Sunday, June 20, 2004

New light on old problem
Shastri Ramachandaran

Maoist Insurgency in Nepal. The Challenge and the Response
by S D Muni. Rupa & Co in association with Observer Research Foundation.
Pages 134. Rs 195.

Maoist Insurgency in Nepal. The Challenge and the ResponseThis tract is more than a useful addition to the clutch of books on the subject. It breaks new ground in one more than one respect. The author does not conceal his sympathy for the Maoists and makes a strong case, howsoever debatable, for talking to them – not only to end the unremitting spiral of violence that has besieged the Himalayan kingdom for over seven years – but also to draw them in to legitimate politics. Muni is forthright in arguing that India as the neighbour with a stake in Nepal should jettison its time-tested policy of rooting for the twin pillars of a (constitutional) monarchy and multiparty democracy. These make the book provocative, but they deserve to be digested and deliberated because the intent is not merely to provoke, but to create a basis for different and new ways of looking at the same old problem.

Muni is guided by a vision of what he perceives would best serve Indian strategic and security interests and ensure stability and peace in the kingdom. He is scathing about the King’s military approach to dealing with the Maoist insurgency and equally critical about the "contribution" of the parliamentary parties that have driven Nepal to the thin end of the political wedge. Despite his evident bias in favour of the Maoists, he lays bare their violent methods and questionable tactics, and exposes their dubious compact with a monarchy which they avowedly intend to topple.

Even those who refute his characterisation of the Maoists and how they should be dealt with, in Nepal and the outside world, cannot but agree with Muni that the Maoist agenda has much appeal for the poor and marginalised in that country; and that a military response cannot lead to a political solution as a basis for peace and development. He does not foresee the King or the Maoists easily changing their methods and machinations in the short run, and underscores that the aspirations represented by the Maoist insurgency need to be reckoned with for what they are. The years of insurgency are analysed and documented as are the responses of the Nepalese government, New Delhi and the international community, particularly the US, the UK and China.

The annexures – on the origin and development of the Maoists, their 40-point charter of demands, their policy and programme and the time-line of the first round of peace talks – add value to the book, which is well produced. However, the text could have been worked on a little more to eliminate the errors in language, spelling and syntax, which are not numerous but certainly jarring in the few places where they occur.