Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
South of the border


PATNA-Depending on who you talk to here in the capital of India's Maoist-affected state of Bihar, there is elation, scorn, cautious optimism or worry about the electoral success of Nepali comrades.

Predictably enough, it is at the offices of the far-left parties near the city's Income Tax crossing where leaders are thrilled, and at times envious, to see a revolutionary party's march towards power. The Communist Party of India (ML-Liberation) has tried the bullet and for the past decade, experimented with the ballot, but success has been elusive. The inspiration from across the border comes as a much-needed morale boost in the run up to Lok Sabha polls next year.

But the original partner of the Maoists, India's Naxalites, are not convinced this is real revolution. Still scornful of the Maobadis for "selling out", Hyderabad-based ideologue Varavara Rao said in a recent interview they will wait to see if the Maoists maintain their "anti-feudal and anti-imperial character". The Naxalites suspect that the Nepali Maoists are no longer concerned about changing relations of production, just ousting the monarchy.

Many bureaucrats in Patna appear nonchalant about the Maoist win for the same reason. "Our Maoists are fighting a parliamentary democracy. Your Maoists fought a king to establish a parliamentary democracy. This is an anti-monarchy vote," said a senior official.

Officials here claim the links between Maoists and North Bihar Naxalites are tenuous at best, and say they aren't worried. "We had arrested Nepali Maoists in the past because they possessed illegal arms or when they came for treatment. It was not because of Naxal links," said one official.

New Delhi's South Block has adjusted to the Maoist success. In the true Indian foreign policy tradition of working with whoever is in government in neighbouring countries (Musharraf, the Burmese Junta, Bangladesh's military) the Delhi establishment has started developing a working relationship with Maoists. The Maoist leadership reaching out and being flexible has helped.

The bonhomie was visible in the weekend's India-Nepal conference in Patna. "We have backed this process and built trust and confidence with all actors," said one senior official, "renegotiating the 1950 treaty does us no harm, it is Nepali workers who will be affected. Tightening the border will have consequences for your local economy."

But there is a school within the Indian establishment, particularly mid-level officials in the intelligence agencies and security wings, which is alarmed. This view holds that a Maoist win will help Naxalites psychologically and operationally, that Maoists will build warmer ties with China at India's expense, the new government will do little to address India's concerns about ISI influence in the Tarai, and that this is all a tactical interlude before the Maoists consolidate themselves in power and become hegemonic. Worried that they have less maneuvering space with the Maoists, it is possible that these sections, prodded on by \'strategic experts', will look at alternatives.

And that is where the Madhes is significant. A Delhi-based Nepal analyst told us: "India needs some strategic space. And Madhesi groups can provide us that leverage with Kathmandu if the Maoists ever get too belligerent. I am not saying support armed groups, but Delhi must use Madhesi politicians for its benefit."

In Bihar, India's Intelligence Bureau has several offices near the border, closely tracks Madhesi politics, and feeds information to Delhi. RAW has become more active over the past year. It has limited infrastructure in Bihar but has command over unaccountable slush funds used for different purposes. Many in these agencies have direct channels of communication with Madhesi groups. It would be dangerous if they decide to push for more radicalisation in the Tarai or confrontation with Maoists.

The Ministry of External Affairs, which has sensibly said that Madhesi grievances must be addressed within the legitimately elected CA and all forces should work together, must prevail. It is important not to play up the divide within the Indian establishment. After all, once India decided to back the elections in Nepal, all branches went out of their way to control any violence that could have emanated from the Bihar side. MEA officials personally visited Bihar and met police officials, the SSB was on high alert and agencies passed on a stern message to armed groups.

India's political and bureaucratic elite is grappling with the new power reality in Nepal. Their attitudes and decisions will play a critical role in determining the future politics in Nepal and the Tarai.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)