There are signs that the "People's War" is turning to terrorism. Why else would eight-year-old Kajol Khatun have to be burnt alive in a bus? What could be the strategic reason to target drinking water systems, making thousands of children sick? Why were they shooting at long-distance buses even after the 2-6 April bandh had been called off? Why stop an ambulance bringing a patient from Charikot to Kathmandu? Why systematically destroy small hydro plants built by local communities?
There may be a revolutionary rationale for some of these acts. For the others, we need to try to understand the Maoists and their People's War in a different context. It is now clear that local-level cadre either misunderstood or defied party orders. In one tarai town local Maoists were quoted as saying: "We don't care who Prachanda is, or if he called off the bandh. Close your shops or we will smash it."
The destruction of water-supply systems, agricultural training centres, forest ranger's offices could also indicate disobedience in the ranks, and blatant defiance for direct orders from the political leadership. Attacking government offices and local infrastructure is a strategy even the Great Helmsman never sanctioned. Mao said, "Don't do anything that increases the peoples' hardship, serve them and don't even take needle and thread from them." The revolution may be slipping out of the leadership's grip, and if so, this should seriously worry the top comrades. These signs of criminalisation in the ranks are an unwanted, but in a sense an inevitable offshoot of armed struggle.
Because all the recent violent acts took place days before the Maoist general strike, it was natural to conclude that they were preparing for the impending "final" battle. If the sabotage of infrastructure was indeed a coordinated attack timed for the run-up to the bandh, then it gives us a glimpse of the Maoist battle plan during the rescheduled bandh later this month.
Alongside the escalation of violence and terror, there are also traces of a shift in Maoist allegiances. One of the most dramatic transformations is the new pro-Indian and anti-monarchy stance. In a recent interview in the party mouthpiece Prachanda even expresses thanks to mainstream Indian newspapers for calling him and his followers "progressive rebels". The entire 10-page interview does not mention "Indian expansionism" even once. Quite a feat for someone whose trademark line was "Indian expansionism", and who even dared the Indian army to step on Nepali soil, in which case, he once said, his fighters would take on India's might.
Suddenly, India is not the Maoists' "main enemy" anymore. Where are all the threats against Indian movies and the ban on Indian vehicles operating in Nepal? It may be a coincidence, but the largest infrastructure Maoists have attacked and destroyed so far happens to be the Jhimruk Hydropower Project. Considering that water resources and power are the only areas in which India really cares about Nepal, that attack is not without significance.
The perception that India is supporting the Maoists has now become so prevalent in the media and among the Nepali public, that it is taken as a given. People are saying: the Maoists leaders are in India, we even know the street address for their safe houses, so how come Indian intelligence hasn't nabbed them? The reason Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was unable to come back from India with a couple of Maoist leaders under his arms is seen by many as an indication that the Indian security apparatus is mysteriously soft on our comrades. The first sign of movement is the joint meeting of security this week in Patna.
Many who suggested such a link used to be dismissed as conspiracy theorists-until now. Today the theory has a certain respectability. If it is indeed true that certain sections of Indian intelligence are backing the Maoists, then does the leadership feel it can use India to catapult itself to power? Or have the comrades called off their India-bashing because they need refuge in India now that the royal Nepal Army has turned on the heat? Prachanda's sudden affection for India could be his way of repaying hospitality.
The Buddha said reality was an "illusion". To the Maoists, everything except power is an illusion. The end justifies any alliance, it allows extreme promiscuity. So, the Maoists swing from smooching a feudal monarchy to getting into bed with someone they have been calling "expansionist running dogs" all their lives. They can even deviate from declared political ideals and justify that in the name of the revolution. Revolutions lack morality, lying is all right. Anything goes as long as it brings them closer to absolute power. We all know that one day the Maoists will say that all this-the sudden cosying up to erstwhile villain-in-chief Girija Prasad Koirala, the seeming rapprochement with arch-enemy India, the falling out with a monarchy with which the Maoists themselves admit they were negotiating for the spoils-was all a strategic compromise made in the course of a revolution.
All revolutions suffer such contradictions. These are natural when ideology is rigid, and no dissent is allowed. But even by these standards, Nepali Maoists seem to be masters of inconsistency. There was the confusion with ideology when they unnecessarily appended the "Prachanda Path" to their ideology (a clever way to use the bilingual word "path" and also show a subliminal link with Peru).
Anything was justifiable in the name of the Prachanda Path. Their adoption of terrorist tactics may be in the belief and hope that final victory is within striking distance. The internal analysis of the leadership could be that the revolution is gaining its own momentum, and that they have to ride the wave to remain in control. But the spreading anarchy in the ranks could be because the grassroots leaders are not represented in the party's central command. This has confused the cadre about overall war strategy and management approaches, the larger game plan, and even, in some cases, has given rise to the suspicion that the leadership has sold out to the reactionaries.
Dang ended the political process in the Maoist mindset and dragged the party towards militarisation. But that milestone event trapped the Maoists and forced them to stray further Left. They are now close to graduating into full-fledged terrorism. The military leadership must fear a major military assault, which is why they have decided to hasten the revolution by all-out attacks on all flanks.
The ground reality could be one or more of the above possibilities, or permutations thereof. But what we are seeing are chinks in the Maoist monolith: the internal tensions between nationalists and non-nationalists, pro-political forces versus pro-military forces, the leaders and the followers, those for the Prachanda cult and those against it. The terrorist tactics of the past month show that vertical fissures have appeared in the party structure. Only an immediate ceasefire, or peace talks, can save the Maoists from self-destructing.
(Puskar Gautam is a former Maoist district commander for Okhaldhunga and left the movement three years ago.)