Journalist | Writer | Analyst
Senior Nepali Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel on the future of Nepal-India relations and on the bizarre set of coincidences which led to his arrest in Chennai in 2003 for attempting to travel on a forged British passport.
30 January 2007
“We will put Nepal’s relations with India on a new and equal footing”
Out of Indian jail, Nepali Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel looks to future
NEW DELHI: A patently doctored British passport and the unfortunate coincidence of a British diplomat’s spouse passing through Chennai airport immigration at the time of his attempted departure for Europe in 2003 led senior Nepali Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel to spend more than three years in an Indian prison.
Back in Delhi now to attend a convention after being released from jail in December, C.P. Gajurel, 58, brushes aside his imprisonment as the product of “the risk every revolutionary has to take.”
Mr. Gajurel, also known as `Gaurav’, is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and head of its international affairs department.
“I had to travel to Europe to build support for our party,” Mr. Gajurel told The Hindu here on Monday when asked about the circumstances of his arrest. “A British passport originally belonging to a white, London-born doctor was arranged for him. “The person who provided it warned me that there was a flaw in the passport and a 10 per cent chance I would be caught. I decided to take the risk but at Chennai airport, an immigration official became suspicious. I answered all his questions but he couldn’t make up his mind”.
Unluckily for Mr. Gajurel, the wife of a British diplomat happened to walk past after seeing off her husband and the immigration official sought her opinion.
The Maoist leader thought it best to act friendly in order to get her on to his side. “It turned out that the British woman’s uncle worked at the same hospital where I said I worked. I said the hospital was big and that I didn’t know him but if she wanted to send a message I would happy to convey it!” said Mr. Gajurel. “She then asked me where I lived in London and how I commuted to the hospital. She also asked me about the tube fare and other details, which I couldn’t answer. So I changed tactics and said angrily, `Who are you to question me?'”
The diplomat’s wife promptly told the immigration official she thought the passport was forged and Mr. Gajurel was arrested on the spot.
He spent the next three years on remand in Chennai, often in solitary confinement except for the “hundreds of mosquitoes” whose company he was compelled to keep. “In those days, India was helping the King fight the Maoists so I was treated not as a political prisoner but a member of a terrorist group”. His cell had no fan or proper drinking water. The lone bulb that glowed faintly was not enough to read by once the sun had set. “I ruined my eyesight trying to read at night,” he said.
When the water made him sick, Mr. Gajurel preferred not to go to the jail hospital. “The prisoners all avoided the hospital. I was told they re-use syringes there”.
While in jail, Gajurel befriended Nakkeeran Gopal , the editor who was being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. “But when I helped him write a letter to the editor of The Hindu expressing his inability to attend the newspaper’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the jail warden got really angry and sent me back to solitary”, Mr. Gajurel said.
Convicted finally in 2006, Mr. Gajurel’s sentence was adjusted against the time he had already spent and he was released last September. He was promptly rearrested on a sedition charge and spent the next two months in a West Bengal jail until charges were dropped mid-December.
Despite the time he spent in Indian jails, Mr. Gajurel says India and Nepal have to put the past behind them and work to establish their relations on a new and equal footing. In particular, he says the Indo-Nepal treaty, which is 57 years old, is not in keeping with the changed situation. Asked about the future sale of electricity to India, Mr. Gajurel said Nepal’s first priority would be to use its water resources for its own development. “Certainly, we would like to share what we have, but after Nepal’s needs are taken care of”.
According to Mr. Gajurel, the United Nations mission in Nepal will probably take another two weeks to complete the process of registering and managing the arms and ammunition of Maoist combatants. Following that, the interim government with Maoist participation would be formed.
Asked about the ongoing agitation in Nepal’s Terai region — where a number of organisations representing the Hindi-speaking Madhesi people have declared a strike — Mr. Gajurel said he hoped the issue would be resolved soon. “Please remember the Maoists were the first to speak of Madhesi rights and we were the ones who wanted elections to the Constituent Assembly to be held on the basis of proportional representation [PR].” Under pressure from the seven-party alliance, the Maoists had to water down their demand for PR. “But now that others are trying to hijack our agenda, that too on a communal basis, we have to think about this issue again”.