Such a big jamboree of Nepali academics, ex-military brass, ex-diplomats and activists to discuss the crisis in Nepal had perhaps not taken place even in Nepal. The two-day 'Track Two' conference this week was addressed by top Indian officials who stressed that unless Nepal and India worked together to meet the Maoist threat it wouldn't be possible to find a solution.
It is perhaps an indication of the seriousness with which the Indian establishment regards the situation in Nepal that it has got an Indian think tank to hold a semi-official conference here. The meeting comes amidst a backdrop of stepped up Maoist rhetoric against India and the unity of the two biggest Indian Maoist groups and two dozen others.
Nepal's own Maoists currently head the regional Maoist umbrella organisation, CCOMPOSA and say they want to 'South Asianise' Nepal's revolution. The strategy behind regionalising the conflict appears to be to use Nepal's experience to widen the front.
Aside from that, the Maoists' anti-Indian rhetoric and the threat to launch a counter-offensive in India, itself, if New Delhi intervenes militarily in Nepal is a deterrence in case such action is indeed being contemplated in response to a 'final offensive against the centre' by Nepali Maoists.
With the revolutions interlinked, it was necessary for India's Maoists to unite even if it was to shore up the revolution in Nepal. By the same token, the insurgency in Nepal has become a national security issue for India itself. By coordinating strategies, Nepali Maoists and their Indian comrades will be able to exploit existing tensions between India and its smaller neighbours, between New Delhi and state governments and between states to their advantage.
Recent CCOMPOSA statements hint at taking advantage of India-Pakistan tensions to further the struggle within India. Regional Maoists have also infiltrated the Bhutani refugees in Nepal and have already started exterminating 'class enemies' in western Bangladesh along the border with West Bengal.
The Indian rebels are using the ceasefire in Andhra Pradesh to expand their reach to states where they have been inactive or dormant: Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and even Uttaranchal. It is no coincidence that all three states border Nepal. The Indian central government has admitted that 155 districts are Naxalite-affected. For New Delhi this is the resurrected ghost of the 1970s Naxalite movement that had to be violently put down.
The Maoist analysis is that despite India's size, parts of it actually have objective conditions and contradictions that are even more conducive to a long-term people's war than in Nepal. In this way, a united regional Maoist group could emerge and make a Maoist 'South Asian Federation' an idea which may not be as far-fetched as it may have initially seemed.
There is now considerable worry among Indian strategists that the Royal Nepali Army is not showing enough initiative to go after the rebels and they even hint that the army's command structure may have to be revamped. If the Maoists actually capture state power in Nepal, they fear it will send shock waves across India and embolden regional revolutionaries.
But despite the Royal Nepali Army having won only five of the 50 major battles in the past three years, it doesn't look like the Maoists' 'strategic offensive' will work. For that, India has to be embroiled in a big domestic crisis and that doesn't look likely. The current 'tunnel war' which the Maoists say is to prepare for a future Indian incursion appears to be a symbolic exercise to keep the guerrillas focused on an external enemy.
Despite efforts at unity, Indian Maoist groups are disparate and dissipated. South Asia's Maoists say they want to follow Mao by the book but they appear to be excessively doctrinaire and have failed to learn from the experience of other struggles: they may fight but they won't win.
But by spreading the revolution out of Nepal into India's vast hinterland the conflict will prolong indefinitely into the future. Recent statements by Indian Maoist leader, Ganapati, that his group is preparing for a protracted people's war appears to prove this.
Neither the Maoists nor the democratic forces in India and Nepal will benefit from such a situation. The only ones who will take advantage will be the reactionaries.
Getting things back on track two
The two-day Track Two conference this week was attended by 15 Nepali and 10 Indian experts where the restoration of due process in Nepal and the potential for spillover of the insurgency to India were discussed. The possibility of King Gyanendra striking a deal with the Maoists and opting for direct rule for two years came up. Participants warned that if the palace didn't patch up with the parties they may join forces with the Maoists. While some delegates were for joint military operations against the Maoists, most Nepali participants opposed the idea. Inaugurating the meeting on 6 December, Indian foreign secretary and former ambassador to Nepal, Shyam Saran, made the following points:
. Nepal is not going to be a failed state
. The Maoist insurgency is a common security threat
. Delay diminishes chances of negotiated settlement
. There is no military solution
. Progressive Maoists can and should be brought into the mainstream