Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Indian Maoists sulk as Nepali comrades make peace

Indian Maoists sulk as Nepali comrades make peace

GARHWA, India (Reuters) - Maoist rebels may be laying down their weapons in Nepal, but over their border in India their ideological brethren are still talking the language of armed revolution and the destruction of capitalism.

Maoists from both countries formed an alliance in 2001 against "feudal exploitation" and "American imperialism", but these days the relationship is showing serious signs of strain.

Nepal's rebel chief Prachanda signed a peace deal with the government last week that paves the way for his forces to disarm and join an interim government.

Elections will be held for an assembly meant to draft a new constitution and, the rebels hope, abolish the monarchy.

Nepal's people are rejoicing, but in the forests and villages of eastern India, Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites, sound distinctly disappointed.

"Prachanda made a big mistake by deciding to share power," said a underground Maoist leader, who spoke to Reuters in a remote village in the Garhwa district of Jharkhand.

"The Maoists of Nepal should have killed King Gyanendra and taken power."

"They were going well, but at the last minute they compromised with the imperialist powers," he added, accusing Prachanda of "selling out".

Officially the two movements say they share only "ideological links", but another underground Naxal leader admitted that Nepali Maoists "may have" come to India to help train rebels.

India's Naxalites were hoping that "victory" in Nepal, and a Maoist revolutionary government, would have given a huge boost to their own four-decade-long struggle.

"They have bowed down before the government," said Jiten Marandi of the Maoist-backed Revolutionary Democratic Front in the state capital Ranchi, who has been jailed three times.

"Their armed squads were their main source of power. Now they have surrendered their weapons, they will have a lot of problems."


India's Maoists trace their armed struggle back to an uprising in the eastern town of Naxalbari in 1967.

Today, their guerrilla squads operate in 13 of India's 29 states and around 165 of the country's 602 administrative districts, from the south through the central and eastern forests and up to Nepal.

In April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the uprising "the single biggest internal security challenge" faced by India.

In rural, impoverished and tribal-dominated Jharkhand, Maoists drew support in the 1980s by chasing away landlords, redistributing land and ending a system of bonded labour.

Today, they try to tap into discontent over the displacement of tribespeople to make way for mines throughout mineral-rich eastern India, and also lead campaigns for rural labourers to be paid the legal minimum wage.

But quite how many people truly support the Maoists' revolutionary agenda is hard to tell.

Fear certainly plays a large part, analysts say, and the Maoists themselves occasionally sound frustrated at the locals' lack of revolutionary fervour.

Over in Nepal, Prachanda is remodelling himself as a political leader rather than a fearsome guerrilla. He insists he is a "21st Century communist" not a dogmatic one, and says India's Maoists have not "evolved" with the times.

It is not hard to see why he would want to dissociate himself from his Indian comrades, who want to chase away foreign investment and set up a socialist economic system.

"Parliamentary democracy has failed to bring change," said Marandi. "It is only possible through armed revolution."

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