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Nepal unrest blame on Delhi

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By SANKARSHAN THAKUR
  • Published 8.12.09
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Kathmandu, Dec. 7: The key element of the escalating internal turmoil in Nepal remains external — it’s India’s deep distrust of Maoist intentions and the consequent outflanking of this country’s most influential political force from the power structure.

Novelist and commentator Manjushree Thapa puts the reason for Nepal’s cynical reversal into chaos succinctly: “Peace won’t come until the Maoists have a central role in power, and that won’t happen until India begins to trust them.”

At the moment, the odds on neither happening are high. The drift, in fact, has a contrary bias — the longer the Maoists stay out of power, the more belligerent they get, the more belligerent they get, the more averse New Delhi gets.

“Who blinks first is not a game between Prachanda and (Prime Minister) Madhav Nepal, it is between the Maoists and New Delhi,” says a top Kathmandu mediator, “for now, India seems happy to just deny them any which way, even if it is at the expense of the peace agreement of which India is a controlling stakeholder. That’s a tricky line to follow, but that is what it is.”

Indians themselves use more blunt language. “We cannot just hand over the state to the Maoists,” a senior diplomat at the Indian embassy told The Telegraph. “They still have an army, they have a militia and the YCL (Young Communist League) which is packed with trained army commanders in civilian clothes, they could just capture the state and that would deeply hurt our strategic interests.”

Hyperbolic? Too alarmist? Not in the Indian understanding, constructed though it may be as a ruse to keep the Maoists from power. “We are not convinced, and the other Nepali parties are not convinced that coercive capture of the state is not on the Maoists’ agenda,” the diplomat went on, “How can that be allowed to happen?”

The implications of the Maoists being left to protest on the streets are not lost on anyone, least of all the Indians — the peace agreement, already on the bayonet, will get shredded, the new Constitution will not get written by the May-end deadline, and a constitutional impasse will be imposed on the eddying political crisis.

Who runs Nepal after the life of the Constituent Assembly expires in May? Will it get an extension, which is only provided for in a state of emergency? Will President Ram Baran Yadav, a political lightweight who was pitched into ceremonial office by dint of compromise and consensus, assume power in the vacuum with the backing of the army, effectively the new raja of the republic, effectively negating all the gains of the three-year-old peace process?

Kathmandu is stewing with all manner of speculation, fanciful and frightening. “Don’t rule anything out,” cautions a senior analyst whose cynicism has matured through Nepal’s ramshackle roller-coaster over the past decade, “not even the possibility of a coup or an insurrection. There is a visible build-up to confrontation, something will have to give.”

Indian policy players are hoping — against widely held perceptions — that it will eventually be the Maoists who’ll give in. The basis of that hope is that differences between Maoist moderates (read Baburam Bhattrai) and hardliners (read Mohan Vaidya “Kiran”) will sharpen and the moderate elements, Prachanda included, will sooner than later “see reason” and split away from the militant elements.

This may well be a wishful and lazy analysis of the future Maoist trajectory, but there is enough to suggest the Indians are already employing it as central strategy — break the Maoists, weaken them numerically and ideologically, then bring them on board.

Part of the same strategy of wedging and weakening the Maoists is the India-inspired intransigence of the Nepali Army on the crucial of integrating ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), currently in UN-monitored barracks. Integration is part of the peace accord but the word increasingly in vogue with the Nepali Army and the Indian embassy is disbanding.

“They are politically indoctrinated soldiers,” raves one Indian officer, “how can they just become part of the national army, what if there is an attempt at takeover? Integration may happen, but into society, into other wings of the security forces, not the army.”

Maoist hardliners are unlikely to accept that formulation, and if that makes them and the PLA increasingly restive, the Indians don’t mind.

As one Indian diplomat puts it, grandly: “We are not against the Maoists, it is only that they are too strong and doctrinaire for comfort, if their numbers are more controllable, if they talk and behave like social democrats who will respect multi-party democracy, we have no problem, it’s their country after all.”

In short, Maoists are a horse India is willing to back in Nepal, but it must be a horse in harness.

There clearly are divisions within the Maoists on what line to pursue — negotiation or confrontation — but those who know Maoists closely argue that they aren’t going to fritter away the fruits of their long and hard struggle by playing into divide-and-rule schemes.

Says a sympathiser and an independent member of the Constituent Assembly who tries little to conceal his disdain for the Indian mission in Kathmandu: “What have the Maoists got to lose, they are the only ones gaining on the ground every hour, they have time and tide on their hands. Indian diplomats will learn, earn and return, the Maoists will still be here, this is their country and that’s a good and simple fact for all to remember.”