India has welcomed the agreement between the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) government and the Maoists early on Wednesday, as a victory for the people of Nepal. What the official statement by External Affairs Minister (EAM) Pranab Mukherjee did not talk about was the more than gentle nudges from New Delhi that went into ensuring that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement came to fruition.
When he met the Maoist leader Prachanda officially for the first time last week, India's man in Kathmandu, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, told him and his deputy Baburam Bhattarai they should not miss the opportunity to make history in the "transition of Nepal towards a settled constitutional order." While expressing India's total support for a peaceful transition to multi-party democracy, Mukherjee also said there could be no compromise on the issue of arms management.
There was no question of a group joining a democratic government carrying with it the baggage of arms and, by extension, threats of violence. The EAM, in his statement lauding today's announcement said, "The people of Nepal must have the right to freely choose and decide their own destiny and future without fear of the gun."
But India was equally insistent that the Maoists have to be part of the solution and leaned on the political parties to ensure that they carry the Maoists along.
The Maoists coming on board would also ensure that the monarchy was completely relegated to the sidelines, as a footnote of history, something that distinctly appealed to their Republican inclination.
India has displayed "flexibility" in allowing a definite involvement by the United Nations in the final arrangement, to oversee the handover of Maoist weapons. This demand by the Maoists was deemed acceptable, as New Delhi had no intention of getting into the contentious issue of managing arms deposited either by the Maoists or by the Nepalese army.
This definite shift from the past, when India regularly objected to and prevented the presence of the UN Human Rights observers in Nepal, convinced key players in Kathmandu that India was serious in wishing well for the future of Nepal.
Under this agreement, the Maoists will renounce violence, confine their cadres to cantonments and place their weapons in several safe houses under lock and key. Maoist commanders and the United Nations representative will hold the keys to this safe house, while the Nepalese Army will hand over an equal amount of its weapons to the SPA government for safekeeping.
The Maoists will then formally enter the political mainstream and join the interim government until elections are held for the Constituent Assembly in June 2007. The first act of the Assembly will be to formulate a permanent Constitution for Nepal.
This agreement, India expects, will "place Nepal on the path of reconciliation, peace, stability and economic recovery," that can only bode well for relations with a key neighbour.