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Nepal leader's call to fuel debate among Indian Maoists

Prachanda has said that Indian Maoists needed to understand the issue of multiparty democracy "and go down this route".

india Updated: Feb 13, 2006 18:41 IST

An unprecedented public appeal by a top Nepalese Maoist leader to Indian Maoists to embrace multiparty democracy is sure to further intensify an ideological struggle among the extreme leftists in this country.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Chairman Prachanda as he is popularly known, made the sensational call in an interview to a newspaper here, saying Indian Maoists needed to understand the issue of multiparty democracy "and go down this route".

"Both on the question of leadership and on multiparty democracy, or rather multiparty competition, I believe those who call themselves revolutionaries in India need to think about these issues. And there is a need to go in the direction of that practice."

Prachanda went on: "We wish to debate with them on this. If revolutionaries are not going to look at the need for ideological development, they will not go anywhere."

Prachanda's comments are at one level only a reflection of a debate within the Indian communist movement that is as old as its history: should revolutionaries take to arms or go for democratic elections to grab political power?

But the remarks are hugely significant since they come from someone whose party is engaged in a ferocious armed struggle aimed at ousting Nepal's monarchy, a struggle that has now become the talking point in the world.

Prachanda's appeal is directed at the Communist Party of India-Maoist, or CPI-Maoist, the dominant Maoist movement in India that believes in the concept of "People's War" against the state and rejects the path of elections as "bourgeois democracy".

Prachanda's Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, which now controls vast areas in the Himalayan kingdom, had played a key contributory role in the formation in 2004 of the CPI-Maoist following the merger of the more ideological People's War Group (PWG) and the more militaristic Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).

The CPI-Maoist has not so far reacted publicly to Prachanda's interview. Left circles are sure it will.

But more interesting will be what long-term effect the Nepalese leader's ideas will have on the rank and file of the CPI-Maoist.

Within the CPI-Maoist, a debate of sorts, still kept out of public view, had begun even earlier on the exclusive reliance on weapons to make a revolution.

There is a feeling that four decades of the Naxalite movement, after the West Bengal village of Naxalbari where the Maoist movement originated in 1967, has not brought the Maoists anywhere close to political power.

And given the might of the Indian state, this is never likely to happen, notwithstanding the occasional sparks provided by daring attacks on symbols of government authority like the jailbreak at Jehanabad in Bihar.

Even before the birth of the CPI-Maoist, the PWG had concluded following feedback from supporters that attacks on stray buses and isolated railway stations in Andhra Pradesh were only alienating ordinary people since these actions affected their lives and hardly made any impact on the Indian state despite the media attention they grabbed.

The intense repression in particular in Andhra Pradesh, the original PWG bastion, was forcing its armed cadres, or 'dalams', to be confined to forests, effectively curbing mass politics so vital for the growth of any political party.

Besides Andhra Pradesh, the Indian Maoists have a strong presence in Jehanabad in Bihar, which borders Nepal, and parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

Both the Indian and Nepalese Maoists are members of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) and the two parties enjoy close ties.

But Prachanda's comments also reveal that they have serious differences and, that too, on vital ideological questions.

Sections of the original Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which was born two years after the path-breaking Naxalbari revolt of 1967, have since taken to democratic elections, earning in the process the epithet of "revisionists" from the CPI-Maoist.

While no overnight change can be expected in the CPI-Maoist, Prachanda's views are bound to fuel the debate whether the party should continue to rely on arms or accept, at least partly, multiparty democracy, a tactic that has helped the Communist Party of India-Marxist to acquire such a huge clout within decades of its formation.