From Kathmandu to the eastern hills and down to the tarai, there are increasing indications that all is not well with the Maoists' legendary control and unity.
Factionalism, desertions and disharmony in the ranks are much more rife than it appears on the surface. The Maoists themselves admit that frequent arrests and killings of their leaders in the past year have affected activities in central and eastern Nepal.
The most significant recent arrest was of Sadhuram Debkota (alias Comrade Prashant) who took over as head of the Valley Command after Kumar Dahal was arrested in Patna in June.
Prashant had established a strong Maoist presence in the city by terrorising those he was extorting. The Maoist leadership was impressed with how he has been able to revive the rebel presence in the capital despite heavy security crackdowns.
Prashant had just returned to the capital on 28 October after a three-week visit outside the valley, and was preparing to leave for his new assignment in eastern Solukhumbu-Okhaldhunga. There has been tension between the central leadership and the Valley Command over extortion money collected from businesses in Kathmandu.
But there seems to be more to Prashant's arrest than meets the eye:
. He was casually arrested in a busy area of Bhote Bahal and only a handful of soldiers were sent to track him down, usually for someone of his seniority there would have been bigger bandobast.
. Usually the army keeps quiet about Maoist arrests and defy court orders, this time they flashed the news to media within half-an-hour.
. The Maoists have been strangely silent, usually they release a statement strongly condemning detentions.
. Prashant was arrested with Keshab Prasad Kandel who the UML says is its party member and wants him released.
Army sources say it retrieved a computer, mobile phone and other documents with valuable information about senior Maoist leaders and the underground party's activities in the valley.
Prashant is originally from Phujel VDC in Gorkha. He is 28, and was studying Electronic Engineering at Balaju Technical Institute while he was district chairman of the Maoist student wing. He was moved to Kathmandu from the Dhading, Nuwakot and Sindupalchok regional committee.
The Maoists have also recently lost central adviser Comrade Dirgha, the 70-year-old minister of the Magarant Autonomous Region. He along with three other regional leaders were killed on 11 October in Juluke of Argakhanchi while on their way to attend a meeting in Kapilbastu. Army sources say information on Dirgha's whereabouts was provided by a female guerrilla captured after she sprained her ankle while fleeing.
What this shows is that the Maoists generally appear strong because of the security forces and the government machinery are not present. If they were, the Maoists would be forced to restrict their movement only within their strongholds.
In the eastern tarai, the Maoists have seen a rash of corruption incidents, desertions and degeneration into warlordism. Some have disappeared after collecting revolutionary taxes. The party's Parsa secretary, Shiv Chandra Kushwaha (alias Comrade Jamin), was banished to a labour camp in the hills for not being transparent about his accounts. He probably didn't get a more severe punishment because of his role in the landmine attack that killed 12 policemen near Birganj in July.
In Rautahat, platoon commander Shambhu Yadab (Comrade Ajay) was accused of misappropriating party funds and has defected. On 22 July, he abandoned the party and started his own Madhesi Tiger group. On 25 July, Jay Krishna Goit from Saptari abandoned the Maoist-affiliated Madhesi National Liberation Front and started his own Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha which has been threatening non-Madhesi government employees to quit their jobs. Goit told us he now has his own "liberation army", and there are fears this might spark off an ethnic conflict.
In the urban tarai, Maoist activities have been reduced a great deal after the arrest of top members of the Maoists' Special Task Force in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari. The army says it has collected valuable intelligence on Maoist operations in the east. For example, it knows that the Mechi-Koshi 18 Battallion, 'D' company has 160 fighters and is armed with limited numbers of assorted captured rifles. Two central members Sher Man Kunwar (Comrade Bishal) and Mohan Chandra Gautam were killed in Siraha by the army last month.
Ram Bahadur Thapa (Comrtade Badal) has taken over the Maoist Eastern Command after Mohan Baidya (Comrade Kiran) was arrested in Siliguri in June. Even so, there has been no improvement and the Maoists have taken these setbacks seriously. Recently, they held a strategy meeting to change district commanders and area in-charges.
The army itself has been adding muscle at the Eastern Brigade Headquarters in Itahari by increasing its troop strength of 12,000 by another 3,000. Brigadier General Pradip Pratap Bam told us in the past year and half, 36 new army bases have been added and 20 more are planned.
Reports by Dambar Krishna Shrestha in Dharan, Chandra Kishor in Birganj, Ram Prasad Pudasaini in Kathmandu and Bishnu Prasad Ghimire in Arghakhanchi.