Monday, June 12, 2006

India Approved Chinese Arms Sales to Nepal


China's arms sales to Nepalese security forces ironically battling Maoist rebels, which Amnesty International reported yesterday, were undertaken with the tacit approval of neighboring India, which is battling its own protracted Maoist insurgency, informally known as Naxalism.

China has in the past provided both Maoist movements with covert assistance--including arms--in order to make trouble for its giant Asian rival. In Nepal, a landlocked, Himalayan nation sandwiched between China and India--with which overwhelmingly Hindu Nepal has traditionally felt a natural affinity--Beijing secretly supported the Maoists in an attempt to eliminate Indian influence in the country and ultimately bring it into the Chinese sphere.

But Beijing's backing for both the Nepalese and Naxalite revolutionaries--groups with whom China's ruling Communist Party long ago stopped identifying ideologically and never completely trusted--has been sacrificed in the interest of rapprochement with New Delhi. China is doing everything it can to reach out to India in the hope of preventing it from joining with the United States (and Japan) in a strategy of containment toward China.

The Chinese arms sales to Nepal, arranged through brokers with close palace ties, took place during the regime of the country's unpopular king, known for his corruption and inclination to play the China card against India. Now that he has been stripped of all political power following massive street protests organized by a broad coaliton of parties, it could be said that both the monarch and the Maoists have outlived their usefulness (though there have been some bumps in Beijing's dealings with the new government). Revolutionary ties could be terribly embarrassing to China's present-day, peace-professing leaders, whose "socialism with Chinese characteristics" bears no resemblance to any recognizable Maoist--or Marxist--doctrine, despite the regime's refusal to formally renounce the hoary ideology that is officially known as Mao Zedong Thought.

The same could be said for the Naxalites: like Peru's Shining Path and so many other overseas ultraleft groups, the Indian insurgents are probably no longer important to Beijing--at least, for the time being. Besides, they can always be assisted in the future should the need arise, because the movement is not likely to disappear.

Though largely ignored by the US and other Western countries, the Naxalites are much more than a nuisance. The movement traces its origins to a 1948 uprising by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in desperately poor Telangana, in southern India's Andhra Pradesh state, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Paris Commune. The uprising was inspired by Mao's successful armed struggle in China.

In 1964, the CPI split. Three years later, the Mao-admiring leader of a far-left faction of a CPI offshoot, called the Communist Party of India(Marxism), or CPI(M), led an insurrection in Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal that gave birth to the movement's popular name.

The uprising was praised in China. The party's official organ, People's Daily, editorialized: "A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India," adding that the "revolutionary group of the Indian Communist Party has done the absolutely correct thing" by following Mao's revolutionary line, which involved "relying on the peasants, establishing base area in the countryside, persisting in protracted armed struggle and using the countryside to encircle and finally capture the cities."

The CPI(M) faction became known as the Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist), or CPI(M-L). In 2004, the Maoist Communist Center, or MCC--a Naxalite group with the longest Maoist roots and oldest Chinese military and intelligence ties--joined with another underground Naxalite organization, People's War, to form the Communist Party of India(Maoist). It and the armed wing of the rival CPI(M-L) are currently the main Naxalite organizations challenging the machinery of the Indian state, such as it is.

So much for arcane political history. In India's heartland, the politicians who matter are armed, in keeping with Mao's famous dictum: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Since inception, the Naxalites have waged an on-again-off-again armed struggle on behalf of the poorest of the poor--landless laborers and tribal people--who have historically been exploited by rich, upper caste landlords. Like China's peasants and urban underclass, the rural poor constitute India's always-left-behind population, except their plight is even worse than that of China's impoverished masses. Human and civil rights are virtually non-existent. Social justice is a fantasy. Child labor, farmer suicide, malnutrition, illiteracy, and disease are everyday problems, with no solutions in sight.

Given these conditions, it is little wonder that Naxalites enjoyed immense popularity in the 1960s and '70s. But they lost ground as a result of alleged human rights abuses against local villagers and gangster-like tactics, including allowing the richest and most powerful landlords--many of whom operate their own private armies and death squads--to buy immunity from attacks while continuing to target those who can't afford to pay for protection.

In recent years, however, the Naxalites--especially the Maoist party that claims to be fighting for a classless society--have gained in strength, as the benefits of India's economic expansion have failed to trickle down to the poor.

In short, there is more to Rising India--and Rising China--than meets the eye.

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