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A Himalayan benchmark

For India, who has been an ardent advocate of democracy in Nepal, the elections provide an opportunity to rebuild relations with a strategically important neighbour.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2008 23:27 IST

It is a rare occasion in history that an underground movement actually transforms itself into a viable democratic entity. Beating all odds, this is exactly what seems to be happening in Nepal as the country’s 17.6 million voters have polled to end the monarchy and usher in a new republic. As of now, the Maoists, who have waged a bloody battle against the government, seem to be in the lead. But irrespective of who comes to power, the task of rebuilding the desperately poor nation is a formidable one. Until now, successive governments and the Maoists were locked in battle and each blamed the other for the ruination of a country that was once an attractive tourist destination. Nepal’s experiments with democracy, something that New Delhi has quietly encouraged, have not been the success it should have been. Part of this was due to the fact that the Maoists, who control large swathes of the Nepali hinterland, chose to stay away from the democratic process.

The stumbling block so far has been the monarch, King Gyanendra, who has never enjoyed the respect that his late brother, King Birendra did. Following the infamous palace massacre, the monarchy never regained its sheen and not too many people are mourning the fact that with these elections, the institution will cease to be major factor in Nepal. The King, to his credit, had called on people to vote and seems to have accepted that he will no longer be a force to contend with in the future of the country. But the challenge before whoever comes to power is in getting the country back on track after so many years of economic stagnation. The breathtakingly beautiful Himalayan nation was once a magnet for tourists but after the violence and mayhem of the last decade, foreigners have steered clear of it.

For India, who has been an ardent advocate of democracy in Nepal, the elections provide an opportunity to rebuild relations with a strategically important neighbour. While we may be vocal about not being in competition with China in the neighbourhood, New Delhi needs to be proactive on how to establish relations with the new dispensation in Kathmandu. India and Nepal have had historic links that we need to build on. We are also in a position to offer assistance on building democratic institutions in Nepal as well has enhance economic ties with it. Whichever way the dice falls, the strengthening of democracy in India’s neighbourhood from Pakistan to Bhutan and now Nepal augurs well for the South Asian region.