Originally Published 2006-05-24 06:51:59 Published on May 24, 2006
A policy of deception on Nepal
India has turned back from the brink of disaster over Nepal. For years it has remained a confused and uncertain observer of the Nepal crisis that was precipitated by the Maoist uprising and King Gyanendra's despotism. Its moves in response to the crisis were slow, half-hearted and bereft of an understanding of the political reality on the ground. 

Its moves to bail out the king and hastily endorse his proclamation of April 21 were disastrous. Of course it was an Indian formula that the king was working on and this obviously infuriated the people of Nepal. There were two problems with India's prompt endorsement of the king's proclamation. One, it ignored the fact that Gyanendra had couched his proclamation in crafty formulations to justify his power grab of February 1, 2005. He had not a word of apology for his repression; not a word of sympathy for the victims of this repression. The second problem was India's attachment to its two-pillar formulation: constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy - even when the two entities were at daggers drawn. 

India's mission to rescue the monarch was driven by a number of diverse factors. One was the Indian establishment's myopic view of the Nepal Maoists, conditioned heavily by intelligence agencies. Second was the Indian army's parochial affection for the Royal Nepal Army, which had constituted the king's strong arm against his own people. Then there was the excessive and decisive influence of the king's carefully nursed constituencies in India - the feudal and Hindutva segments. Four was India's self-imposed compulsion to accommodate the American preference for the king. And, lastly, a democratic and republican India seemed to lack the confidence to deal with a republican transformation of Nepal. India's interest in stability is understandable but stability is not status quo. The king had long ceased to be a source of stability in Nepal. He was part of the problem and his continuation as an active ruler will certainly not cater to building enduring stability in Nepal. 

A careful scrutiny of the past 60 years of history will show that the monarchy did its utmost to frustrate India's vital national interests in Nepal in the fields of security, energy and development. This was done at the cost of Nepal's own development and prosperity. The anti-Indian orientation to Nepalese nationalism can also be attributed, in large measure, to the monarchy. To protect such an institution in the name of stability - nay status quo - is contrary to the interests of both India and Nepal. 

It's tragic that a preference for the status quo marked India's approach to Nepal for the past 60 years. At all the critical junctures in Nepal's political evolution, India has compromised on democracy and opted for the status quo. In 1951, even Nehru's bold move to rescue the king from Rana rule in the interests of democracy was tarnished by India forcing King Tribhuvan and the Nepali Congress to cohabit with the discredited Ranas in the first cabinet under the tripartite agreement of 1951. 

During the late '50s, India ignored the demand of a Constituent Assembly and imposed a constitution on Nepal that enabled King Mahendra to overthrow an 18-month-old representative government in December 1960. Nehru condemned Mahendra's move, but his successors succumbed to the king's use of China card against India. Indira Gandhi, because of her own domestic compulsions, forced B.P. Koirala to compromise with the king in 1976. Again, in 1980, on the critical question of a referendum in Nepal, India's tacit blessings were for a "reformed panchayat system" under the king's leadership, and not multi-party democracy. During 1989, the Rajiv Gandhi's government did provide decisive backing to the democracy movement of Nepal through trade restrictions on the royal regime but this was soon reversed by the succeeding V.P. Singh government. In 1990, India remained totally complacent about the drafting of a new constitution in Nepal. It not only enshrined the provision of hidden power for the king but also constrained prospects of India-Nepal cooperation in harnessing natural resources like water. It was the abuse of this constitution by the king that precipitated the present crisis. 

The real challenge for India in Nepal has only just begun - with the restoration of parliament. It can be met only if India sheds off its inherent preference for the status quo and relates itself to the popular forces in Nepal today. 

The writer is Advisor to Chairman, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. 

Source: The Indian Express, New Delhi, April 29, 2006

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