| Street vendors wait with their produce in Kathmandu on Sunday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Aug. 22: The Indian security establishment is looking at the option of “bread bombing” the besieged capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, where supplies have been choked in a blockade imposed by Maoist rebels.
New Delhi’s security planners do not want the situation to reach such a pass and want the blockade to be lifted with a political initiative from Nepal’s rulers.
New Delhi is an interested party in Nepal but an intervention is contingent upon a specific request from the kingdom even though India is concerned by the threat to its citizens and economic and strategic interests in that country. It has been estimated that Kathmandu has a month’s stocks of essentials. An sos is not imminent and, as one officer put it, “it is within the realm of possibility”.
Panic buying in Kathmandu has been sending prices skyrocketing. The security establishment here is concerned not only by the blockade but also the fact that over the last two days it has been turning violent. They have noted with concern that the Maoists have attacked army installations.
A security review of the situation in Nepal has concluded that the Nepalese government’s writ beyond Kathmandu Valley is severely restricted because it enjoys scant political support across the landlocked nation. The Royal Nepal Army, the kingdom’s principal security force of about 45,000 troops, is hard pressed to take on the Maoists who have practically encircled Kathmandu.
The current blockade in Nepal was called by a frontal outfit of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the United Revolutionary Peoples’ Council of Dhading, Ruwalkot and Rasuwa Districts. The organisation has demanded that its arrested leaders be released. Nepal’s Maoists, who have fraternal links with Naxalite outfits Maoist Communist Centre and CPI(M-L) (People’s War Group) in India, want to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and establish a people’s republic.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who yesterday offered confidential talks with the Maoist leadership, is scheduled to visit New Delhi from September 9.
India is chary of overt intervention in Nepal that can fuel the Maoist movement and create complexities that the governments of the two countries will find difficult to unravel. New Delhi and Kathmandu enjoy a unique relationship. There are an estimated 10 million Nepali-speaking Indian citizens and the number of Gorkha soldiers serving in the Indian Army is almost twice the size of the Royal Nepal Army.
Nepal’s Maoist rebels carry on an intensive campaign against alleged “Indian hegemony”. Since 2001, India has extended indirect support to the RNA by sending substantial supplies of weapons and munitions.
In the last three years, the Indian Army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Vairangte, Mizoram, has also been training RNA officers. Most officers of the RNA are alumni of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Indian Military Academy.
The RNA’s main weapon in the drive against the Maoists is the assault rifle 7.62 calibre INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) manufactured by the Ichhapur Rifle Factory near Calcutta and sold to Nepal at heavily subsidised rates. The RNA’s only air complement — a brigade — flies Indian Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.
The chief of the RNA has the status of honorary chief of army staff in India. India’s army chief is accorded the same status in Nepal.