Chapter Four: Blinding The Elephant
Already a year into the Nepalese civil war, the maoists had not succeeded in any considerable actions. It was January of 1997, a group of about half a dozen maoist cadres raided a police post in Ramechhap district in eastern hills of Nepal. The cadres upon the attack captured four paltry rifles from the police force. No casualties were recorded. The party announced it as a major success.
Slow Grip in Ground Zero
In the heartlands of maoist insurgency – Rolpa, however, comrades finally captured arms from the police forces in February 1998. The party up until now primarily focused on strengthening their military skills. Both Baburam and Prachanda, along with other high ranking officers in the party, knew the state would soon attack their guerilla forces too. For an effective counterattack, or a mere defense, they needed more members equipped with well-sophisticated weapons.
The same month, the party formed a central military commission, led by the supreme-commander Prachanda. In the meantime, the party formulated zonal committees, regional and sub-regional committees, and local committees. The plan now was to blind the elephant.
The huge waddling elephant symbolized the state. The leaders explained that even though the elephant was still too overwhelming to tackle, its eyes, which symbolized the local level leaders, police, informants, could be eliminated quite effortlessly. Maoists developed their strength strategically now. Maoists were now more organised, more fierce, like their commander Prachanda (literally meaning ‘the fierce one’).
Girija Prasad Koirala, who later got the Maoists to sign the comprehensive peace accord, was the prime minister during 1998. Maoists were gaining momentum and rhythm as the attacks on police posts, local-leaders, and government offices were getting more frequent than ever. The palace and the king’s concern towards these terror attacks got more serious. King had himself ordered the government to take care of the Maoists, while ensuring safety of all the citizens.
Kilo Sierra II: Another Repression of Civil War
The ‘Girija Babu’-led government responded to the insurgency with the launch of “Intensified Security Mobilization”. The Home-ministry and the police force, however, called it Operation Kilo Sierra II. The government deployed a huge number of security forces in the districts most affected by the Maoists – Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Salyan and other mid-western districts. Considerable number of forces set off to districts in the further east like Sindhuli and Ramechhap.
Kilo Sierra II was not much different to the previously launched Operation Romeo. It was yet another attempt by the ‘feudalistic and oppressive’ state to repress the people’s war. The police detained hundreds of people, and took them into custody. Security forces accused them of participating in the rebellion and tortured them while in custody. The police used to beat the detainees until they turned unconscious, with bamboo sticks, PVC pipes, and even iron rods.
The police sexually assaulted women and raped many of them. Amnesty International, later in the late 90s, released reports stating that detainee’s human rights were seriously compromised. There were no arrest warrants of any sort released prior to their arrests. The detainees acquired serious consequences, and a number of them died. With such actions from the security forces, the government following international concerns established the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the year 2000.
The nation was witnessing a vicious war between police forces and the Maoists. Police forces would detain local people with charges of being a guerilla, and torture them. Many of those detained later died while in custody. To avenge their comrade’s death, Maoists would in return kill the police-officers. These to-and-fro killings of the ‘siblings’ were now getting out of hand.
Terror Vs Terror: Core of the Civil War
By the early 2000s, Maoists had acquired weapons in hundreds by raiding police posts and positions. They were getting way more powerful in a relatively short time frame. Maoists were soon able to claim sole-authority in the mid-western districts of Rukum, and Rolpa. The police had slowly withdrawn themselves. One could see the security forces in the Sadarmukam (headquarters) only.
The visionaries of the Nepalese civil war – Prachanda and Baburam, had long gone to live incognito in the Northern towns of India close to the Nepal border. The duo and other prominent leaders of the party would direct much of the war through these hide-outs in India for the next decade. The party had also acquired technological advancements including satellite phones, which turned out to be instrumental in maintaining constant communications between these leaders and regional commanders. Maoist cadres upon receiving training actively ran radio stations, newspapers being with a vision to educate the people of their ideology. JanaBad was one of these newspapers which were immensely noted in the heartlands of the insurgency.
One could listen to ‘revolutionary’ songs by various singers and composers on the radio. The singers too lived in hide-outs scared of the police.
The Maoists although were logistically weaker than the state-sourced security forces, they were better when it came to strategic planning. On one hand, they were losing their fellow supporters and sympathizers, but on the other, they were using thus-gained sympathy from the villagers in their favour. The party organized events to honor those who lost their lives to police brutality. The purpose of these events was to announce those dead as ‘martyrs of the revolution’, irrespective of their relationship to the party. The families of those deceased did actually find themselves in the orbit of revolution, later as the Maoist guerillas.
General Elections! Amidst the Civil War?
The attacks, bombings, ambushes + more frequent than ever. By 1999, thousands of the police were brutally murdered by thousands of people claiming they were either Maoists or their supporters. Some of these casualties were definitely innocents. With police brutality at its peak, Maoists were getting more fueled. Police brutality clearly provided an enormous motive for the Maoists to keep up with the fight.
The result was an extensive loss, both in human-casualties and economy, for the nation. By the end of the twentieth century, Maoists had taken over most of the rural outposts in mid-western, far-western, and eastern districts. Frequent attacks on Rukum, Rolpa, Jajarkot, Jumla, Humla, Dolpa, Gorkha, Ramechhap, Sindhuli had limited the police presence in villages. Villagers by now coped to living with the Maoists walking free in the narrow lanes and bumpy roads of their rural neighborhoods.
The state, hundreds of miles away from the strong-holds of Maoists, in Kathmandu, was planning for nationwide local level elections. Maoists had already aggressively boycotted the 1997 elections. They had rather disrupted the elections completely with threats, bombs, and in many cases gunfires at election booths. Unlike the 1997 elections, the Maoists this time settled down for a simple boycott. The party high-command had ordered to let the elections run and not disrupt the process.
Analysts believe this decision, from the otherwise fierce Prachanda and Maoist high commission, was a result of just concluded ‘Kilo Sierra II’. The leaders knew their cadres were not ready for another bout of repression to the Nepalese Civil War.
In The Next Edition…..
The elections went fine, power was once again in the hands of the Nepali Congress, but this time the prime minister-ship went to Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. In the next edition of Nepalese Civil War: Explained, we analyze how Bhattarai brought the Maoists to a cease-fire, something no other leader had succeeded in doing.
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References: Nepal Peace Portal