Unlike in Nepal and India, they are still unfamiliar to the outside world. The red Maoists have just unfurled its flag in Bhutan, and have set the alarm bell of a new threat in the Eastern Himalayas.
Like the other South Asia countries, the secluded Dragon Kingdom too has started to witness Maoist movement, a political battle, aimed at abolishing the Monarchy from the last Shangri-La.
A series of bomb explosions mostly in the southern periphery of the Himalayan Kingdom, where majority of Nepali-speaking people dwell, during the last couple of years, is the announcement that the comrade-in-arms of the radical Communists are now looking for a political change.
The 2008 political transformation in Bhutan—from an absolute monarchy to a “constitutional monarchy” has been dubbed as an eye-wash by the Maoists. The red-brigade is determined to achieve a Nepal-like situation—establishment of Bhutan as a republic.
Formed on April 22, 2003, Communist Party of Bhutan, Marxists-Leninists-Maoists (CPB-MLM) is led by general secretary Comrade Vikalpa (literally means ‘alternative’). Birth of the radical Communist group came to fore after posters and pamphlets were first pasted couple of years ago mostly in the UNHCR-monitored seven refugee camps in eastern districts of Nepal.
Beginning of Maoist movement was natural in Bhutan as more than one hundred thousands genuine Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens have been living as “refugees” in Nepal since early 1990s due to forcible mass eviction from their villages in Bhutan. Doubtlessly, frustration due to long and unimproved living in refugee camps has largely contributed for many youths’ direct involvement in the CPB-MLM.
The Bhutanese Maoists announced their war after it faxed a 13-point demand to the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) on March 22, 2007, almost four years after the formal declaration of party. The demands stressed the need to introduce people’s democracy replacing monarchy, guarantee multi-party democracy, repatriation of the refugees with honor and dignity to their original homes and release all political prisoners.
Though their activities in Bhutan hardly existed in media light, they triumphantly boosted the party potency in refugee camps—either through closed door meetings, publications, mass gatherings or community-focused cultural shows. Their pro-people cultural shows in Bhutan, aimed at raising public awareness during the time of Hindus’ great festivals like the Dashain and Deepawali were, however, frequently generalized.
The Party has frequently claimed that they carried out the similar activities in 16 districts of Bhutan on the same day. This, however, is still at odds since it was neither reported by any media nor any strapping substantiation has substituted it, mainly from Vikapa’s side.
Tactically, Bhutanese Maoists are operating like the United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN-Maoists). The protracted People’s War, in their own words, is divided into three strategic phases—defense, balance and counter attack. Defense is again divided into three sub-phases: preparation, commencement and continuation. The preparation phase is again divided into four phases—ideological, organizational, technical and related to struggle.
CPB-MLM is operating with donation collection. They launch various fund-raising programs including cultural shows and direct donation from those having good income sources. All Bhutan People’s Cultural Forum, amongst at least half a dozen sister wings, organized a cultural program and a drama titled Paristhiti Le Janmaeko Lakshya (Goal Created by Circumstances) at the Nepal Academy in Kathmandu on May 10, 2007. They collected an estimated thirty thousand Nepalese rupees from tickets sales.
Due to ideological differences, now the party is believed to be divided into two factions–one led by Vikalpa and the other by Birat. A clear majority voice from the central committee members ousted Vikalpa from party’s brain-box position on January 20, 2008. He has been accused of being “opportunist”.
They are strongly guided by Mao’s doctrine of ‘encircling city from village.’ This should serve as one reason why the deviated faction of the same party led by Birat that waged arms for the first time in Bhutan on January 3, 2008 termed it ‘armed rural class struggle’.
The decade long arm struggle by Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), now UCPN-Maoists, in Nepal is one of their major sources for motivation. Nepal Weekly, one of Nepal’s largest magazines, ran a special report by Deepak Adhikari on rise in communism in Bhutan in 2007. Quoting unnamed source, the report disclosed that Nepali Maoists have provided ideological and material assistance to them. Also, cadres of CPB-MLM have a common say – Maoists around the globe have common ideology and they support each other.
If the findings in this national magazine were to be fact-based, it has mentioned that the senior leaders of UCPN-Maoists imparted training in firearms, ideology and cultural issues to their Bhutanese comrades.
Both of the party’s direct links with Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPASA), as they are members, could be one basis of their closeness in exchanging good-will carry—both logistic and materials. Local leaders of UCPN-Maoists are often seen as guest speaker during the CPB-MLM’s mass meeting in refugee camps. CPB-MLM actively participated in an international seminar organized by Nepali Maoists in the last week of December 2006.
The weekly magazine also quoted CP Gajurel ‘Gaurav’, who is now secretary of UCPN-M, as saying “we are very close, for we follow the same ideology in the first place and they are also people of Nepali origin in the second.” He had disclosed that most of the CPB-MLM leaders were trained and inspired by the People’s War of Nepal. According to Gajurel, they are helping the Bhutanese Maoists in guerrilla warfare strategy and working policy.
In 2003, Nepalese security forces had arrested several cadres of CPB-MLM, whom the party later described as their “well-wishers”, for having direct links with Nepali Maoists and were sternly interrogated.
Securing Indian support is a must for any parties in Bhutan—be it the one carrying peaceful agendas or the one claiming to be revolutionary outfit, to strengthen their call for democracy in Bhutan. A report by BBC on November 14, 2008 (India-Bhutan rebel link exposed) articulates this fact.
The separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) – the former fighting for Assam’s independence and the latter for an independent homeland for Bodo people – had more than 30 bases in southern Bhutan. The bases were demolished by the Royal Bhutan Army during the Operation All-Clear in December 2003.
During police interrogation, Tenzing Zangpo, a leader of the Druk National Congress had disclosed about Bhutanese Maoists’ “close links” with rebels in Assam since his party, as per Zangpo, had links with Maoist movement in Bhutan. Zangpo was arrested in by the Assam police for his alleged involvement in October 2008 blasts in Assam that killed 84 people.
Political analyst and senior Bhutanese leader R. P. Subba, who is now in USA, says reciprocation for India’s soft approach towards the Bhutanese dissidents during their initial days of the pro-democracy movement, the Bhutanese regime invited and sheltered various Indian militant insurgents in the Bhutanese soil in the early 1990s. This alliance was built on a stream of mutual interests between the Royal government of Bhutan and the north east militants.
Interestingly, a book titled ‘Bhutanese Communist Movement: Brief Study of Essence’ by “Vigyan”, central committee member of the Birat-faction of CPB-MLM have flatly denied their connection with Indian radical force. In an e-mail interview with the writer of this piece, Vikalpa, however, claims about their working relation with radical forces in India
Soon after Vikalpa was ousted from the party, the Birat-led CPB-MLM rocked the kingdom with a series of bombs on the night of February 3, 2008 in Samtse district which damaged the materials brought by the Druk government for the National Assembly election. Their call for arm-launch against the monarchy, thus, was called ‘armed rural class struggle’.
Vikalpa’s MLM also separately marked the start of arm revolt against the absolute regime with twin blasts, one near Nainital Primary School in Samtse district and another near the Damchen Petroleum depot in Chukha on June 5, 2008. No human casualties were reported, however, a central committee member of the latter faction was detained by the Royal Bhutan Army.
Besides Maoists groups, two other groups—United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan (URFB) and Bhutan Tigers Force (BTF) are also actively seen for plantation of explosives in Bhutan at various times.
The URFB had exploded serial bomb between January 20 and March 20, 2008 in Thimpu, Chukha, Dagana and Samtse as warnings to the Bhutan Government and for a response to resolve all the impending problems before any significant political changes.
The two bomb blasts in Sibsoo police station of Samchi district on March 20, 2008 at about 12.45 and 01.12 p.m. was the sequel of three blasts since January 20, 2008. This was the third blast of the URFB within time span of five days in the wake to foil the first general election in the country on March 24, 2008. A blast near Singay village in Sarpang district on December 30, 2008 claimed the lives of four leaving two injured.
The BTF is often seen actively involved in raising awareness about the armed struggle through pamphlets and posters in the Himalayan country. The frequent hoisting of the communist flag in the southern districts has been publicised by the Druk media. The hit-and-run operations indicate that the armed struggle in Bhutan will continue unless an amicable solution is not found at the earliest possible.
Though it is difficult to claim the cooperation between the insurgent outfits, but their common minimal program seems to launch an armed struggle against the absolute regime. However, both the BTF and the URFB are not ideology-driven.
In the wake to address the immediate demand to daunt the Maoists attacks, the government arrested at least 39 civilians in December 27, 2007 from southern part of the country for their alleged involvement in radical Communist movement. The government imprisoned them ranging from 5-9 years jail term. The CPB-MLM has denied the involvement of those detainees in their party.
The Royal government introduced volunteers to patrol at night in early 2008. Each household had to send a volunteer to patrol every night. They used to check on schools, hospitals and other public places. This is not a fair initiation of the government to counter armed attacks. Innocent civilians should not be used as shield in the name of fighting armed rebellion. Rather, the government should resolve the issues politically.
Initially, the CPB-MLM cadres opposed the resettlement scheme, brought up by the UNHCR and US government, and even camp residents were threatened to boycott the process. The Birat-led faction of the MLM outfit claims that several cadres who used to work with ousted Vikalpa have already reached western countries under third country resettlement process. An estimated 26 thousands have been already resettled in seven different western countries including the US.
If Comrade Birat and his cadres are true, there is a strong possibility that a section of the resettled Bhutanese refugees, after attaining financial independence, would extend full support to the Maoists groups, and plunge Bhutan towards a bloody war.
Monarchy Vs Communism
Rise of communism in Bhutan pose obvious threat to the Monarchy, if the present political system goes unaddressed for some more years. Right decision on wrong time often pushes the country to political turmoil. No where in histories we find monarchy and communism standing on the same political platform.
The RGOB should not escape from furnishing a peaceful solution through dialogue, and this is the right time. It must see what is happening in neighboring countries – the ongoing violence in Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The decade-long Maoist insurgency in Nepal could be a better lesson. The Bhutan government should try to resolve its political problem before it is too late.
Senior Nepali journalist Dhruba Hari Adhikari sees Bhutanese monarchy bordered with threats if ascend in communism keeps its expedited pace. “At the moment, New Delhi is protecting Bhutanese monarch but once people rise up, I don’t think it can be stopped for ever.”
Peaceful means can never be replaced by any other forms of struggle for the establishment of democracy and human rights in any country. Yet, with the rise of communism in the last Shangri-La, a bigger challenge may end the Druk monarchy if all Bhutanese revolutionary outfits, by chance, come to a single platform and wage a bigger arms struggle.
Reproduced from ‘LOOK EAST’, South Asia regional-level monthly magazine based in India. Mishra, who currently lives in USA, is its Bhutan Correspondent.