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India sleeps, America steps in
- US presence grows amid Delhi mixed signals on democracy

Kathmandu, May 2: A senior Western diplomat in the Nepalese capital is given to telling his visitors that King Gyanendra is their last bulwark against India.

One of his visitors asked him: “But what precisely is the Indian threat to Nepal'” He was told that India was like a big magnet — the diplomat held out his outstretched palm to signify the magnet; pinching the fingers of his other hand he made Nepal out to be a small speck and then slowly moving the speck towards the palm, he closed his fist around it.

He claimed that this would be the fate of Nepal but for the king.

However, not all Nepalese are paranoid about being “Sikkimised” by India. But a number of political thinkers feel that India is not paying sufficient attention to the fact that the ground reality has changed in both India and Nepal.

“Things have changed to such an extent that India’s interest in its own backyard has gone down. So it is but natural that someone else will try to occupy the space left by India,” said Chakra Prasad Bastola, former foreign minister and a senior leader of the Nepali Congress.

“The growing American activities here are worrisome for many. They disturb us and I would be surprised if they did not worry our neighbours also,” said Bharat Mohan Adhikari, former finance minister and Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) or CPN(UML). The CPN(UML) was the largest legislative party before parliament was dissolved last October.

The repeated visits of US advisers to Kathmandu, the presence of the US army’s Mobile Training Unit, the upgradation of the office of the military attache in the US embassy in Kathmandu and the activated role of USAID in information gathering and analysis are a source of worry for Nepalese political leaders.

Last week, Nepal also signed a five-year memorandum of understanding for American assistance in combating terrorism.

Reacting to increased US interest in Nepal, former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said: “If this is correct, then India should think about it.”

While Koirala seems reluctant to express any clear views on the US presence in Nepal, there are others who feel that it is designed to keep both China and India on their toes. “Why else would the Americans come halfway around the world to Nepal to tell us what to do'” asked a Nepali analyst who did not want to be named.

But why are the Nepalese listening to the Americans' “This is clearly being done in distress. Had there been no 9/11 and no active US interest in combating terrorism, they would not have been allowed into Kathmandu. I dislike the Americans but I am thankful to providence for their presence in Nepal. This has finally brought India to its senses,” said Bihari Krishna Shrestha, an anthropologist.

Others, however, claim that India still has not woken up to the developments in Nepal and does not have a coherent policy towards it. That is why, they claim, it finds it convenient to stick to the mantra of “constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy” without promoting either.

“Neither pressure is being put on the King to become a purely constitutional monarch nor is he being encouraged to come to terms with the political parties,” remarked a Nepalese leader.

“India should be clear that the political agenda in Nepal has changed. I do not know how India is going to articulate its policy on the ongoing negotiations with the Maoists in Kathmandu. When the Nepalese monarchy is on the decline, how do you argue for constitutional monarchy' Democratic nations like India should recognise that if you have full-fledged democracy, then you cannot have monarchy along with it,” claimed Professor Lokraj Baral of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies at Tribhuvan University.

Criticising Indian tolerance of the monarchy, Lakshman Basnet, president of the Nepal Trade Union Congress, said: “You must recognise that the growing problems in India-Nepal relations are because of the Palace. The King is not anti-India as such but he creates a phobia about India. This helps him define Nepali nationalism negatively vis-a-vis India. It also creates the myth that without the guardianship of the monarchy, India will ride roughshod over Nepal.”

Nobody wants India to do anything more than play a facilitating role in Nepal. “Whenever India has spoken, it has spoken in favour of democracy in Nepal. Even now, the Indian statements have been in favour of democracy in this country. This itself is a very big role that India is playing –- after all this means supporting our movement for the restoration of democracy,” said Koirala.

Leelamani Pokhrel, vice-president and ideologue of the Leftwing Samyukta Jan Morcha, said: “In the current political situation, India can only be a good advisor. It should not intervene politically. Unfortunately, because of the Hindu fundamentalist credentials of those who rule Delhi, India feels that a Hindu King in Nepal needs its protection.”

“If the King is supported as a ‘Hindu’ King by some in India, then that would alienate the democrats across party lines here. I can assure you that this policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party will impact adversely on the state-to-state relations in the long run,” declared Bastola.

“While India is not compromising on democracy, the general impression gaining ground here is that because it supports the King, it must support his politics also,” claimed Bastola.

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