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Karan Singh's mission sends mixed signals to Nepal

The arrival of special envoy Karan Singh has left people wondering whether India has sent him to save democracy or monarchy.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 13:17 IST

The arrival here of Karan Singh as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy to Nepal has sent mixed signals with people in the kingdom wondering if India has sent him to save democracy or the monarchy.

"There is room for doubt since New Delhi has chosen as its emissary someone who is a scion of an Indian royal family himself and is related to King Gyanendra," says CP Mainali, chief of the United Left Front that is a member of the seven-party opposition alliance fighting the king's absolute rule since last year.

"Though Singh would convey the Indian government's views and not his personal ones, yet misgivings remain.

But if New Delhi had sent someone known to be totally committed to democracy and to be a true friend of Nepal without harbouring any ulterior motive, people would have been reassured."

Sitaram Yechuri, leader of India's Communist Party of India-Marxist, who visited Nepal twice along with a delegation of left leaders to express solidarity with the pro-democracy movement, is the name springing to the lips of anti-King protesters.

In 1950 a mass uprising ended the despotic rule of the Rana dynasty and in 1990 another upsurge clipped the absolute power of the then omnipotent Shah kings and established a multi-party democracy.

Though each time India supported the protesters, a section of Nepalis feel that, in the bargain, New Delhi tried to derive economic and security benefits.

"India should have sent an envoy like (former prime minister and socialist leader) Chandra Shekhar," said Yugnath Sharma, managing editor of an eveninger and a weekly.

During the pro-democracy movement in 1990 that forced the current king's elder brother Birendra to concede power to the people, Chandra Shekhar, leader of the then Janata Party, had come to Nepal at the invitation of the Nepali Congress.

The Indian leader garnered immense popularity by addressing public rallies where he spoke in support of democracy.

"India has always been supporting constitutional monarchy," said an underground opposition leader, whose party is one of the smaller partners in the opposition alliance.

"However, the ongoing agitation seeks to abolish kingship and turn Nepal into a republic. The movement is no longer under the control of the alliance, whose bigger partners are still hesitant to demolish monarchy. It has truly become a people's movement.

"If India fails to heed the voice of the people, Nepalis would not forgive that easily," he said.

Since April 6, when the opposition parties called a nationwide shutdown to pressure Gyanendra to relinquish power and restore democracy, the protests have snowballed with thousands of people joining the anti-king stir.

Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur, Nepal's biggest and most influential daily, while crediting Karan Singh with "quiet diplomacy skills", however, was not convinced foreign envoys would be able to make Gyanendra see reason.

"For four years, a host of foreign diplomats and envoys has been trying to make the king understand the gravity of the situation," he said. "No one has succeeded. This government fears protests, fears people, fears democracy. It will take a long time before the crisis is resolved."

First Published: Apr 20, 2006 12:50 IST