Red Army in the Dragon Kingdom
By Deepak Adhikari
Another Maoist insurgency
is going to rock yet another country in South Asia, if the statements
made by the leaders of the Communist Party of Bhutan Marxist-Leninist-
Maoist (CPM MLM) are anything to go by.
"Preliminary preparations for an insurgency are over. We are
going to launch it soon," says Vikalpa, nom-de-plume of CPB MLM
Bhutan is holding its parliamentary elections in March and April 2008.
But, prior to the election date, CPB MLM plans to launch its 'People's
War' in the Himalayan kingdom.
The goal: Abolition of monarchy and establishment of a republic.
Following the footsteps of Nepali Maoists who had submitted a 40-point
demand to the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba before launching
a 'People's War', CPB MLM faxed a 13-point demand to the Royal Government
of Bhutan on March 22, 2007.
The letter stressed the need to "introduce people's democracy
in the place of absolute monarchy." The party has asked for multi-party
democracy, repatriation of the refugees to their original homes with
honor and dignity, release of all political prisoners and to introduce
the land reform act etc.
Vikalpa (literally, alternative) says that fulfillment of the demands
would have paved the way for a peaceful resolution. "But, the
government, rather than taking it seriously, has unleashed terror
by arresting commoners, and this has prompted us to wage an armed
struggle," says CPB supremo Vikalpa.
The Druk regime is yet to respond to these demands.
The unfolding events suggest that South Asia's only active monarchy
that is ruling the so-called 'Last Shangri-La' is likely to take the
country into Maoist violence. The eruption of militancy in northeastern
South Asia will not only push Bhutan into turmoil but the two biggest
Asian power i.e. India and China will have to deal with yet another
insurgency in their backyards.
At a time when Nepal was mired in the Maoist conflict, CPB MLM was
announced on April 22, 2003. Pamphlets were widely distributed and
posters were pasted in and around the seven refugee camps of Jhapa
and Morang districts of Nepal. On the same day, sixteen out of a total
twenty districts in Bhutan saw similar activities. That was the occasion
of Lenin Day and the official announcement of the first communist
party in Bhutan formed two years back.
Following its formal announcement, Bhutanese Maoist leaders zeroed
in on two areas: expanding the organizational network and intensifying
political and military training. The Maoist cadres overwhelmingly
participated in the 'long march' along the Mechi Bridge on the border
between Nepal and India last May. The forceful attempt made by the
refugees to return to their home country did not succeed. It ended
with clashes between refugees and Indian security forces.
The unrest triggered by the Maoists in Beldangi camp of Jhapa on 27
and 28 May led to the death of Narapati Dhungel and Purna Bahadur
Tamang. The CPB MLM organized a condolence meet for the 'martyrs'
in Beldangi and Sanischare camps on June 10. Student leaders Toya
Khatiwada, Pasang Rai, Mesh Pathak, Champa Singh Rai delivered speeches
during the programme.
An emergency meeting of CPB MLM Central Committee held in the first
week of June, following the Beldangi and Mechi Bridge incidents, concluded
that the grounds for an armed struggle were ripening. The meeting
also decided to launch a 'People's War' at the earliest. Following
this, CPB has intensified its activities in all the seven refugee
camps. The party has been organizing cultural programmes and closed-door
meetings to indoctrinate more refugees for the upcoming 'People's
In this backdrop, the Maoists have maintained a low profile while
expanding the party network on a war footing. They have succeeded
in drawing huge numbers of disgruntled refugees to their block. These
new breed of leaders, unlike hitherto known leaders, are little known
but they are spirited youths mostly from a teaching background. While
the number of full time party members is still a matter of conjecture,
what is obvious is that the party leadership has been rapidly expanding
Since the party is underground, most of its activities are undertaken
through its sister organizations. All Bhutan Revolutionary Student
Association, its student wing, was formed shortly after the announcement
of CPB MLM. Similarly, All Bhutan Women Association was announced
just two weeks after the formation of its student wing. All Bhutan
Republic Youth Association, all Bhutan Teachers' Association, All
Bhutan Peasants' Association, All Bhutan People's Cultural Forum are
other sister organizations of the party.
