It's fascinating to see how fast and how far, Nepal's Maoists have come. A Maoist leader who spent years languishing in an Indian jail, now sings the Indian leadership's praise; the core Maoist doctrine "bidroha garnu janata ko hak ho" (to rebel is the peoples' right) has morphed into a whimper of regret over the communal unrest in Southern Nepal.
With each passing day it seems, the reality that speeches, slogans, and marches with banners don’t create jobs, that extortion is only a long-term career in an affluent country, and that 83 seats in an interim parliament will not suddenly produce three plates of "Daal Bhat," free education or health care, for 26 million people, is setting in. That a decade of bloodshed and misery was designed to achieve a single goal - to elevate the Maoists to power - is a bitter pill many have begun to swallow.
Without the luxury of being in violent opposition it would appear, Nepal's Maoists are no different than any of the other political parties that continue to over-promise and under-deliver.
The reality however, couldn't be any further. Neither Nepal, nor South Asia has witnessed the rise of left-wing radicalism of comparable ferocity, cunning or near the magnitude of what Nepal has borne over the last decade.
In pursuit of their objectives, Nepal's Maoists have successfully played the NC against the UML, the King against the 7 Parties, the Americans against the Indians and in their final bid, the Maoists will be playing the Nepali population (including the millions of Nepalis who reside in India), against India.
The Maoists have declared in doctrine and in speech, time and again, that their ultimate goal is the realization of a communist republic in Nepal. If the Indian government chooses to call the Maoists' bluff, they do so at their own peril.
Below are three sweeping updates, recommended to re-vitalize India’s current Nepal-policy:
Update #1: Don't treat Nepal like an Indian state. Doing so will widen the conceptual gap between the possible and the probable. It will also lead to an unsustainable position that feeds anti-Indian nationalism to the ultimate benefit of the Maoists.
Indian policy makers continue to maintain that Nepal, like India, has the resources and capacity to absorb violent insurgencies and then progress on a platform of development and democracy (illiberal as it may be). Given the number of similar insurgencies that India's federal structure has absorbed since 1950, this idea appears plausible.
However, the lens one chooses to view the problem through, determines the reality of what they see. From the lens of a regional Hegemon then, it is completely within the realm of possibility that Nepal (if perceived as yet another satellite Indian state), could withstand a full blown leftist onslaught.
But from the perspective of the satellite state (in this case, Nepal), surviving the type of radical populism that the Nepali Maoists have bred on, is not possible - not resource wise, not capacity wise - unless, India remains committed to cover the massive shortfall in wherewithal needed to engender such "absorptive" capacity.
Indian policy makers need to urgently ask themselves if they are in a position to make such a long-term commitment. Is the Federal government of India prepared to sustain democratic Nepalese forces, through the disbursement of material and non-material aid, indefinitely? Or, is the Congress-I ready to stake its legacy on a failed policy that promises to cultivate the (already sown) seeds of what the Indian Prime Minister (Man Mohan Singh) has termed the most immediate threat to Indian national security (left wing insurgency)?
As the more responsible constituent of India's coalition government, the burden of making policy decisions with far-reaching consequences, rests squarely on the Congress-I. This is even more the case when it is not Nepal's, but rather India's national security that the South Block is gambling with today.
Update #2: Do not underestimate Maoist Machiavellianism. Like any organized group, the Maoists are adept at using and discarding actors as they see fit. As events have shown, they have been exceptionally successful in Nepal. The Maoists' goal remains the establishment of a communist republic and to this end, they will not hesitate to break alliances or form new ones that best serve their strategic goals at any given point in time. India is on the Maoists' MFN (Most Favoured Nation) list today, but this will change as constituent assembly elections get closer.
If the Indians think the king was bad for business, they're in for a much bigger shock. The prevailing thought might be that having hosted, trained and equipped Nepal’s Maoists for over a decade, that taming this radical outfit will not pose significant challenges.
If this is so, it's time for Indian policy makers to think again. Part of the process of introspection should be a heart-to-heart session with Indian intelligence assets. The following questions would be both timely and relevant: "Given the conditions today, what is the likelihood that the Nepali Maoists will grab power in Nepal? And should this outcome occur, what leverage will India be in a position to exercise over the Maoists?"
