The leader of any nation, that too a first-time one, is bound to be anxious to put a stamp on its foreign policy. Nepal’s Pushpa Kamal Dahal a.k.a Prachanda is no exception. So following the historic win of the Maoists in Nepal’s elections, he has spoken of the need to renegotiate the 1950 Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty. Now, in normal circumstances, New Delhi would not have taken kindly to such a suggestion. But it has responded with considerable savoir-faire, even welcoming the proposal. The treaty as it stands is favourable to land-locked Nepal that depends on India for a variety of essentials including fuel. India is also able to respond with such élan since it seems unlikely that Prachanda can — indeed will — try to play China against India. The Chinese have made it clear that it has no truck with Maoist ideology and that it will work with whichever government comes to power in Kathmandu.
None of this has been lost on Prachanda who surprised everyone by calling on the US ambassador when it became clear that the Maoists were sure to form the government. The transformation from underground revolutionary to statesman seems well underway. From demanding King Gyanendra’s head, Prachanda today is willing to meet the now powerless monarch to work out the modalities of his withdrawal from the political stage. In the coming days, New Delhi must tread carefully and avoid any Big Brother-like pronouncements. Nepali politicians have always been chary of India, the Maoists particularly so. India has the advantage of having in government the Left, many of whose leaders have close ties with the Maoists top brass.
Shattered by more than a decade of violence, Nepal is in dire need of help to rebuild its ruined economy. Here is where India can make a significant contribution. So far, both sides seem to be moving along to the script. The fact that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has lost no time in scheduling a visit to Nepal and holding talks with Prachanda suggests that many issues which are still up in the air will be resolved right at the starting block.