No major shift

The Congress-led coalition government in India headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh has started work, marking the first time the Congress, which has at various times governed India for 40 years, has formed a coalition at the Centre. The fact that the Congress on its own holds a little more than half the parliamentary seats required to constitute a majority means that it will have to depend on the goodwill of several parties, including the left parties who command over 60 seats. It will, therefore, have to work out a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) acceptable to its coalition partners, thus necessitating important modifications in the party’s own policies and programmes to accommodate the partners’ priorities and sensitivities.

Over the past few years, India has learnt well the art of cohabitation. The outgoing BJP-led coalition of over 20 parties lasted its full term. Under a scholarly, quiet and wise prime minister in the person of Dr. Singh, the new coalition may stick together. The left parties whose backing is very crucial to the government have decided to lend support from outside. On whether to permit one of its members to accept the prestigious post of Lok Sabha Speaker offered by the Congress, the Left Front is waiting for the CMP, which will spell out the coalition’s agenda for governance. Dr. Singh has stressed a policy of peace abroad and war on poverty at home. As many of India’s important domestic policy decisions, such as economic reforms, are bound to have important bearings on Nepal, the policy makers over here will do well to monitor and analyse them closely.

However, it will be reading too much into the situation to speculate that Indian foreign policy will see a fundamental shift. The one issue on which Indian political parties of all hues has evolved a consensus of sorts over the years has been its foreign and security policy. Natwar Singh, who was a secretary (East) and then a minister of state for external affairs, is now in charge of the Indian foreign policy. But the change of person in South Block has hardly ever represented a sharp departure in policy. If Nepal’s foreign policy objectives are primarily dictated by its geopolitical compulsions, India’s is driven by its own priorities, which may at times tend to conflict. But, for the mutual ties to become mature and lasting, they must be based on realism rather than on sentiment. The Congress has indicated that the new government will continue with the foreign and security policy orientation of the BJP-led government in their fundamental respects, suggesting, among others, that it will adhere to the road map agreed on in February this year between India and Pakistan. Any change in India’s Nepal policy needs to be expected to occur only within that framework.