One week before Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba travelled to New Delhi with the Maoist crisis at the top of his agenda, the rebels themselves launched a salvo against India. "Indian expansionists are the main obstacle to revolution," the rebels said in a statement.
Aside from stating in a joint communiqu? that the Maoist insurgency in Nepal was a 'common problem' but that there was no military solution to it, New Delhi seemed reluctant to stick its neck out any further. Still, Deuba came back with a new spring in his step and a commitment for new Indian military hardware. AFter eight years, Indian intelligence is finally admitting that Nepali Maoists are training in Jharkhand and elsewhere.
A year before they launched their 'people's war' in Feburary 1996, the Maoists had stepped up their anti-Indian rhetoric. While still aboveground, their leaders poured scorn at "Indian hegemony and expansionism" in public meetings in Kathmandu. After that, the Maoists reserved their strongest tirades for the Nepal Congress which was in power. And after the royal massacre and October Fourth, the targets of vitriol have been the monarchy and the king.
Now, it looks like they are back to attacking India politically, while fighting the Royal Nepali Army militarily. And for the first time in ten years, the rhetoric is again venomous. The Maoists may have concluded that if the Indians are tempted to intervene in Nepal, the threat to galvanise nationalistic forces against foreign invaders would be a useful deterrent.
After the arrests of their senior leaders in Siliguri and Patna, the Maoists have admitted that it is getting difficult for them to be based in India. The Maoists command has told its forces to be ready for a 'tunnel war' againt India. A hyped fear of Indian intervention and preparations to build tunnels to hide in future air raids is a way for the Maoists to keep its guerrillas battle-ready.
It has been more than six months since their last major attack on Beni in Feburary and the rebels need to strike another major blow soon. Their 'strategic offensive' phase may involve urban guerrilla attacks on symbols of the state in the capital itself.
Since such attacks will involve heavy casualties and attract international media attention, the Maoists had been hesitating. But the lack of expected international response to the blockade has probably assured the leadership that outside powers don't have the stomach to intervene.
Most residents obeyed last month's Maoist order to vacate Phidim in Illam. This could have been a rehearsal for a similar threat to vacate Kathmandu. All this comes at a time when the general citizen's faith in the security forces' ability to protect them is at an all time low after the unchecked arson and looting of 1 September, as well as the forced closures of industries and the Valley blockade. The Maoists will need a strong hand when they come to the negotiating table. They are keeping that option open.
Despite the lip service, the military and the Deuba government have no intention of talking to the rebels, so the Maoists strategy is to make the cost of not negotiating unbearable.
Isolated internationally, and increasingly isolated at home after their latest attacks on the Peoples' Front Nepal, the moment of truth has come for the Maoist movement. They are trying to give the impression of preparing for a massive last-ditch attack. Whether that is out of desperation or a genuine belief in military victory remains to be seen.
Adapted and translated from the Nepali original.