Will Nepal light India's Maoist fuse?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 12:00am

New Delhi is watching the insurgency next door for signs of it spilling into its own 'red corridor'

A frightening scenario is doing the rounds in New Delhi security circles: Nepal's Maoist guerillas overthrow the monarchy and join India's Maoists to destabilise a swathe of India from northeast to south.

Activity by Maoist revolutionaries - or Naxalites - throughout the area has led to it being dubbed the 'red corridor'.

If such a scenario is being entertained at all, the reason is twofold: Nepal's Maoists are now seen as formidable, and India's Naxalites are gaining ground.

According to Indian intelligence, Maoist activity spread from 156 districts in 13 states last September to 170 districts in 15 states last month.

For 40 years, communist groups have been active in the area. In some districts they run a parallel administration, operate 'people's courts' and even levy taxes.

They attack 'class enemies' - policemen, politicians, landlords - and other symbols of the Indian state such as railways and police stations.

But their links to Nepalese Maoists are growing. Police in states close to Nepal, such as Bihar and Jharkhand, say the Naxalites have trained their Nepali counterparts.

'If the Nepalese army's crackdown on the Maoists succeeds, then it will weaken these training camps and these contacts,' said Girdhari Nayak, inspector-general of Bastar in Jharkhand.

'But if it fails, then we're going to see more Nepali Maoists flowing through to India for armed training.'

Ajay Sahni, of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, says: 'Naxalite violence in the rural hinterland could pose a threat to India's internal security, particularly if our homegrown groups establish closer ties with the Maoists in Nepal.'

The two strongest groups are the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. Last July, in a bid to end a protracted, low-intensity conflict, the government of Andhra Pradesh in southern India lifted a ban on the People's War Group and offered to hold talks. The guerillas agreed, saying they were prepared to forsake revolution. But the talks collapsed.

Neither has force worked. The police have tried to eliminate these groups but without success. They survive because of poverty.

While one India might be prosperous and progressive, awash in consumerism, broadband internet access, wine bars and shopping malls, another India is steeped in poverty and social oppression.

In the fields of Bihar, a permanent caste war is waged. The Naxalites draw their support from low-caste Indians disillusioned with an administration concerned only with the upper class.

The Naxalites are seen as modern Robin Hoods, with a policy of seizing land from feudal landlords and giving it to the poor.

Provincial newspapers - particularly those in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar - reveal their regular activities: explosions, murders and arson attacks.

Earlier this month, Naxalites drove from Andhra Pradesh to a spot in neighbouring Karnataka - just 140km from India's software capital, Bangalore - where they attacked a police camp, killing six officers and injuring many others.

With no end in sight to the simmering unrest in the red corridor, many eyes will be on Nepal, wondering if what happens there could tip the balance in India too.