Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Midwifing Nepal: India must assist the Maoists into the mainstream

Sometimes it is very interesting to ponder over the fate of Nepal. So many forces are interested in her, reigning a chaos making difficult to navigate the political quagmires. The following article is copy-pasted from IndiaReacts

Midwifing Nepal
India must assist the Maoists into the mainstream, says N.V.Subramanian.

24 July 2008: India should beware that the Maoists' defeat in Nepal's presidential election has not been to China's liking. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist chairman, Prachanda, has been published by Xinhua in a tilted commentary saying, "There is a big reactionary conspiracy of foreign powers after we won the faith and belief of (a) large crowd of people. Nepal's politics has clearly signified a great danger of anti-revolution."

Prachanda did not name the foreign powers allegedly conspiring against the Maoists, but India would figure prominently in them, preceded or followed by the United States. Even if the Chinese were meddling, Prachanda would fear to say so. But the Chinese and the Maoists see eye-to-eye on several issues, including oppressing the Tibetan protestors, downsizing India, and bringing pro-Beijing changes in Nepal.

The Chinese were not unhappy with the deposed king Gyanendra. Their problem comes from centrist parties like the Nepali Congress (NC) which are close to India. The NC candidate, Ram Bahadur Yadhav, won Nepal's presidential election, defeating the Maoist Ram Raja Prasad Singh, after the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Madhesi People's Rights Forum joined their parliamentary strength to beat the Maoists convincingly.

Even if India played no role in this presidential election, the Maoists would fan trouble against it. With two twenty-seven seats in the Constituent Assembly, the Maoists are the largest party. They have declared they won't form the government but sit out as the opposition. "After the defeat in the presidential election," Prachanda told Xinhua, "our moral base to make the new government has totally come to an end. So we have decided to stay in (the) opposition." Xinhua says Nepal faces political uncertainty now.

That it does, but to play up the foreign conspiracy angle puts India in the firing line. It is unlikely that anyone in the Manmohan Singh government was manipulating Nepal politics to defeat the Maoists considering the crisis here over the Indo-US nuclear deal. But that won't cease Prachanda from pointing accusing fingers at India. And with the Left-CPI-M withdrawing support to the Manmohan Singh government, the Maoists would reckon they have lost an ally that could restrain New Delhi. On the other hand, New Delhi conceivably could feel emboldened to get tough with the Maoists now that the CPI-M support has been withdrawn.

Except that the gap between perception and reality may be so wide that Maoist and Indian interests could hurt with misunderstanding while benefits flow to third parties like China. Nepal's strategic value to India cannot be over-emphasized. Before more misunderstanding sets in, India must play host to Prachanda, or alternatively, have its representatives meet him and clear the air. The Maoists are the largest party in Nepal's Constituent Assembly, and this gives them a legitimacy that India cannot deny.

Possibly the Maoists overplayed their hand by demanding both the President and PM's posts. They never reckoned on the gang-up against their presidential candidate. But equally, their election as the largest party cannot be minimized, and their absent majority cannot be so twisted as to pervert the elections. The Maoists have gone into a deep sulk, but it is not a matter to rejoice.

The Maoists will remain a danger to Nepal's parliamentary democracy so long they are kept out of mainstream politics. It was quite a feat to wean them away from armed struggle, and the abdication of Gyanendra has proceeded peacefully and at considerable more pace than expected. The presidential election and government-formation have taken months, and the second issue is still not resolved. This is understandable. An evolving political solution tautologically takes time to settle.

But even so, there must be recognition of an approaching new political order in Nepal. While the Maoists did not gain a majority in the Constituent Assembly, they still were elected in the largest numbers. This must be recognized by veterans like G.P.Koirala and this should limit backroom manipulations of the sort witnessed in the presidential election.

India can at best give a gentle guiding hand to Nepal's political evolution. That election that elected the Maoists in large numbers must be reflected in government formation, and India must press the Maoists to enter the power structure. The presidential election cannot be unraveled, so the next best option is to have a Maoist-led government.

Once the responsibilities of power weigh on the Maoists, the process of their political integration into mainstream Nepal politics would commence and become irreversible in due course. This should be India's goal. While the Manmohan Singh government has committed the bulk of its energy to pursuing the nuclear deal to conclusion, Nepal in its second birth cannot be neglected either.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor, NewsInsight.net.

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