India is ready to work with the Maoists in Nepal, New Delhi's envoy said on Sunday, as results of the elections in the Himalayan kingdom putting the rebels ahead of others stunned key international players.
"We will go by the wishes of the people of Nepal and accept their mandate," India's ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee told IANS on telephone from Kathmandu. "India will actively work with whichever party forms the government in Nepal."
The possibility of the Maoists emerging as the largest party after Thursday's elections in Nepal appears to have caught many key international players, India included, unawares.
Till recently, the Indian establishment had felt that the Maoists would win a significant number of seats but it had not expected them to emerge as the largest political group.
The US assessment also seemed to be on similar lines. No wonder, the Bush administration made no attempt to get the Maoists off the State Department's list of "terrorist groups".
The complete results of the elections might come only after 10 to 12 days. But the trends suggest that though the other major political parties - the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist - might win some more seats, both could end up playing the role of junior partners to the Maoists.
Former Indian ambassador to Nepal, Deb Mukherjee, accepted that the emerging results were a surprise. He said these had gone beyond everybody's expectations, including the Maoists themselves.
"It not only caught India and other countries unawares but I think it has even gone far beyond the expectations of the Maoists," Mukherjee told IANS.
After the results are complete, two major challenges would face the new leadership in Nepal. The first has to do with the new constitution for the country.
One of the main planks for the Maoists as well as most other political parties in the election was to turn the country into a republic. But it remains to be seen what shape the constitution takes and more importantly whether it permits any future role for the king of Nepal.
The second challenge would be in forming the government. Although the Maoists were likely to emerge as the largest political party, they might have to bank on the support of other parties to form the next government.
India's unease with the Maoists stems not only from its track record of leading a violent and prolonged armed insurrection in Nepal for nearly 12 years but also from their insistence on reviewing all existing treaties that previous Nepalese governments have had with other countries.
But Mukherjee was of the view that India should not worry too much about such statements since any government in Kathmandu would need New Delhi's support to ensure progress and prosperity in Nepal.
"The demand for a review of the Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 had been raised even in the past. But since the Nepalese leaders realise that Nepal benefits more from the treaty than India, the demand to review was never seriously pursued," Mukherjee added.
India has traditionally based its Nepal policy on the "twin pillar" of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy. This worked well for years. It started changing with the emergence of the Maoists as a major force.
With the elections establishing the Maoists as the possible largest political group in Nepal, analysts say, it will be a major task both for New Delhi and the future government in Kathmandu to work out a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship.