India and the Great Nepalese Crisis

Alok Bansal

The recent announcements by Madhav Kumar Nepal, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), that Maoists are willing to give up arms and join the mainstream necessitates neighbouring India to have a fresh look at the crisis. According to him the Maoists are ready to lay down their arms under UN supervision if there is a consensus for the election to a constituent assembly. The CPN-UML leader also reiterated that the seven-party political alliance which hammered out a 12 point understanding recently with the Maoists has installed new hope for peace in the country.

The royal government is definitely not comfortable with the developments. However, it provides a window of opportunity to bring peace to this strife torn kingdom which has been ruled by King Gyanendra with an iron hand ever since he sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to take over the direct control of government.

Although the Maoist insurgents have been active in Nepal since 1996, the state structure was not on the verge of collapse till the King decided to sack the Prime Minister. Since then Nepal has witnessed enhanced levels of violence. Maoist rebels in Nepal have however, been silent since September 3, 2005, when they unilaterally declared a three month ceasefire and outmanoeuvred King Gyanendra, who was planning a UN trip to seek international support against ‘terrorism’. He was forced to cancel the trip under humiliating circumstances, which included removal of his name from the guest list of President Bush. The Maoists have not only appealed for UN mediation but have also succeeded in convincing the democratic forces that it was the right time to have a new constitution drafted through an elected Constituent Assembly.

The King as usual has responded with more oppressive measures. In an ordinance promulgated on October 9, he has imposed strict control over media ownership and publications, and has banned the broadcast of news on FM radios. The import of foreign publications has been restricted and any news that ‘causes hatred or disrespect’ to any member of the royal family has been prohibited. Under the provisions of this ordinance the broadcast equipment of FM radios have been seized and a number of journalists have been put behind the bars.

The crisis in Nepal and recent calls for UN intervention by Maoists have caused severe anxiety in India., as any intervention by outside powers in Nepal would severely undermine India’s stature and authority in the region. On the other hand some analysts perceive that rising Maoists will not only provide moral, but also material support to the radical left wing insurgency in India. They see a Red Corridor emerging from Nepal to Tamil Nadu. Some of them have gone to the extent of recommending fencing of Indian borders with Nepal. Some others feel that India has no other option but to support the King. Fencing at a time when the barriers are being brought down across the globe and when the recent SAARC summit has talked about a South Asian Economic Union, will only be a retrograde step but will also drive a wedge between the Indian and Nepali populace which have long standing historical, cultural and linguistic ties.

Similarly, supporting the King would amount to condoning his undemocratic and reprehensible acts. Moreover he has never hidden his anti India agenda as indicated during the recent SAARC summit in Dhaka. At a time when Nepal is on the verge of collapse, he not only disregarded Indian advice to democratise the polity in Nepal but also tried to belittle India by insisting on Chinese admission to SAARC as a precondition for admitting Afghanistan. His only motive being to diminish India’s overwhelming presence in SAARC by getting China into the organisation. And now the Chinese arms flow into the kingdom to suppress the rebellion has cleared all speculations about the grand alliance.

As a growing regional power, India needs to assert itself and respond to this great Nepalese strategic design. Any reticence at this stage will only indicate weakness and may embolden other smaller countries in the region to defy India and to work against Indian Interests.

Nepal shares a special relationship with India. Not only India has an open border but also over seven million Nepalis are believed to be residing in India. Over 40,000 Nepalis are serving in the Indian Armed Forces and approximately 120,000 Indian ex-servicemen living in Nepal. Peace and tranquillity in Nepal is always in India’s interest.

The ideal solution to Nepal’s problems would be the establishment of a truly representative parliamentary democracy with or without the king as a figurehead. India along with other democratic nations had unambiguously stated that it would like to see the democratic setup restored in Nepal and must pressurise the government to yield to the democratic aspirations of its population.

Author Note
The author is New Delhi based Defence and Security Analyst