CPB has also adopted the strategy to form independent or literary
groups to spread its ideology. The now defunct Communist Study Center
led by a refugee from Goldhap camp (who was adept at oratory skills)
active in 2003 was one such group.
CPB MLM has also been involved in collecting funds. News sources say,
the party has collected donations from Bhutanese teachers working
in private schools and plus-two colleges in Kathmandu. Similarly,
the party has urged Bhutanese working in INGOs and donor agencies
to contribute 5 per cent of their salary. Sources claim the party
has been able to collect approximately 14 lakh rupees, some of which
was spent on purchasing arms.
Organizing cultural programmes is another way to collect money for
the party. All Bhutan People's Cultural Forum organized a cultural
programme and a drama titled 'Paristhiti Le Janmaeko Lakshya' (Goal
Created by Circumstances) at the Nepal Academy in Kathmandu on May
10, 2007. More than thirty thousand rupees was collected from the
tickets of the show and from the sales of the album 'Bidroha Ka Jhilkaharu'
(Sparks of Rebellion).
Preparing for 'People's War'
The first national conference of CPB MLM (from January 31 to February
3, 2006) devised an ideological and technical outline for a 'People's
War.' According to a party press release, the conference approved
the manifesto and the programme and policies of the party. The conference,
according to the release, "broke all the large and bulky party
committees into a sophisticated one to make a unified force."
The conference also elected Vikalpa General Secretary until the second
national conference. "The most important decision was to make
party military oriented and military party oriented," argues
Bhutanese Maoists have followed the strategies adopted by Nepali Maoists.
The protracted People's War is divided into three strategic phases:
defense, balance and counter attack. Defense is again divided into
three sub-phases: preparation, commencement and continuation. Among
these, the party is still in its first phase. The preparation phase
is again divided into four phases: ideological, organizational, technical
and related to struggle. Among these, they have started the propaganda
machine through cultural programmes, production of people oriented
musical albums and pamphlets and posters. Party mouthpieces such as
Vidhyarthi Pratirodh and Naulo Awaj also serve their purpose.
CPB MLM has also applied Chinese leader Mao's doctrine: 'encircling
city from village.' It has stressed the formation of an armed force
to implement the doctrine. Vikram, one of CPB leaders, says they plan
to create a guerilla force that will be technically able to carry
out defensive attacks, which, in his words, "will crush the enemy's
forces while defending our forces."
What is the military strength? Vikalpa says, "We have a few old
and homemade guns. However, our fighters are not trained for hi-tech
war. We believe in getting trained in the course of war." He
adds, "There cannot be a better training field than the working
Made in Bhutan
CPB MLM's working area is none other than Bhutanese soil. Apart from
refugee camps, Bhutanese leaders are active in Damak and Birtamode
of Jhapa and Siliguri (West Bengal), Sikkim, Darjeeling and Assam
in India. They also frequent Kathmandu in order to propagate and collect
funds. But they are trying to focus their activities mainly inside
Bhutan. CPB leaders claim that theirs is the only party established
inside Bhutan. The Central Committee of CPB MLM has five commands
(four commands operate in Bhutan and one in the refugee camp). More
than one lakh refugees are languishing in the camps while one lakh
and eighty thousand Lhotsampas (Nepali speaking Southern Bhutanese)
are in Bhutan.
Penetration by its cadres inside Bhutan and their mobilization has
been a top Maoist priority. The result: three districts namely Tashigang,
Samdrup Jonkhar and Samchi are now Maoist hotbeds. Bhutan's geographical
situation (65 percent forest and 80 percent mountainous and hill region),
says CPB, is suitable for guerrilla warfare.
Sources say, the party plans to start a 'People's War' from the northern
districts of Yangtse, Tashigang and Mongar where the state has a minimum
presence. These districts share a porous border with Arunachal state
of India, which China claims as its own. The Sarchops (ethnic Bhutanese
of the East) are the majority in that region. Sarchops account for
33 percent of the total population and they are coming under the influence
of CPB MLM. Sarchop Mukti Morcha, a sister organization of CPB was
formed a few months ago. Another organization called Gorkha Rastriya
Mukti Morcha led by Amar Chhetri (which demands six southern districts
be declared Gorkha Pradesh) has close ties with the Maoists.
