Rise of Red-army in the Last Shangri-La

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.  

Press Release of CPB-MLM that mentions their 13-point demands. Photo/Author
Press Release of CPB-MLM that mentions their 13-point demands. Photo/Author

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.

MLM comrades performing a pro-people drama in Kathmandu Nepal. Photo/BNS
MLM comrades performing a pro-people drama in Kathmandu Nepal. Photo/BNS

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’.   

Links
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.

Cover page of the book 'Bhutanese Communist Movement: Brief Study of Essence’ by “Vigyan”. Photo/Author
Cover page of the book 'Bhutanese Communist Movement: Brief Study of Essence’ by “Vigyan”. Photo/Author

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

Operations
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.

Cadres of CPB-MLM in a closed-door meeting in refugee camp. Photo/E-kantipur
Cadres of CPB-MLM in a closed-door meeting in refugee camp. Photo/E-kantipur

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.

The Class Struggle, a news bulletin published by the Vikalpa faction of MLM. The paper is widely circulated inside camps. Photo/Author
The Class Struggle, a news bulletin published by the Vikalpa faction of MLM. The paper is widely circulated inside camps. Photo/Author

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.  

13 Comments

  1. The Bhutanese Communist movement is a movement to be watched by all, critically and closely. The communists claim very candidly that they are the last vestige of the Bhutanese struggle against a regime of tyranny. The modus operandi of their struggle is yet hardly known to anyone, as by nature their operations are mostly ‘underground’ and they avoid the attention of the mass media. But it may not be wrong to say that they are already beginning to raise the eye brows of some political pundits in the region.

    Many will also observe that the Bhutanese communists have already started impacting and marginalizing the influence of the main stream exile political parties; whose ‘struggle’ in the last one decade has remained confined mostly to writing press releases.

    The writer has tried to provide a glimpse of this struggle from outside, which itself is a very bold attempt.

  2. I read the piece. It is well researched and a fact. I believe the piece is an eyeopener to the existing government of Bhutan to resolve the issue. Kudos Mr. Mishra. Keep writing such pieces!

    Suman/New York

  3. Though I am not a guru in this subject, judging from my own lay mans view and the experience we have had for the last 20 years with all kinds of movements including the Maoists, let me tell that there is going to be nothing except that some more of us will die terrible deaths.

  4. I see that the communist party leaders are no different from the other self-serving party leaders. They will achieve nothing, except give more trouble to their followers. Inside Bhutan, people are very united and growing ever more prosperous. Even we southern Bhutanese are very happy since the start of the new form of government. When i travel back to Bhutan from India or Nepal, I feel like I have reached a developed country where things are clean and in order. Please don’t be misled by so called leaders. Think deeply for yourself.

  5. Few rumours in circulation have included that some senior “leaders” of the Moists have been resettled in the United States. Have been wondering how true that is.

    In terms of funds collection, the article does not mention extortion, which is a huge part of Maoist fundraising tool. It also does not address the intimidation, harassment and sometimes direct murders (no matter how much the Maoists deny them) of common refugees in the camps by the Maoists. Maoism flourishes on a fear-psychosis, and that has been rampant in the camps. I hope the author intends to address these issues as well, exposing the Maoists for what they really are.

    In terms of resettled Bhutanese eventualy funding an armed uprising in Bhutan, there will be an equally, if not larger, protion of resettled refugees working actively to check and stifle an armed Maoist struggle in Bhutan. There are enough Bhutanese in exile who have seen the Maoists for the scourge they are all over the world, and the scant regard they have for human life(they being a lot lower than murder squad of drug cartels in the scheme of morality). There will be an active work done by the Bhutanese abroad to snuff out the supporters of the Maoists in whichever country they operate, especially in the United States.
    The Bhutanese need to band together to ensure that Bhutan does not have to witness what an idiot in China called the ‘great leap forward,’ involving the mass murder and extermination of everything that symbolized civilization.

  6. I am not sure about if the struggle is really going on, the writeups is well written. My history teacher Mr. M.M Patra who was popular in western Bhutan very often used to quote “When negotiation fails, byonet is the answer and when byonet fails, there should be immediate bombing”.I am not sure if this applies in case of Bhutan and I tell you I am not a Maoist.

  7. Rise of red army. I don’t think you can call your self army, but a bunch of sick and psychotic people. A murderer. The leaders of the so called bhutanese moaist are basically a coward, illeterate and trying to mislead our innocent lhotsampas who are now happy and knows that they have a better future. The writer never mentioned about what happened at the camp with the verification team who were working on repatrition of genuine bhutanese. Killing their own leaders who were genuinely interested in the process of third country settlement. Other people trying to take the oppuntunity to travel to US. Don’t try to compare Bhutan with Nepal and create nepa-like situation. Unlike the Nepalese we love and revere our Kings and Bhutanese will always be united to fight against any evil attacks to our King, country and people. Pelden Drupa Gyelo.

  8. Communism is a principle, more accurately a philosophy. It advocates more on political sphere and economical welbeing.
    Today it is more a system of governance. I’m not concern with what writer wanted to convey but I’m brooding on other aspect. How can three systems of governing principle sustain in a small country of just 7 lakhs population? Is it feasible? Definitely no. All have the repulsion characteristics to each other and all the time creating void and confusion. One has to come up with a clear cut principle that do match the existing parameters, other things remaining the same.
    Bhutan has adopted a constitutional monarchy form of government and slowly and gradually the devolution of power is undertaking. Drastic intervention will lead to havoc that won’t be good at all.
    It would be wise if the exilities try to find their path within the existing and available parameters. In the nation building process, one has to take the role of one unit of brick that can sustain the imposed load. Otherwise the system will collapse and need for alternative material.
    The country had bad time and we all Bhutanese suffered directly or indirectly. It is not that only the exile people suffered. Some opportunities took the advantage and created a misleading situation.

  9. Its nothing only the way to be known so called leader in the camp with different feelings but same fowl mind. The easiest way i could say is to opt for third country resettlement than to die being nowhere.

  10. I read the piece it is well research one. this shows the reality of bhutanese movement.I found something missconcept in Dalut about communism.about coward dalut ji time shows that weather you or communist is cowadr. also according to you bhutan communist party leaders are illeterate ya not only bhutanese communist leaders are illeterate communist party itself is a party of labour,poor, and illeterate people.party works only in favour of the lower class . not in favour of people who is so called leterate and able to exploit the illeterate of that same society like you.

  11. i do think cpb(mlm) should start stratrageic war from this moment to defeat those coward tibet origin people & their autocratic chief (so called jigme) to establish a great republic under our lhotsampa people & show power of Gorkha blood.

  12. I oppose Maoism, since it is a Stalinist ideology. But the Kingdom of Bhutan is no democracy. It is a fake-democracy were only the pro-monarchist; People’s Democratic Party and the Bhutan Peace and Development Party are legalized!

    Parties that oppose the Dragon monarchy are banned and that is why I call Bhutan no democracy or a free nation. As long as the ruling class and Dragon king bans political opposition, I can understand those who join the Maoists.

    Bhutan must allow freedom of speech, even speech that opposes the monarchy and the Dragon king. The Bhutan People’s Party is to be legalized and allowed to participate in elections.

    As a revolutionary socialist I oppose monarchies and societies that are feudal like Bhutan. Landlords, kings and capitalists. They must be removed from power. Since the Dragon king does not tolerant anti-monarchists we need a proletarian revolution. There can be no peace with those who use violence against opposition figures.

    Down with the Dragon King
    Down with the Bhutan monarchy

    For a socialist Bhutan under democratic control of workers and peasants!

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