In 2006, the king of Nepal was deposed and the country turned from a kingdom to a republic. The power was assumed by the Maoists who several years earlier had started a civil war. Immediately after the overthrow of monarchy, euphoria took over – even politically illiterate people living in the mountain areas discussed politics while looking at rare newspapers. The observed general mood was that the new government was better than the king, and that the Maoists were great.During our trip to Nepal in early 2012, we had the feeling, however, that the euphoria has died out. The Nepali now talk about the Maoists very cautiously and are not as thrilled about them. The most optimistically minded people are saying, "They need time to show what they can do," and "nobody can work without making mistakes, especially not a new government." At the same time, though, in people's words and in the media, dissatisfaction and even the phrase "restoration of the monarchy" can be seen.
The Nepali Maoists are a very interesting phenomenon. Initially, they did not seem to have any relationship to Mao and China. When the movement emerged in Nepal and they called themselves Maoists, official Beijing expressed indignation and reproached the Nepali Maoists for unnecessarily mentioning the name of the Great Leader incorrectly. It seems the Chinese were initially somewhat afraid of the Nepali Maoists because their movement was an extremist one. They were on the list of terrorist organizations in the U.S. and it was not very clear what would happen in Nepal. Beijing wanted to avoid an unstable situation in the country bordering the equally unstable Tibet.
On the other hand, the Chinese provided considerable assistance to the armed separatists in India for the purpose of destabilizing the situation in Nepal. In the 1970s -1980s, the leaders of these separatist movements lived in Beijing, and the soldiers underwent their military training in China. It is logical that the Chinese would benefit from acquiring an ally practically next door to India.
Nepal, however, does not benefit from flirting with China for two reasons. First, when there is faith in communism, there can be no other gods – this is known from history and was demonstrated by the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The Buddhist monks were defrocked and killed, and the monasteries were demolished and air-bombed. The objects of cult were destroyed, with the most valuable, such as the golden Buddha statues, transported to China. Regardless of the overthrown king, Nepal remains in essence a theocratic state. For some time after the king was deposed, the situation in the country was truly unique – the Maoists were at the helm of a Hinduist state. There have already been conflicts between the Maoist government and the Nepali people on religious grounds, with the result that the people, for the time being, have the upper hand. It is paradoxical that many of the Maoists who were born in the mountainous regions of Nepal respect and observe the religious holidays.
Second, for more than 100 years Nepal has been too closely connected to India and is heavily dependent on it. This dependency is brought on, first of all, by geography. Nepal is squeezed between the two Eastern superpowers, India and China, which are in a mutual state of tension. This situation has been going on for 60 years now and has several times turned into direct military confrontation. For that reason, the small country is forced to balance between its big neighbors.
So why is India more important to Nepal than China? First of all, they share a religion – Hinduism. Second of all, politics. For example, when the pro-British prime ministers of the Rana dynasty seized the power in Nepal, the king and his family managed to escape onto the territory of the Indian Embassy and later moved to India with assistance from Delhi. In 1951, the king returned to the throne with help from India. The Indians contributed to the restoration of the Nepali monarchy not only with words but also with actions. The Indian army suppressed later revolts against the king.
India has a very significant influence on the life of Nepal, and it should not be ignored. India is one of the reasons the country may stay stable, for it is hard to see India supporting Nepal’s disintegration. For all its meddling, India calculates that separatist tendencies in other countries in the region could fuel such trends within its own territories, from the North East to the Kashmir. The keyword for India at this time of rapid economic growth is ‘stability’. It is very unlikely to support instability anywhere in the region. Nepal’s political and economic future relies on India. In case of instability in Nepal, India will step in to return to the more ‘stable’ status quo. In my opinion it will be India that will put in place the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that will be the future political map of the federal Nepal.
Kirill Prudnikov was in Nepal for a two-week field course titled “Challenges to Peacebuilding in Nepal” led by Dr. Pushpa Iyer of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Kirill’s blog is part of a series of reflections by Dr. Iyer and her students on the challenges to building peace in this country after a decade long war. -Ed.
About the author: Kirill Prudnikov is a graduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies pursuing his degree in International Policy Studies with a focus in Conflict Resolution. Kirill’s area interests include cross-cultural negotiations, peacebuilding, international politics, ideology, power and conflict. He received his Bachelor Degree in Conflictology and Philosophy from Saint Petersburg State University.