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Why India fears democracy in Nepal
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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April 21, 2006

"We are very worried, very worried," reiterated Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, as television cameras hovered around him and special envoy Dr Karan Singh, on their arrival in Kathmandu.

When Nepal's citizens, cutting across class and caste, are rising up to ask for democracy and more power in their hands, why must democratic India worry? When Nepalis no longer believe that King Gyanendra is Lord Vishnu's avatar, why should the Indian polity worry?

Because India has now lost the chance to play a crucial role in Nepal. It can no longer leverage the situation in such a manner that both countries benefit. It can only be an observer, henceforth, since it does not want to be seen as the force that saved the monarch. Indian security forces cannot be used to quell a people's movement, which is the reason Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] decided not to send a peace-keeping force to Nepal.

There would have been many considerations behind that decision - Nepal's terrain, the people's passionate opposition to the King, the presence of Nepalis in the Indian Army, India's own problem of Left extremism and India's open borders with Nepal. However, India will have to resist any maneuvering by Western countries with the idea of deputing an international peacekeeping force in the neighbourhood, said a former diplomat and expert on Nepal.

"Jaswant Singh's visit must not send wrong signals to the people of Nepal who are ready to shed blood to get taste of real democracy," he added. There is a fear that Singh, who belongs to the erstwhile Sisodia dynasty of Rajasthan, may look too cozy in King Gyanendra's company.

At the moment, the sort of election that King Gyanendra envisages is a farce by which his cronies will come back to power. This has been rejected by the politicians and the Maoists. Experts believe that India must persuade King Gyanendra to restore the Parliament by inviting the Seven Party Alliance. This move will either throw out the monarchy or reduce its power.

At that stage, India could, at the most, play some role to help local parties reach a balance of power to facilitate stability in multi-ethnic Nepal.

Nepal's problems have been magnified since October 2002, with King Gyanendra bent upon harming his own cause.

His arrogant ways and insensitivity to people's demands drove him away from political parties. The Maoists, the political parties and the king, backed by Nepal Army, are the three main power blocks in Nepal. When the King and Nepalese politicians were drifting away from each other, India did not use its good offices to maintain a balance. While India was passive and did not think ahead, the Maoists captured the people's imagination.

While Nepalese political leaders lost clout because of their in-fighting and tainted images, the Maoists became more powerful. They killed more than 3,000 security men and hundreds of innocent people. Today, about 70 percent of Nepal's villages are under the direct control of Maoists.

Although its leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai are now sending positive signals and giving mature interviews, Indian experts, except those who are ultra-Left, agree that in the long run, if Maoists control Nepal, it would be disadvantage India and advantage China. Nepal experts believe that once in power, the Maoists will change their ways. And what cannot be denied by anyone is the fact that their win will hugely benefit Indian Maoists.

These may just be apprehensions but they cannot be shrugged off because they indicate that India has one more big worry in its neighbourhood. Though India-Nepal relations have a strong economic edge and they share cultural ties, India will have to gear up to face a 'new Nepal', which will be a challenge.

In fact, two days before Singh and Saran visited Nepal, the Cabinet Committee on Security, along with Army Chief J J Singh, discussed the issue. According to intelligence sources, India is unlikely to send troops to Nepal but it was admitted that absolute power in the hands of Maoists is more than a distinct possibility in the future.

A large chunk of the blame lies on Nepal's politicians, who are unable to control the fury that's filling the streets. It seems likely that any day now, the underground Maoists will take control of the revolutionary passion of the Nepalis.

If Maoists ultimately emerge victorious, India cannot escape blame either because of its inactivity when the King trampled upon democracy to restore the absolute power of the monarchy under the pretext of countering the Maoists. And the Maoists took advantage of the resulting situation to encourage a people's movement against the present political dispensation in Nepal.

If the King still manages to cling to power it is only because he has the army on his side, which has always looked upon the King and not elected representatives as its source of power. It is clear by now that the Nepalese Army is not well-disposed with democratic norms.

It cannot defeat the Maoists, who are scattered in the hinterlands, but, at the same time, does not want to see them in power. The crucial questions is how will it function if the Maoists win an election and come to power.

India's capability and clout will be reflected in whether it convinces the King, the army and the political parties to avoid confrontation.

In the meantime, as the King, the Maoists and the political parties bicker, a fourth power bloc has emerged in this Himalayan kingdom, taking the destiny of Nepal by storm. It is the power of the people, out on the streets, for all the world to see.

Complete coverage: Nepal

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