Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: Recent Trends

Author: Professor Prakash A Raj

Period: October 2003 - December 2003

Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: Recent Trends

Professor Prakash A Raj

Status of Maoist Insurgency

Breakdown of Talks. The Maoist insurgency in Nepal has grown from a small movement limited to a few pockets of hills of western Nepal in early 1996 to a crisis situation. Three sets of talks between the Government and insurgents have taken place. The last one took place during a six month long cease-fire period that started in January 2003. The Maoists broke the cease-fire unilaterally in August 2003 and fighting started again in the Himalayan kingdom. More than 8,000 persons have lost their lives in Nepal till now. 

Spread of Insurgency to Areas in the Terai. The insurgency had spread to areas of the Terai having Madhise population with close linguistic links with people across the border in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India. This is found in Maithili speaking areas in the eastern Terai situated between Kosi and Bagmati Rivers, Bhojpuri speaking areas in central Terai and Awadhi speaking areas in western Terai. There has been a large-scale migration from the hills to the Terai since the 1960s. The migrants from the hills have outnumbered the locals throughout the length of Nepal and north of the East-West Highway. Many migrants have shown a tendency to vote for the Communist-Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist CPN (UML) during the three elections for the Parliament held in the 1990s after the advent of democracy. On the other hand, Madhises voted for non-communist parties such as Nepali Congress, Nepal Sadbhavana Party or Rastriya Prajatantra Party. There were widespread Maoist activities in western Terai districts of Kanchanpur, Kailali, Bardia, Banke and Dang inhabited by Tharu population and migrants from the hills before the cease-fire in January 2003. The Nepali Congress Government freed the bonded labour known as kamaiya, from the big landowners without making arrangements for their rehabilitation and many of the former kamailyas joined the insurgency. The insurgency has now spread to areas of the Terai bordering India inhabited by Madhise population. It appears that the Maoists used the six month period to consolidate. This is a significant development as it increases the prospect of “spillover” across the border to the Indian states of UP and Bihar. Many of the new recruits in the Maoist insurgency in the Nepalese Terai are Dalits and some castes speaking dialects of Hindi, Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi. The most prominent Maoist leader from this area is Matrika Yadav from Maithili speaking area of eastern Terai who was included in the Team constituted by the Maoists for talks with the Government in 2003. 

“Visa” Required to Travel to Areas under Maoist Control. The Maoists have introduced a requirement that their permission is needed to travel to most of the areas that they control. Such requirement is now enforced in many districts where the government control is limited only to the district headquarters. This is also found in some districts surrounding the Kathmandu valley. In some areas such as the Maoist “heartland” in Rolpa district, permits are required to travel from one Village Development Committee (VDC) to the other. The locals in some districts are also required to get such permit to travel to district headquarters controlled by the Government. Travelling without visa could lead to detention in a “labour camp” or being forced to work on a project as directed by the local government. 

Janasarkar and Jana Adalt set up by Maoists. The Maoists have set up their Government or Janasarkar at district and village levels. They have also set up People’s Courts or Jana Adalat in many areas. The rationale for such courts is due to decreasing credibility of the existing court system and the fact that litigation in such courts was expensive and time consuming. The Maoists are also giving “punishments” for the crimes committed in the areas they control. Houses belonging to many ministers (both former and currently serving) and army officials have been set on fire by the Maoists. Those serving in security forces (army and police) have been warned that they should either resign or their family should leave the village. This trend was observed in Rajapur area of Bardia district where River Karnali (known as Ghagra in India) descends in the plains and divides into distributaries creating a relatively isolated area. 

Forced “Contributions” and Society. Forced “contributions” from businessmen, teachers and government officials in many areas has increased. It is suspected that many in Kathmandu valley are paying such “tax” to the Maoists. Some Maoist leaders have said that such contributions are demanded especially from smugglers and corrupt government officials. Such “tax” is now collected from tourists trekking in many parts of the country. It was reported that a sum of Rs 1000 was being collected from each trekker in the famous Annapurna trekking area in a village called Ghodepani. It was reported that Rs 2000 was being collected from trekkers in the Rolwaling area. The trekkers are given “receipt” for having contributed to the “People’s War”. Some trekkers in Kanchenjunga area in the far eastern hills were also robbed recently. 

Migration due to Insecure Environment. Many villagers are migrating in search of security to district headquarters, the Kathmandu valley or foreign countries for security reasons. Many police checkposts located in villages were shifted to district headquarters due to lack of security and vulnerability to Maoist attacks. There are reports that the Maoists are “persuading” many households to contribute Dhan or Jan. This means that each household should either send one boy or girl to be a recruit for the People’s War of the Maoists or should donate money. This trend is especially noticeable in the hilly regions in the mid and far western part of the country. 

