The Kathmandu conundrum
While India has welcomed King Gyanendra’s offer to hand over power to the seven party alliance (SPA), it remains caught in a bind; aware that the provisions of the announcement does not meet the SPA’s and popular aspirations, and hence prolong the state of uncertainty in Nepal, but wary that the Maoists might step in to grab the political space. Faced with a massive internal security problem from Naxalites and Maoists within its borders, India is not keen to see a radical change take place immediately in Nepal, favouring instead a more evenly-paced restoration of “genuine democracy,” that will “meet the aspirations of the people of Nepal.”
Privately conceding the rising mood in favour of republicanism in the Himalayan kingdom, New Delhi’s cautious approach stems from several factors — strategic, economic and cultural. One, the close links between the Indian Army and the Royal Nepalese Army, which has been the backbone of the monarch’s authority in Nepal. Second, the fear that the worsening law and order situation, coupled with the worsening economic crisis would lead to a massive migration of the Nepalese into India. Already, over a million Nepalese are
estimated to have crossed into India since Gyanendra assumed absolute power in February 2005. And, finally, fears that the Maoists (who have in the past been very critical of India) might gain control, fuelling the internal security crisis the government faces from Naxalites and Maoists. There was also “significant” support for the monarchy from the opposition BJP to be factored in.
Outraged when Gyanendra directly assumed control of government last year, India suspended all military aid and cut economic assistance to a trickle. It also renewed the bilateral transit treaty for a seven-year period, providing it some leverage with the otherwise intransigent monarch, who gradually shut himself off from any advice from India. At that point, India sent feelers to revive the political parties and made efforts to unify them against the monarch’s take over. Realising that there could be no military solution to the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, but that the Maoists were a hurdle to revival of the political process, the government’s Left allies pushed for the radical group to enter the political mainstream.
When the Maoists appeared amenable and willing to give up violence, they announced a ceasefire, providing an opportunity to the SPA to engage them in dialogue. The SPA and the Maoists then announced a joint programme to revive the democratic processes, first in November and then in February this year.
Meanwhile, India tried to impress upon the monarch the need to act swiftly to curb the spiralling popular unrest. But India did not make much headway until earlier this week, by which time it was already late. The PM sent Karan Singh, a senior Congressman, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Jammu and Kashmir, with family ties to the Nepalese royal family, as his Special Envoy to impress upon Gyanendra the need to immediately act. Singh’s mission was “successful” in that he got Gyanendra to hear him out and act on the specific suggestions India had made; handing over power to the SPA and reverting to the 1990 Constitution.
In a statement after the King’s address on Friday, MEA spokesman Navtej Sarna, said, “India welcomes his (the King’s) intention to transfer all executive power of the State to a government constituted by the alliance of the seven political parties, which has been in the forefront of the movement by the people of Nepal for the restoration of multi-party democracy and their democratic freedoms.”
Gyanendra’s announcement came shortly after India’s Ambassador to Nepal, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, met the King and within the twenty-four hours that Karan Singh had predicted. However, the SPA, expectedly, was not rising to the bait. Singh, who also met key leaders of the SPA, including former Premiers Girija Prasad Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Nepal and Surya Bahadur Thapa, urged the political parties to remain united to face the challenges the monarch posed.
India has not contacted the monarch officially since his announcement, but has been in touch with SPA leaders, urging them to accept the offer now and be in the position to make the changes. Gradually, India has moved from its stated policy of “twin pillars” of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy being necessary to one where it is “comfortable” with a merely ceremonial role for the monarch, if that.