Nepali Times


Here in the densely populated Ganga plains, the 10-yard strip separating Nepal and India has never been treated like a national frontier.

Land is too precious to leave it as a no-man's land. Nepali and Indian farmers use it for grazing livestock, playing cricket or even growing vegetables.

But as the Maoist war in the Nepal tarai intensifies, the Indian fear of spillover of violence has begun to change that relaxed attitude. Along with border check points, the traditionally open dasgaja strip too is now under close security watch. India's paramilitary Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) now pull up rickshaw wallas if they park their tricycles on no-man's land.

Security is stricter than before and there is talk here of introducing identity cards and barbed-wire fences to regulate crossborder movement. Still, the India-Nepal frontier is probably the most relaxed international border in the world.

The SSB guard does ask you where you are headed as you saunter across but doesn't even blink when you answer that you\'re going to Panditji's paan shop down the road.

On the Nepal side, every shopkeeper is up to date on the latest Maoist exploits. In Bihar, despite media hype about the Naxalite 'menace' engulfing 160 districts in 12 Indian states, people along the border seem barely aware of the activities of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Bihar or the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh. The two merged last year to form the CPI-Maoist but a local teacher isn't even aware of it.

Even after last month's Naxalite attack on the town of Madhuban in which 21 people were killed and six government buildings razed (see: 'Spillover', #254), there is a surprising lack of concern about Maoist activity along the border. If the local people aren't the least bit interested, we thought we should try to track down an Indian Maoist to ask if there was indeed collaboration with their Nepali comrades during the attack, as alleged by Bihari police.

After three days of persistent enquiry at various tea, paan and cycle repair shops, a young man claiming to be a local labour organiser sympathetic to the Maoist cause comes up outside a drugstore. He calls himself Bidrohi. He wears a hunted look, refusing to talk anywhere except in his battered Maruti.

Comrade Bidrohi is surprisingly well-informed and excessively paranoid as he drives randomly across the dry farms of northern Bihar. He believes that a capitalist conspiracy has encouraged caste confrontation in Bihar to undermine an inevitable class war. That seems logical enough, and other than his unrealistic portrayal of a global capitalist conspiracy to defeat Maoism worldwide, the comrade sounds quite articulate and convincing.

He dismisses outright the allegation that Indian Naxalites and Nepali Maoists train together in Bihar and is even more categorical in denying Nepali Maoist involvement in the Naxalite attack on the police station in Madhuban. "The Bihar police was just trying to hide its incompetence," he says.

Bidrohi thinks state governments in Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar routinely exaggerate the threat of Naxalite activity to get more funds from New Delhi for their police forces. "Unlike in Nepal, the Maoist movement in north India has not yet acquired a critical mass," he says in Hindi, skirting potholes, "they wouldn't risk ruthless reprisals by random attacks."

How does that explain the landmine attack on a police van in UP last November that killed 16 people? Or the attacks in Madhuban and Bairgania? "They may have been executed for tactical gain rather than strategic reasons." What he means is that the attacks could have been criminal rather than ideological in nature.

Bihari Naxals would be wary of joining hands with Nepali Maoists for three reasons, Bidrohi says. First, the Nepalis are better motivated, better armed and are more battle hardened. The Naxals would have to accept a secondary role in any joint exercise and that is not something the Indian comrades would relish.

Second, if the Naxalites were to be as reckless as Nepali Maoists they would be decimated in Bihar. "In Nepal, security forces look the other way when Maoists move around and do nothing as long as they aren't directly under attack. But Bihari Naxals have simultaneously fought on two fronts for decades-the police and the private armies of landlords," explains Bidrohi. Indeed, as we drive past mango orchards and parched paddy fields, it looks like Bidrohi is more nervous about vigilantes than the police.

Third, Bidrohi thinks the brutality of Nepali Maoists is too shocking even for India's hardened Naxalites. "The Maoists seem to have no qualms in killing innocents, we never do that," he argues, adding, "affinity between Maoist groups of the world over is natural and mutual cooperation between the Maoists and Naxals can't be ruled out. But we never do joint exercises or training."

Indian Naxalites are expecting the ruling coalition in New Delhi to launch a massive coordinated offensive against Naxalite groups all over India. "Wherever there is a Marxist government, Maoists suffer the most," explains Bidrohi, "capitalist conspirators want to use the cover of a Marxist government in New Delhi to hit at all leftist groups."

The Nepali Maoists seem to inspire awe and fear among Naxalite groups in India. But how come Indian Marxists are friendlier to Nepali Maoists even while they fight their own Naxals on home turf? "Perhaps they want to watch and wait for the outcome of the political experiment in Nepal before they make up their mind about armed rebellion in India," says Bidrohi, as we make a U-turn and head back to Panditji's paan shop.

What would his advice be to comrades in Nepal? Bidrohi replies without hesitation: "Make common cause with other political parties, without bourgeoisie democracy, a proletarian revolution is impossible. That is the reason Naxalites in India support political parties representing the downtrodden."

With Girija Prasad Koirala's offer of talks eliciting tempting responses from Chairman Prachanda this week, it appears that the possibility of Nepal's mainstream political parties working with the Maoists are now higher than a unity between two fraternal Maoist parties on either side of the border.

It is also clear that the Indian establishment needs to listen to the peasants of northern Bihar and learn from Nepal's wildfire insurgency for proof of what could happen in its soil, too. If sparks from Nepal ignite the tinder-dry Ganga plains, a full-blown Maoist rebellion could spread rapidly to Andhra Pradesh and beyond. Given the objective conditions for revolution in these badlands, that future conflagration is not just an alarmist prediction. And it could be the fear haunting 'capitalist conspirators' pushing the theory of a Maoist-Naxalite military alliance.

Otherwise Comrade Bidrohi's arguments are quite sound: a common cause between Nepali Maoists and Indian Naxals will harm both of them. They may be comrades-at-arms but for now they want to fight their wars separately.

Some details have been omitted to protect identities and localities.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)