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Date with king, curfew

Kathmandu, April 19: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy Karan Singh hit the ground running and began consultations with pro-democracy leaders immediately after his arrival here this afternoon.

Karan Singh is carrying a letter from the Prime Minister for King Gyanendra.

Ironically, the capital of Nepal would be under curfew when he delivers Manmohan Singh’s message for restoring democracy to the king at 11 am tomorrow.

A strict curfew has been imposed from 2 am tomorrow till 8 pm to thwart a planned encirclement of Kathmandu by five lakh protesters. Karan Singh will go under an armed escort to urge the king to step back.

Although the contents of the letter are not known, India is likely to urge the king to allow the political parties to form an interim government and choose their own leader.

The mandate of the interim government may be two-fold: to hold early elections to a new Parliament, and to talk to the Maoists for a political settlement without which elections cannot be held.

New Delhi believes that unless political parties are allowed to choose their own Prime Minister, the process would not be credible. The king, it seems, still wants a Prime Minister of his choice.

Quite fittingly, there was no curfew this afternoon when Karan Singh met three major leaders of the democracy movement ' Nepali Congress president G.P. Koirala, Nepali Congress (Democratic) chief Sher Bahadur Deuba and Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal.

A grim-looking Koirala refused to say anything about his meeting with Karan Singh, who was accompanied among others by foreign secretary Shyam Saran and Indian ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shankar Mukherjee.

Deuba, however, said: “We have said that we cannot deviate from the road map of the seven-party alliance. Dr Singh has told me that he has come with a package that includes the Maoists.”

Reiterating that India favoured democracy, Karan Singh said: “We are gravely concerned about the situation in Nepal. I have come with a positive attitude. I hope some solution will emerge tomorrow.”

Asked what might happen, the special envoy said: “I am a politician, not an astrologer. I will speak after I have met His Majesty the King.”

Nepal, who was released along with eight other leaders barely an hour before Karan Singh was to meet him, said: “We stressed that the people’s movement had reached a new height and the people’s wishes must be respected. The king must recognise that full sovereignty must belong to the people and their representatives. The Indian delegates were convinced of this position.”

He argued that “the fate of the king and country” should be left to the Constituent Assembly.

“There is no place for trickery any longer. There is no possibility of any new alliance with the king without the Maoists. We have to bring the Maoists into democratic politics by accepting their demand for a Constituent Assembly.”

About the possible Indian proposal for an interim regime, the communist leader said: “The real issue is to ensure that sovereignty firmly rests with the people.”

It is not clear as yet whether the Indian proposal is a short- to a medium-term solution or a strategic one that is clear about a Constituent Assembly, restructuring of the Nepalese state and adequately and positively including the Maoists in the solution.

It is also not clear whether there can be a ring-fence around Constitutional Monarchy while going for a Constituent Assembly.

Meanwhile, even as Saran called on army chief General Pyar Jung Thapa this evening, five persons were shot dead and scores injured when the Royal Nepal Army opened fire on a crowd of 50,000 pro-democracy protesters.

This happened in Chandragarhi, the district headquarters of Jhapa in eastern Nepal, which has now been seized by the army.

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