No policy change towards Nepal

Anand K Sahay

Despite a degree of public befuddlement with India-Nepal relations lately, and some media criticism of the Indian government’s handling of relations with Kathmandu, especially India’s dealings with the monarch, the overall sense in the Indian establishment is that there has been no real distraction from the pursuit of broad policy objectives vis-à-vis Nepal. The primary basis of the criticism is that New Delhi has not been consistent on the question of arms supply to the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) to fight the Maoist rebels, and has indeed diverged from its initial commitment not to supply arms to the RNA unless the monarch takes a few agreed steps to lubricate the process of restoration of democracy. Official circles do not appear to see the issue in this light. There is an implied sense that while King Gyanendra may have taken steps—especially in relation to the opposition parties—that did cause surprise, there has been no setback to Indian positions and objectives.

Two points are to be noted in this context. First, in spite of some initial apprehension in Delhi, neither Pakistan nor China have come forward to supply arms to Nepal, or are likely to do so at the present juncture, given the circumstances in which such a request from Kathmandu is likely to arise. China, in particular, has made it plain that it sees the current happenings in Nepal—the fight against the Maoists and the relations between the palace and the parties—as a purely “internal” matter, which doesn’t warrant a role for it.

All things said, India appears to be reasonably certain that neither Islamabad nor Beijing are likely to get involved in the Nepal imbroglio. This, then, suggests that efforts from any quarters in Nepal to leverage India on the question of arms supply are likely to be infructuous.

Second, India appears to have reasons to believe that the United States and Britain will let it do the leading as far as Nepal is concerned. Politically then, the three make up a sort of troika on the issue of restoration of democracy in Nepal that relies to a considerable extent on the Indian appreciation of events. Other than these immediate concerns, in strategic terms New Delhi appears satisfied that there is no cause for it to deviate from its long-standing position of the maintenance of constitutional monarchy in Nepal, ie. where there is a place for the monarch as well as for the democratic forces, as per the country’s constitution. The question is, do the Maoists desire a radical change in this state of affairs, or only a moderated

one and on what terms?

As for the Maoists, New Delhi might keenly watch the state of their interaction with King Gyanendra’s apparatus. The two are, of course, fighting. But are they also seeking to approach a modus vivendi?

If the terms of this include the convening of a constituent assembly, there is likely to be interest here in knowing what the various parties would try to get out of it, including the parliamentary opposition.

Sahay, a journalist, writes for THT from New Delhi