Significant event

King Gyanendra and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh met for 40 minutes on the sidelines of the African-Asian summit in Jakarta on Saturday. The meeting was in itself a significant event in view of strong Indian reaction to the February 1 royal takeover and other steps, including the imposition of the emergency and curbs on civil liberties and press freedom. New Delhi had arguably avoided such a meeting in early February when it got the 13th SAARC summit postponed, citing the reasons of inadequate security in Dhaka and the developments in Nepal. The talks, apparently, have removed the chill that has settled on Nepal-India relations. India’s NDTV Channel, presenting an interview King Gyanendra granted to it in Jakarta, quotes him as saying, in reference to the resumption of Indian arms supply to Nepal, “ We have agreed on specific things ... We have got assurances it will continue.”

However, it has not been officially confirmed yet. The official news agency, RSS, reports from Jakarta quoting Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey as telling the press that the two leaders discussed bilateral security, political and economic concerns. Rajiv Sikri, secretary in the Indian external affairs ministry, told journalists in the Indonesian capital that the two leaders “agreed that the political process should be restored without delay” and that the King gave the assurance of doing so “as soon as possible.” The attributed remarks, however, do not throw much light on the agreed points, for example, whether the reported assurance on military supplies is conditional on the restoration of the democratic process and the fundamental rights. What will, for India, amount to the restoration of the political process? Will the royal pledge to hold the municipal elections within a year fit the bill?

Supposing India resumes military supplies without February 1 being reversed first, how may it have to be seen in the context of the close cooperation and consultation that India, the US and Britain had forged recently in coordinating a common approach to the situation in Nepal? These countries have also often said that there is no military solution to the present conflict in Nepal. The King has said the emergency will be lifted in “due course.” Incidentally, at the end of this month (April) the emergency order will constitutionally expire unless extended by the parliament for one other period. But things may be clearer in a few days. On the other hand, the political parties are to launch their agitation for “total democracy” on May 1 to build pressure on the King. At a time when the national situation requires all the concerned domestic political forces to behave more responsibly, they seem to be moving in opposite directions.