Control of Maoist Insurgency. It appears that the control of the central leadership of the Maoists over those in the field is slipping. Some of the cadres in the field are found to be involved in activities that are supposed to be banned by the central leaders. 

Contentious Issues

Lack of Good Governance. The most important reason why the insurgency could spread so rapidly throughout Nepal was lack of good governance and corruption during the 12 years rule of political parties after 1990 when the people of Nepal became sovereign after the popular movement against the then Panchayati system. It was especially the politicisation of police and the intelligence network in the country that led to the current situation. As the Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai has stated that a successful Maoist attack on Argha Khanchi district headquarters at Sandhikharka on 9 September 2002 was followed by another attack at Jumla Khalanga on 15 November 2002 in Midwestern Nepal was conducted by the same Maoist team. The two places are located almost 400 kilometres away and are walking distance for more than a week. The Government’s intelligence was so poor that they were not prepared for the attack in Jumla Khalanga which resulted in heavy loss on the Government side as had happened in Sandhikharka.

Demand for Revision of Constitution. The Maoists walked away from the talks in August 2003 and broke the cease-fire because they are unwilling to accept anything less than elections for a constitutional assembly that will draft a new constitution for the country. Although the Government was willing to address some of the demands made by the Maoists, this was not acceptable to the Maoists. Any elections being held in Nepal, either for constitutional assembly or parliament can only take place when the Maoists give up their arms. Any elections held when the contestants are armed may not be free and fair and could result in drafting of a constitution such as the former Soviet Union. 

China’s Role

There are also reports that the Maoists were importing arms and ammunitions from Tibet via Khasa situated on Sino-Nepal border. Those involved have been arrested by the Chinese authorities. Although the Chinese have been saying officially that they have nothing to do with the Maoists and that they do not like them using the name of Chairman Mao, there may be groups inside China sympathetic to the Maoists. If the Chinese were to get involved providing assistance to the Maoists in Nepal, it could create a major problem for India. 

The former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, KV Rajan has stated that the Maoist insurgency is overtly pro-China and anti-India although he did not find reliable evidence of Chinese support. Rajan adds regarding the reaction of the Indian Government on the Maoist Insurgency as “India, too, must accept its share of responsibility – it has been a passive spectator for far too long, despite the obvious dangers it poses to its own security. There is no excuse for the fact that despite frequent communications from the Nepalese side, Maoist leaders for the past few years have been moving freely across the border, holding meetings with senior Nepalese politicians on Indian soil, without Indian agencies apparently knowing about it.”1

Likely Spillover of Insurgency to India

There are indications that insurgency is likely to spillover to the Indian territory. The insurgency has spread to the areas in the Nepali Terai where the Madhise population has close linguistic and ethnic ties across the border in Indian states of Bihar and UP. Similarly, the insurgency has spread to the hilly districts of Mahakali Zone in far western Nepal where people have close ties with those living in Kumaon region of Uttaranchal. The Maoists now control large rural areas east of Mahakali river that forms the boundary between the two countries. The control of the Government in Kathmandu is limited to district headquarters in most cases. There are reports that United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) militants are receiving assistance from across the border in Bangladesh. The Maoists in Nepal have formed an alliance with such separatist groups in eastern Nepal such as Khumbuwan Liberation Front. The area where this organisation is active is situated in the hills north of “Chickens Neck” where a narrow strip connects the Northeastern part of India with the rest of the country. If there is a nexus between the Maoists or their allies with insurgents in Assam or Bangladesh, it would be create a major problem for India. 

Although the Indian Government has declared the Maoists to be a terrorist group, it is difficult to understand how it is possible that the Indian intelligence was unaware of the Maoist leaders living in India. There are many people in Nepal who feel that the reason for the Maoist insurgency is due to their sanctuary in India. They also feel that this problem could be solved in three months if India were to co-operate. This is in spite of the fact that India has been assisting the Nepalese Army by providing arms and helicopters that could be used against the Maoists. There is an urgent need to monitor and regulate the open Indo-Nepal border. Some kind of identity cards should be made mandatory for those crossing the border.

There was no Indian Ambassador accredited to Nepal for almost one year in the crucial period before the present incumbent was sent as the then Ambassador was terminally sick for almost six months and there was a long delay in replacing him after his death. The recent events have amply demonstrated that India needs to take the happenings in Nepal more seriously than it has till now. 



KV Rajan, ‘Nepal’, in JN Dixit (Edited), External Affairs : Cross-Border Relations, (New Delhi : Roli Books, 2003).



Professor Prakash A Raj is an executive member of the Nepal Council of World Affairs, Kathmandu, Nepal.


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