However, an analyst warns that the idea to launch the war from the
southern stronghold of Lhotsamaps might be counterproductive. The
Druk regime has been terrorizing south Bhutan for years. As a result,
that part has become an epicentre of rebellion since the early 90s
when one lakh Nepali speaking Bhutanse were forced to leave their
Bhutan State Congress (est. 1952), led by DB Gurung, pioneered the
rebellion in 1954 from Sarbhang district of South Bhutan. Interestingly,
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had also taken part in the democratic
movement in Bhutan in the early 1950s. He disclosed the fact in his
memoir published in Nepal Weekly Magazine (Aug 20-26, 2007). CPB MLM
invokes Mahashur Chhetri, killed in 1954 uprising, as an inspiration
for their cause.
As mentioned above, Bhutanese Maoists have largely drawn the strategy
and tactics from Nepali Maoists. Bhutanese comrades have maintained
a rapport with the Nepali Maoists since its inception. Nepali Maoists,
sources say, provided ideological and material assistance to them.
Senior leaders of CPN (M) imparted training on firearms and ideological
and cultural issues. With both parties being members of the Coordination
Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPASA),
it's easier for them to cooperate, sources privy to the Maoists say.
CPB MLM actively participated in an international seminar organized
by CPN M between December 26 and 30, 2006.
If CPN Maoist enters mainstream politics shunning violence, they might
only share ideological grounds. Nevertheless, if the Constituent Assembly
polls did not take place and they adopted a policy of rebellion, relations
between these parties might extend to the level of material cooperation.
CPB also maintains close ties with the Communist Party of India Maoist.
Violence out of Compulsion?
The Bhutanese refugee stalemate is the main base where CPB aims to
launch a 'People's War.' Scholars had predicted that if the refugee
impasse remained for a long time, the youths would be drawn to violence.
Aruni John, a Sri Lankan scholar, in her research published by Colombo-based
think-tank Regional Centre for Strategic Studies as early as August
2000 wrote, "It is likely that the unemployed Bhutanese refugee
youths in Nepal will shortly become potential recruits for militant
forces that currently destabilized northeast India, southern Bhutan
and eastern Nepal."
She concluded, "Frustration with a legal process between the
governments of Bhutan and Nepal that appears to be going nowhere,
a splintered refugee leadership, a seemingly uncompromising Bhutanese
monarchy, and the lack of future options may push these refugee youth
to turn to militancy." Many Bhutanese leaders opine that the
Bhutan government should take the responsibility for the plight of
the refugees. Teknath Rizal, Chairman of Bhutanese Movement Steering
Committee, says, "Every person has a limit of tolerance. If that
limit is crossed, one is compelled to resort to arms."
The main reasons behind the formation of CPB are the frustration and
anger due to the protracted refugee crisis. But will politics of violence
be successful? A Bhutanese human rights leader has a few caveats.
He says it is problematic for an underground party to wage a war in
Bhutan due to the small size and the sparse population of the country.
He recollects the arrest of 39 Bhutanese following a cultural programme
organized by Maoists in May.
Bhutan with a population of seven lakh and fifty thousand has nearly
22 thousand security forces including the Royal Bhutan Army, Royal
Bodyguard and Royal Bhutan Police. Approximately 20 thousand Indian
Army personnel are currently stationed in Bhutan. The soldiers are
said to be kept in Bhutan for military training, road construction
and other development works. This heavy military presence makes it
difficult for CPB MLM to launch a 'People's War.' Probably taking
its cue from this scenario, CPB has asked other political parties
to launch a joint struggle against monarchy. A recent press release
undersigned by Vikalpa reads, "We request all the political parties
to form a unified front to fight against Bhutan's monarchy, the common
enemy of all democratic forces."
