Suhas Chakma


India has so far been the most important neighbour of Nepal. The proposed visit by Indian Foreign Minister to Nepal has the potential of both solving the problem or complicating it.


India’s Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna undertakes a visit to Nepal from Jan. 15, at a time when Nepal is showing some progress with regard to the dangerously stalled peace process. The formation of the High Level Political Mechanism (HLPM) has been welcomed across the spectrum. The question remains whether the Maoists are ready to de-link the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) from power-sharing. Besides, will the Maoists abandon their plan for an indefinite strike from Jan. 23?


Foreign Minister Krishna can play a critical role to rally support for the HLPM and dispel the mistrust between the Maoists and other political parties. The clarification of the Indian Embassy in Nepal with regard to the purported statement of the India’s Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor — who often suffers from “foot in the mouth” disease, on the integration of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army — has been helpful. 


The clarification however does not mean there is a rapprochement between the Maoists and the government of India already. It was more aimed to assuage increasing anti-India sentiments that the Maoists have been whipping up. Many Indian leaders, including BJP’s Yashwant Sinha in a recent meeting with the author and two senior journalists of Nepal, expressed concerns about Maoists’ alleged anti-India statements — especially Chairman Prachanda’s march to what could be described as “disputed piece in the border”. Border disputes cannot be resolved by such marches. It helps Prachanda to identify himself with the hardliners in the party and absolutely makes the authorities in New Delhi dizzy. Undoubtedly, the Maoists committed many mistakes while in the government for nine months. They ignored other political parties and unleashed violence against them through the Young Communist League (YCL) cadres. They failed to establish accountability for crimes committed by their cadres. There has been little change. Prachanda continues to make many impulsive statements, including those directed against India which the Maoists themselves concede were responsible for their ouster from power in May 2009.


New Delhi on its part adopted what at best can be described as “band aid” policy of keeping the Maoists out of power. India’s Nepal policy has been left mostly to the officials who espouse disengagement with the Maoists but at the same time want the Maoists to unilaterally reign in, if not disband, the YCL and anti-India rhetoric. While the Maoists must bring an end to politics of violence including by the YCL cadres, Indian officials’ justification of violence by the Youth Force of the UML as “natural reaction” is at odds with its opposition to the YCL violence.


Not surprisingly, making hard-line statements is no longer only the forte of UML leader K.P. Oli. Even Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal warned that the Maoists will be wiped out like the Sri Lanka’s LTTE should they return to jungle. Granted, the Maoists must bring an end to their threat of returning to jungle — a precedent never seen in the history of armed insurgency. But the Maoists are not the LTTE representing the Tamil minorities in four Northern districts in Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lanka. The Maoists are also not like the Nepali Congress or the CPN-UML which have many articulate leaders without the support structure in many districts of Nepal.


The hard-line statements of the ruling coalition are a result of growing influence of the Nepal Army over the current government. Defence Minister Bidya Bhandari has become an Army apologist. Maj. Gen. Toran Bahadur Singh has been promoted despite prima-facie evidence of his involvement in serious human rights violations such as disappearance and torture. Maj. Niranjan Basnet has not been handed over to the police to face trial before the court for murder of Maina Sunuwar. The current government of Nepal dares to take on the U.S., the U.K. and the U.N. as the Indian Army and officials, if not the political leadership of the government of India, have assured of unstinted support.


It is extremely naïve to consider that a redolent Pakistan where army plays the central role is the model for Republic of Nepal. The Jana Andolans vouch that neither the Nepal Army nor the Maoists can misadventure. There was no alternative to dialogue in 2006 and there is no alternative to dialogue today. India must understand the same given its centrality in Nepal’s affairs.


Foreign Minister Krishna’s visit must not be on the assumption that everything is hunky-dory with the government of the day. It must address what ails Nepal before various deadlines including drafting the constitution by May 28 catches up with India. The HLPM provides a mechanism for “consensus building” but not for “power sharing” i.e. who should hold the leadership of the government. Time and again all the main parties have demonstrated that if they are not included they can make life impossible for the government. If power-sharing cannot be addressed, the HLPM will fail. The peace process too will effectively fall flat. The consequences are clear: no legitimacy for the CA members in the eyes of public, no legitimate government in Kathmandu, more anarchy in the countryside, the country stands paralysed through strikes; armed groups, mob violence and criminality proliferate. All these will have a spillover effect on India. 


While the Maoists must bring an end to politics of violence and anti-India rhetoric, India on its parts must abandon its current approach of teaching the Maoists a lesson or two — through such extremes as supporting the Youth Force. The HLPM provides the opportunity for the Maoists and India for rapprochement necessary for stability in Nepal.


Asian Centre for Human Rights recommends Foreign Minister Krishna to hold formal dialogues with the HLPM members, including Prachanda and share India’s experiences of power sharing including rotational Chief Minister-ship between the Congress and Peoples Democratic Party that brought much needed stability in Jammu and Kashmir. The Prime Minister-ship of Nepal too may be rotated amongst the three main political parties, i.e., the CPN-UML, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. The prime minister can be assisted by three deputy prime ministers drawn from other two main political parties not holding the Prime Minister-ship and the Madhesis. Further, agreement could be reached to share the seats in the Council of Ministers and key ministries with guarantees for representation of the Madhesis, the Janjatis and women. Since there had been disputes about the role of the president, it must be clearly stipulated that the recommendations of the Council of Ministers, not the prime minister alone, shall be binding on the president. 


If power sharing formulae can be developed by the HLPM, Nepal could make progress towards more contentious issues, including drafting of the constitution, formation of federal states, integration of the PLA and land reforms. India must seize the opportunity and not wait to restart a peace process all over again.


(Chakma is Director of New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights) 

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