India extends olive branch to Maoists

India on Friday extended diplomatic ties to the rebels on the occasion of its 58th Republic Day.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2007 12:11 IST

Acknowledging the transformation of Nepal's communist guerrillas into a mainstream party and one of the most influential political forces in the kingdom, India on Friday extended diplomatic ties to the rebels on the occasion of its 58th Republic Day.

For the first time, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu invited top Maoist leaders and newly sworn in Maoist legislators to the Republic Day celebrations hosted by Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee at his residence.

"We are glad," Krishna Bahadur Mahara, leader of the rebels' parliamentary party said. "We will attend the programme, regarding it as an opportunity to strengthen our diplomatic ties."

Traditionally, the event is celebrated in the Indian Embassy every year with a flag-hoisting ceremony in the morning followed by a lavish lunch attended by almost all of who's who of Nepal.

Till last year, when King Gyanendra was head of government on Jan 26, it was inconceivable that the Maoist top brass would be present since they were declared terrorists by the governments of Nepal and India.

However, New Delhi began to thaw towards the guerrillas after they formed an alliance with the seven major opposition parties to oppose King Gyanendra's unconstitutional power grab with the help of the Army.

Indian communist leaders and intellectuals played a key role in persuading the government to provide safe space in India for Nepal's opposition parties and the Maoist top leaders to come together.

The result was the launch of a peaceful anti-king movement in Nepal that overthrew the royal regime in April and saw the Maoists pledging to lay down arms.

This month, the guerrillas created history by returning to Parliament with 73 MPs and 10 more independent legislators supported by them.

Though Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee did not meet the Maoists during his visit to Nepal saying that would be done after the rebels joined the government, New Delhi decided to extend a diplomatic olive branch to the party this month with the invitation.

The invite will also bring the Maoists face to face with their bete noire, the American Ambassador to Nepal, James Francis Moriarty.

The envoy had criticised the rebels only this month, saying they were trying to dupe the UN arms monitors by laying down "crummy", primitive guns bought from Bihar across the border while retaining their sophisticated firearms.

The government of Nepal denied the allegation, saying they had faith that the Maoists would lay down all their weapons before UN officials.

First Published: Jan 26, 2007 12:11 IST