The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- India needs to reverse the decision regarding Nepal

New Delhi's decision to resume supplies of military aid to Nepal's royalty is astounding. Even more astound- ing is the reason proffered for the decision.

The issue of resumption of aid to Nepal, the prime minister has said, is still being reviewed, but he had to 'let go' the arms in the pipeline. The prime minister is deluding neither himself nor his countrymen nor the suffering people of Nepal. Military aid was stopped in early April as soon as King Gyanendra clamped his Emergency; the Indian authorities did not then 'let go' aid in the pipeline. It was a moral issue and the government of India took a moral stand. The formal Emergency has been withdrawn in Nepal but the objective situation has not changed, the repression continues, yet New Delhi resumes military assistance. Sorry, the glaring contradiction the Indian prime minister has entrapped himself in evokes only derision, and no sympathy.

What are the facts' The decision to resume military aid was taken within 48 hours of the plaintive public appeal made by the Nepali National Congress patriarch, Girija Prasad Koirala, to New Delhi not to embark on such a dangerous step. Obviously, it is no longer the government of India's concern whether the Nepal Congress or the other 'democratic' party in that country survives or withers away. Nepal's salvation, the Indian authorities were in the habit of asserting till the very other day, lay neither in an absolute monarchy nor in a Maoist mayhem, but in a democratic set-up where democratic parties will function under the auspices of a written constitution on the basis of periodic elections.

That point of view has suddenly undergone a sea-change. In more senses than one, the resumption of military aid to the king will signal the demise of the parliamentary parties, including that of the Nepali National Congress. Already overwhelming sections of the erstwhile base of support of these parties in the countryside have crossed over to the Maoists. They however still retain some not- altogether-negligible influence amongst the urban middle class, particularly those located in Kathmandu. These urban elements had stayed loyal to the Nepali National Congress and the other parliamentary parties in the belief that royal intransigence was not the final word, they ' the constitutional parties ' enjoyed the confidence of the government of India which was vociferously for a constitutional democracy and would support them to the hilt. India's unilateral decision to underwrite the king in the face of strong reservations expressed by the Nepali National Congress implies that whatever urban sections in Nepal were still with the democratic parties will now switch over in scampering promptitude towards the direction of the Maoists. If the Indian authorities are hoping that by bolstering royalty through military aid, they would contain the advance of Maoist adventurism, they are living in a fool's paradise. Their initiative will actually accelerate the spread of Maoist influence all over Nepal.

The puzzle nonetheless does not dissolve on its own. There should be still enough perspicacity within official circles in New Delhi to enable them to assess what impact the revival of military aid is likely to have on Nepalese minds. There are also others on the periphery to enlighten the authorities with regard to the likely repercussions of coming to the rescue of the king even when he continues with his authoritarian style. To sum up the matter squarely: New Delhi has flouted public opinion in Nepal. It has brushed aside the entreaties of Nepal's parliamentary parties. It has defied the judgment offered by the Indian left.

A suspicion is therefore impossible to avoid with regard to the factor underlying the odious decision taken by the authorities despite the series of contrary advice tendered to them. The pressure mounted by the administration of the United States of America was perhaps enormous. Conceivably, the pressure was accompanied by a threat too: if India did not immediately come to the aid of the king, the Americans themselves would enter the scene and that would make the picture much more complicated for all, including the government of India. This will of course be blackmail of a sophisticated species. Nonetheless, New Delhi could have sought to counter this piece of blackmail by suggesting that, should the US stick in its finger in the Nepal pie, China would not sit back, and even Vladimir Putin's Russia might take a dim view of it.

It does not seem that the representatives of the US were so na've as to play this rather transparent ploy. Could it however be that the American administration offered New Delhi a much more alluring bakshish' The presence of Christina Rocca in the neighbourhood at the time the government of India took the decision may be altogether coincidental; but maybe it is not so. The following may not be purely an exercise in speculation: in the course of that rather crowded week, a hint was thrown towards the direction of New Delhi: should India prop up that American lackey, the tottering monarch in Kathmandu, the Americans would recommend India for a permanent seat in the United Nations security council, with, what do you know, even the prerogative of the veto thrown in. (Whether Pakistan or Germany or Japan will be amused by such a gesture towards India is a different matter.)

Unless the Indian authorities reverse the suicidal decision they have taken on the sly, the suspicion aired above will not be dispelled. And the suspicion will be accompanied by the posing of an overt question. Who takes the crucial decisions encompassing India's foreign policy' Do the United Progressive Alliance and its constituents have no role in it' Does the major political party in the alliance involve itself in this crucial decision-making process' Are the government's decisions taken independently of the party's preferences and predilections' Or are the decisions the exclusive preserve of the foot-permanently-in-the-mouth external affairs minister ' or, not even his, but of a coterie of foreign service officials'

Parliament is being adjourned, but the nation will still demand an answer to these queries from the regime in New Delhi. For the long-term consequences of the kind of snap decision New Delhi has taken will have to be borne ultimately by the Indian people. It has been fairly well known that, over the past few months, a debate was going on within the conclave of Nepal's Maoists whether they should not attempt to open a line of direct communication with New Delhi. The principal plank, on the basis of which the Maoists have succeeded in establishing such a major toehold over Nepal's countryside, is their elaborate programme of land reforms.

The other point they have ceaselessly stressed is a constitution for the country which will have no place for a monarchy, whether absolute or constitutional. Land reforms in the northern country should not, per se, induce sleepless nights for India's rulers. Nor should they have any obligation to shed tears over the prospect of a monarchless Nepal. A genuine possibility was therefore hovering on the horizon that, provided goodwill was not lacking on either side, New Delhi could have established some sort of an understanding with the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist). That possibility has been demolished by the foolish decision announced on the evening of May 10. The Maoists will now have no hesitation in indulging in pinpricks to Indian authorities by making naughty imaginative use of the Nepal-India border.

The Indian authorities will have no one else but themselves to blame. One reaps what one sows.

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