Thinley Penjor, chairman of Druk National Congress (DNC), while admitting
that the DNC and CPB cadres in Bhutan are working jointly at local
levels, hinted at the possibility of unity at the central level. Nepali
Maoist leaders had advised Bhutanese Maoists to work with other stakeholders.
Ram Karki, chief of Bhutan desk in the International Bureau of CPN
M, says, "The Bhutanese movement will succeed only if it joins
hands with DNC and BPP (Bhutan People's Party)."
Maoist leader Gaurav says, "It's easy to start an armed struggle
in Bhutan because the government is very weak. But, it may have to
face the military strength of India." Bhutan, surrounded by Indian
states fighting an insurgency for decades, is a strategically important
region. "That's why," he says, "India will try to prevent
a 'People's War.'" Like Nepal, it is sandwiched between China
and India. CPB has a nexus with ULFA and Bodo, separatist outfits
operating in northeast India.
When Nepal's Maoist conflict reached its apogee, India termed it a
common security threat for both countries. If such a Maoist conflict
spawns in Bhutan, it will definitely be a trilateral (Bhutan, Nepal
and India) issue. "Bhutanese Maoists have to directly confront
Indian security forces," says Ram Karki, central member of CPN
Indian interest in Bhutan is manifold. However, bilateral treaties
bind Bhutan with its southern neighbour. According to the India-Bhutan
Friendship Treaty of 1949, India has the prerogative over the issues
of foreign affairs and security of Bhutan. The treaty was amended
in February this year. Firstly, Article 2 has been rephrased and the
term 'guided by the advice by GOI' has been replaced by 'friendly
cooperation' in the context of Bhutan's foreign relations. Secondly,
Article 6 has been revised to the extent that Bhutan can act independently
in importing non-lethal equipment, but will still have to go by India's
assistance and approval for import of arms, ammunition, machines and
warlike materials and stores for Bhutan's welfare and protection.
Though, there seems to be some changes in theory, India still plays
in practice a significant role in the security and foreign relations
of the Druk regime.
India's special relation with Bhutan has irked Bhutanese refugee leaders.
Bhutanese leader Teknath Rizal says, "Aren't the issues raised
in Terai and ours the same? Why does India keep mum over our issue?"
India's diplomatic reticence is obvious given its involvement in hydropower
projects and military training in Bhutan. India has established a
Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Ha district of Bhutan. The Indian
army is also active in Bhutan under the name of the General Road Task
In early 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army with assistance from the Indian
army flushed out the insurgents operating in northeastern India from
their base in southern Bhutan. The separatist outfits, United Liberation
Front of Assam, National Democratic Front of Bodoland and Kamatapur
Liberation Organization, once welcomed by the royal government, were
later perceived as threats to the state. But three years after getting
rid of the Indian insurgents, the government is likely to confront
This confrontation can largely be traced to the refugee problem created
by Bhutan itself almost two decades ago. In this scenario enters the
United States with a proposal to resettle sixty thousand refugees.
This proposal, sources say, surfaced after the US detected growing
extremism in the refugee camps. Australia and Canada have also shown
willingness to take in a few thousand refugees.
But, the advocates of third country settlement have been targeted
by the Maoists. Two camp secretaries of Beldangi camp, Hari Adhikari
Bangaley and Manorath Khanal, have been frequently assaulted over
the last three months. Sources say Maoist cadres were involved in
the incidents. The CPB MLM took part in the 'Long March' movement
to return home in May this year. A press release of the party dated
June 7, 2007 reads, "The organizations privy to our party had
to lead the movement in Mechi Bridge due to the failure of the National
Front for Democracy."
In the same release, the party has vowed to start an armed struggle.
It remains to be seen whether CPB MLM will be confined to mere press
releases or carry out yet another 'People's War' in the subcontinent.
- Johan Peter Andresen, Leader of the Health Team for Nepal project.
Health Team for Nepal was formed in 2006. The aim of the Health Team
project is to help the poor people in the rural areas of Nepal. The
Health Team for Nepal cooperates with the medical department of the
People’s Liberation Army in order to attain this goal. The health team
for Nepal consists of two parts: the medical specialists and the