If the answers to the questions above are "very likely" (or "likely") and "India could enforce an economic embargo", the Chief of intelligence should be fired, on the spot. Types of coercion (whether they are of the economic or military variety) may be toyed with as ideas, but cannot be applied without paying extraordinarily counterproductive costs. In Nepal's case, the cost would be manifested as a sharp rise in anti-Indian radicalism.
Once the king is gone, the Maoists will be in search of another diversion upon which to focus mass discontent. Their most likely candidate for such a focus will be radical nationalism. The consequences of such a transition would be catastrophic given the large Nepali population that already resides in India and the inert resentment that many Nepalese harbour against long-standing, regional Indian policies.
When the time comes (and come it will), India will quickly lose its MFN status with Nepal’s Maoists. The most favoured status at that time, will conveniently be reallocated to members of COCOMPOSA and RIM, and the objective of a CRZ in South Asia will be aggressively pursued (with Nepal as a launching pad).
Update #3: Stop hiding behind the Americans’ coat tails and start looking for REAL policy alternatives. Reliance on traditional levers in today’s day and age is foolish. Support the people of Nepal and a mutually beneficial, democratic future will result. Abandon Nepal to the clutches of a failed ideology and India too will pay dearly.
A decade into the future, historians are unlikely to recall the magnanimous change in Indian foreign policy that nurtured "people power" in Nepal and paved the way to a new and peaceful era. Rather, historians are much more likely to condemn the unrealistic and failed policies that the Congress-I served, that ultimately ignited leftwing radicalism and destabilized the entire sub-continent.
India’s political elite must urgently reconcile the differences between what they are preaching for public consumption and what they know to be taking place in Nepal. Horse trading policy on Nepal (under the illusion of supporting the will of the Nepalese people) is a façade that could lose its credibility as early as June 2007.
Should the Maoists bulldoze through constituent assembly elections in mid-2007, the peoples’ desire (i.e. the desire of a segment of formerly armed, poorly educated Nepalis, well-versed in the art of terror) is certain to collide with the Indian nation’s security prerogative. Then what? Will the Indian military be ready to invade Nepal? Will intelligence gathered by retired Indian Gurkhas be sufficient to fight a war (that in all likelihood) will engulf India from within? Will India take lessons learned from Bhutan and send a million Nepalese north of its border?
India’s elite need to engage in some hard thinking. Whether the current coalition lasts beyond the next two years is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the creation of a one-party, communist state to India’s north will transcend into the foreseeable future. The mistakes this Indian coalition government has committed, will have consequences for the next 3-4 governments that hold office in India.
Indian policy makers would do well to appreciate that 2007 is not 1990. This is a point that Indian leaders indirectly acknowledged when for example, several prominent Nepalese had called for economic sanctions against their own country, during the post-Feb.-1 period.
Examples of logic used at that time included the international community not "paying" for the king's rule (i.e. the argument that foreign aid should be cut) or that an immediate Indian economic blockade was required to "choke" the king into submission (i.e. references to the successful 1990 Indian blockade against Nepal after which the 1950 treaty was never seriously revised).
The thought process Indian leaders adopted in rejecting the notion of economic sanctions (against Nepal) was indeed a praiseworthy one; it worked well then and it applies equally now - under no circumstances should the general Nepali public be made to pay the price for Maoist aggression.
Instead, a range of alternative levers must be envisioned, that may be used to contain the radical growth of Maoist extremism in South Asia. Using the American Ambassador James Moriarty to clean up after failed Indian policy doesn't count. Indian policy requires immediate recalibration and India's leaders must act in the best interest of her own security and sovereignty, immediately.
The Indian nation in 2007 has all the ingredients necessary for radical leftists to exploit - an ever widening income gap, religious and ethnic tensions, a shaky coalition with a major communist faction. And if India doesn't get its act straight immediately, it will have a communist republic to its north, to add to its current list of potential destabilizers.
The writing is on the wall and it says India's failure to change its Nepal policy is guaranteed to invite turmoil and anarchy to South Asia.