, but of India and other countries in the region as well.