Nepali Times


Mao nostalgia is at its peak. The English National Opera staged Mao in the London Coliseum this summer. In the land of his birth, Mao remains in a mausoleum and his legacy is marked by a boom in tourist memorabilia.

Here in the mid-hills and forests of Nepal, where Mao's self-styled proteges are carrying on as if the Long March never ended, a People's War being waged in the name of the farmer's son from Hunan has claimed 1,450 lives in the past four years.

On 23 August, three days after Prachanda announced a new "strategic defence" offensive, Maoists hacked to death a primary school teacher in Gorkha-not the first cold-blooded murder of a non-combatant. The same day a group burnt two buses belonging to theModernIndian School in Kathmandu.

The police say they are now more prepared for Maoist raids, their casualty rates have come down, and they have sometimes even overpowered rebels in daytime encounters. "They seem to be under pressure now," a high-level police source told us. "They've promised fresh attacks but we are prepared."

Nepal's Maoists borrow their military tactics from Mao's treatises and from practical applications by Peru's Sendero Luminoso. Shyam Shrestha, editor of left-leaning Mulyankan monthly and a politburo member of one communist faction that was a forerunner of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), calls this "mechanical materialism"-cloning the little red book.

"In China, guerrilla war had become an objective necessity because of other factors such as the Japanese occupation. In Nepal the so-called people's war has grown out of the party's \'subjective' judgement," says Shrestha.

Mao's sharpest formulation was to "encircle the cities from the countryside". The core of Prachanda's strategy is to build rural base areas (adhar ilakas) and hold on to them. Mao said: "Pit one against ten, pit ten against a hundred". Prachanda has been doing precisely that with human waves supporting guerrillas during strikes. Mao's army replenished its supplies with arms captured from the enemy: our Maoists do the same. Mao advised making use of the "intervals between campaigns to rest, train and consolidate troops". The lull in violence since early June may have been just that. Mao said the rest periods should not be very long and sure enough Nepali Maoists like to remind us they're still around.

On the other hand, Mao's revolutionary war was waged in a "semifeudal, semi-colonial" China. Maoist leader Prachanda says he is fighting the same forces, even though he has not yet defined the exact nature of the "colonialism". Mao recognised the army as the chief component of the state's political power and hence regarded it as the enemy. Nepali Maoists are fighting a largely civilian police.

So far, Maoists have been careful not to hit the army. The Royal Nepal Army is currently building a road from Salyan to Musikot right through an area of the worst violence. The Maoists and the army don't bother each other.

If Prachanda has been executing Maoism by the book, it would be instructive to find out what Mao said would be the next step. Shyam Shrestha says the Maoists have a three-phase plan: strategic defensive, strategic balance and strategic offensive.

"They're now in the sixth phase of the defensive that is aimed at keeping the bases they have built in Rolpa, Rukum, Salyan and Jajarkot," Shrestha explains. The "defensive" strategy calls for intensifying propaganda in cities, which may explain the attacks on unsuspecting targets.

So far, the Maoists seem to have an upper hand. Time is on their side, and they strike when they want to and where they want to. Riding a wave of violence, they've taken a shortcut from a leftist fringe to the centre of Nepal's mainstream political discourse in four quick years. "They would not have done as much within such a short time if they had gone through normal political processes," says Sridhar Khatri, professor of political science at Tribhuvan University. "They took the high-risk, quick-rewards road."

Successive weak governments, political infighting and poor law and order since 1995 gave Maoists political space and even support, allowing them to grow into a force to be reckoned with. Their violence bred counterviolence from the state, which bolstered Maoist support among peasants caught in the crossfire.

Aside from terror-tactics against "class enemies", Maoists have also been playing the hearts-and-minds game far more effectively than the Police in the "base areas". They have collectivised agriculture, set up co-operative banking, given out low-interest loans, banned alcohol and tobacco and emphasised gender equality.

But there are many who believe that this is a cynical application of the Mao dictum that the end justifies the means. "The \'people's war' seems to be an euphemism for extortionist activity and local-level vendetta," says Dipak Gyawali, a political economist. "In war, you hit targets of strategic significance. How does hacking school teachers and burning school buses further the revolution?"

The Maoists say they have been fighting by the rules of the Geneva Convention, and want the police to do the same. "If both sides abide by the rules there are certain things they cannot do," says Gopal Siwakoti Chintan, a human rights activist. "They cannot murder, torture, take hostages, commit outrages upon personal dignity and execute anyone without proper judicial guarantees. That is why dialogue is urgent, even if only to agree on the rules of engagement."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)