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Karan tasked with handling Gyanendra

A DAY before the PM's special envoy to Nepal, Karan Singh, flies off for talks with King Gyanendra, India was hopeful that the Nepalese monarch would heed its advice and take some "steps in the right direction" shortly.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2006 01:25 IST

A DAY before the PM's special envoy to Nepal, Karan Singh, flies off for talks with King Gyanendra, India was hopeful that the Nepalese monarch would heed its advice and take some "steps in the right direction" shortly.

Beginning with the release of political prisoners, the king is likely to announce measures to defuse the current political crisis. Sources indicated that he may also hand over power to the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) - which is leading the pro-democracy movement -- and revert to the 1990 Constitution.

Singh, a former ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, is scheduled to meet the king on Thursday, the day the SPA plans to hold a massive pro-democracy demonstration in Kathmandu. He has been given a brief to reiterate India's message to Gyanendra: if he wishes to salvage the situation, he should hand over power to a representative of the SPA. As the seniormost politician in Nepal, Girija Prasad Koirala could assume charge initially.

There is excitement in Nepal over Singh's trip. SPA activists believe the outcome of Singh's meeting with the king would be "positive".

As pressure intensified against the monarchy in Nepal, a concerned Indian government on Tuesday decided to send Singh, MP and a senior Congress functionary, to Kathmandu as the PM's special envoy.

The decision came two days after Gyanendra began consultations, calling in diplomatic envoys from India, China and the US, and former Nepalese prime ministers.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who had a role in shaping India's policy towards Nepal after Gyanendra assumed direct control of the government 14 months ago, will join Singh in Kathmandu on Wednesday.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Navtej Sarna said India wants a "peaceful, political" solution to the ongoing crisis. But privately, officials in New Delhi say the popular struggle in Nepal for democracy has assumed "a life of its own" and become "people-driven". It cannot be moulded to suit the wishes of India or any other country.

Singh is also scheduled to meet political party leaders on Wednesday to try and resolve the impasse, but it is unlikely that he will be able to dissuade them from intensifying their protests. He will, however, stress on the need for unity among the political parties and ask them to chart out their future course of action, if they seek to assume power.

On the eve of his visit, Singh said: "We do not want to interfere in the internal affairs of Nepal, but we also cannot see it dissolve into a chaos." He said he will also "assess the general situation in Nepal, which is deteriorating rapidly."

He said a peaceful Nepal was in India's interests as "our vital security interests are involved and we also share an open border" with the Himalayan Kingdom.