While Indian intelligence feeds the Indian press with stories of ISI support for Nepal's Maoists, it is clear that Comrade Prachanda & and Co have their links firmly south of the border.
It was one of the many strikes organised by Leftist tea garden workers just after the Gorkhaland Movement had ended in 1988, when the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was just settling in. A former tea planter was managing a garden near the Nepal-India border and had his share of worker problems. The planter, now living in Kathmandu, swears that the man who came to negotiate on behalf of his workers was none other than today's Maoist supremo, Prachanda.
Implausible as it may sound at first, the planter may be right, for exchanges between the communists of Nepal and India have a long history. The first instance would be the famous 1947 Biratnagar Jute Mills strike. That was when the legendary Ratan Lal Brahman (better known as Mahila Bajey, who later represented Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha on a CPI-M ticket) is known to have journeyed down in support of what probably was the first-ever workers' strike on Nepali soil. Later, in 1949, there was Ayodhya Singh representing the then-undivided Communist Party of India in the Central Organisational Committee of the also-undivided Communist Party of Nepal.
Contacts between the young Nepali radicals of the Jhapa movement of the early 1970s and the more mature comrades of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) in India, who were well into their Naxalite movement, is well documented. Nearer to the present, before the launch of the 1990 anti-Panchayat movement, Left luminaries from India, M Farooqi of the CPI and Harkishen Singh Surjeet of the CPI (M) were in Kathmandu to endorse the teaming up of the United Left Front and the Nepali Congress.
The point of recounting all this anecdotal information is the interest Nepal's Maoist movement has suddenly received in the Indian press with the breakdown of the ceasefire and imposition of emergency. While credit goes to the Indian media now for devoting so much column space and air time to an insurgency that it has by and large ignored for the last six years, it has not been able to resist the usual Indian establishment line of espying the hand of its bete noire, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in all kinds of trouble in Nepal.
And so, now, it is the ISI hand-in-glove with the Maoists. Whereas, in fact, the historical links of Nepal's political parties-and the Maoists are no exception-have always been with their southern counterparts. As put succinctly by Dr Harka Gurung in a recent issue of Himal South Asian: "There is a general misconception that the democratic side is seen to be India-centric, and the Left Sino-centric. In reality, both democratic and communist ideologies came to Nepal through India. If the Nepali Congress was nurtured in Banaras, the comrades of the Left opposition are beholden to Charu Mazumdar of Bengal."
Maobadi and the ISI
Indian press reports of the supposed ISI connection with Nepal's Maoists are not new. As far back as January 2000, the newsmagazine Outlook wrote: "Raids conducted on the Maoist group's camps during the recent general elections in Nepal confirmed an old suspicion-that they possessed Pakistani arms. For the ISI it is a convenient link-up as it can use the Maoist group's camps in Nepal's Chitwan jungle to train Indian and Nepali youths in terrorist operations."
One of the more purportedly authoritative articles in the present coverage is by B Raman, a former additional secretary with the Indian government, who writes in the Hindustan Times: "While there have been reports for many years of the Maoists receiving financial and material assistance from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the North Korean intelligence, they have not so far used any sophisticated weapons or explosives."
In the case of Outlook, that was probably the first anyone had heard of the Maoists' supposed ISI link, but since the article was published just after the Indian Airlines' hijack one could understand what the writer was trying to drive at. Otherwise, how could he suggest that the Chitwan National Park is used by Nepal's Maoists as a training ground just because it looks well-wooded from the Indian side, while conveniently forgetting or just plain ignorant that the Park is patrolled by the Nepali army.
The North Korean angle in Raman's piece is a new one (although Outlook had also tried to make a case of Chinese involvement). He does not provide any citation for the "reports" he mentions, although he does predictably pick on the much-quoted interview given by Prachanda to an online magazine in early 2000 to support his thesis: "The ISI's interest in helping the Maoists is due to the latter's anti-India views. The Maoists have not only been demanding the abrogation of all treaties and agreements with India which, in their view, are detrimental to Nepal's interests, but also projecting the Indian Army as their next enemy after they defeat the Nepalese Army."
As an analyst in a neighbouring country, is it possible that Raman be unaware that almost all major political forces have at some time or other called for a revision of treaties with India? Or, that the perception that India is the "ultimate enemy" is a position long held by various communist factions in Nepal and certainly not limited to the Maoists.
According to another recent Hindustan Times report datelined Siliguri, West Bengal, we are now informed that the Maoists are not only endeavouring to set up a communist republic in Nepal, but also instigating insurrections in India. "As the world turned its attention to the bloody strike by Maoists across Nepal on November 24 [it should have been 23], around 300 Maoist insurgents slipped unnoticed through the Siliguri corridor in the wee hours the next day. Their goal: to establish \'Greater Nepal'." The correspondent then goes on establish that the Maoists have got in touch with various insurgent outfits from the Indian Northeast and, of course, the ISI.
Nowhere in any of these write-ups is there any evidence of a nexus between the CPN (Maoist) and the ISI, apart from quotes from the ubiquitous "intelligence and army sources". (These must be the same "intelligence sources" who were remarkably silent when the communist loya jirga convened by Prachanda met in Siliguri some months ago.) Having said that, it cannot be ruled out outright that some of the armaments that could have reportedly been smuggled into India by the ISI might not in fact have made their way to the Maoist arsenal through the underground arms bazaar in India.
The Maoists have not taken the Indian claims lying down. The October 2000 issue of their party organ, Revolutionary Worker, accuses the Indian government of using the ISI as a red herring. "It [the Indian government] had been labeling People's War in Nepal since its initiation as being funded and trained by ISI agents. In fact BJP is so phobic against communism that it has labelled the MLM [Marxist-Leninist-Maoist] groups waging People's War in India as ISI agents!. In the case of Nepal, the Indian state is using ISI whip for the short term benefit in order to malign People's War in Nepal, for the long term strategy it is brandishing ISI stick to bring Nepal under its defence-umbrella. In the case of India, Indian state is trying to play the ISI card on its own land to unleash an all out terror on the revolutionary masses of India and also to malign them."
The India connection
If the ISI connection is yet to be demonstrably proven, the Maoists' contacts with ultra-left groups are no secret. These seem to have been strengthened after the 1984 founding of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), a forum of Maoist forces the world over, a kind of latter-day Communist International wedded to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Although the CPN (Masal), then led by Mohan Bikram Singh, was one the founding members, somewhere along the way, it was replaced by the splinter CPN (Maoist), and in 2000 Prachanda is believed to have been elected to its executive committee.
RIM seems to be an amorphous organisation that provides only a mail forwarding centre in London for its address, but as Prachanda said in the interview referred to above, the CPN (Maoist) has benefitted immeasurably from that association. "There was important ideological and political exchange. From the RIM Committee, we got the experience of the PCP (Communist Party of Peru), the two-line struggle there, and also the experience in Turkey, the experience in Iran, and the experience in the Philippines. We learned from the experience in Bangladesh and from some experience in Sri Lanka. And there was a South Asian conference that we participated in. At the same time we were also having direct and continuous debate with the Indian communists, mainly the People's War (PW) [People's War Group-PWG] and Maoist Communist Center (MCC) groups. And this helped in one way or another. It helped us to understand the whole process of People's War."
(In all likelihood, it was the RIM connection that saw Kathmandu walls plastered with slogans demanding the release of Comrade Gonzalo of Peru soon after his arrest in 1992. The Sendero Luminoso was at that time the premier Maoist insurgency in the world-that dubious distinction has now been taken up by Nepal's Maoists.)
Later years saw contacts with Indian Maoists intensify. Apart from helping identify the illegal arms market in India after the People's War began in 1996, the MCC and the PWG have also provided weapons and explosives training to Nepal's Maoists. The police in Nepal believe that the CPN (Maoist) is also in touch with separatist organisations such as the United Liberation Front of Assam.
However, the Maoists' India connection is not limited to extremist groups alone. They also have the support of a part of the Nepali diaspora in India, a fact demonstrated by the presence of a large number of Nepalis in the December 1998 rally held in New Delhi under the aegis of the \'Solidarity Forum to Support the People's War in Nepal'. There are various other forums that stand behind the CPN (Maoist), such as the All India Nepali Unity Society. The Nepali authorities believe that this largest organisation of Nepali migrants in India, with a claimed membership of around 150,000, is a front to collect money for the People's War. The Unity Society denies providing financial support to the Maoists, but there is no doubt where its sympathy lies (see picture above).
India is certainly aware of all these linkages and has expressed concern about what could ultimately turn out to be a chain of Maoist movements stretching from Nepal through Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh up to Andhra Pradesh. Especially so since the formation earlier this year of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) in order to, in Baburam Bhattarai's words, "unify and coordinate the revolutionary process in the region". Which begs the question: could it be only a coincidence that just days after the ceasefire was called off in Nepal, Indian Maoists went on a rampage from Jharkhand to Andhra Pradesh? Or, can it be speculated that there is a larger design at work-such as the ponderous-sounding CCOMPOSA really at work?