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Democracy, Diplomacy And Destablization

Democracy, Diplomacy And Destablization

By Madan Prasad Khanal

The Royal Nepalese Army’s release of an audio tape in which Maoist supremo Prachanda is heard claiming that the Indian government had invited him for talks has prompted a scathing denial from New Delhi. India’s infuriation is understandable. For the past nine years, officials in New Delhi had been denying knowledge of the Nepalese Maoists presence in India, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. If Maoist leaders and activists had managed to slip into India, according to these officials, it was because of the open border and the support the rebels received from allies in India.

To bolster its point, India declared the Nepalese Maoists a terrorist organization. Indian officials occasionally arrested Maoist leaders, often junior and mid-ranking functionaries, and handed them over to Nepal. As for the top leaders, such as Mohan Baidya and CP Gajurel, Indian officials chose to keep them under their own jurisdiction.

According to the audio tape, presented at a news conference in Kathmandu last week, Prachanda said India was about to agree on the release of Baidya and Gajurel in exchange for the withdrawal of the party’s disciplinary action against Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.

Hours after New Delhi’s official denial, news came in that Dr. Bhattarai had been meeting leading Indian politicians in an effort to forge an alliance with the seven Nepalese parties campaigning against King Gyanendra’s takeover of full executive powers.

Prachanda is reported to have lifted the disciplinary action against Dr. Bhattarai before dispatching him for talks in New Delhi. The Times of India, known to reflect the official view of the Indian government, reported that Dr. Bhattarai was being chaperoned by Indian intelligence agents.

In response to the Indian government’s complaint that it was not informed of the tape’s content beforehand, a Nepalese general said the recording was intended to uncover the double-face of the Maoists, who had been spewing anti-India rhetoric as part of the nine-year insurgency that has claimed over 12,000 lives.

Obviously, the general was being polite. The real double-face belongs to India. From the outset, Indian policy toward Nepal has been guided by deception and deceit packaged in the guise of democracy. For India, political parties have always been willing accomplices in the perpetuation of instability. Political chaos in Nepal gives India the cover to further its security and economic interests. Given the marginalization of the mainstream political parties following the royal takeover, and their overall loss of credibility among the masses, the Maoists are coming in handy for India.

Here is the crux of the matter. Sections of the Indian security and bureaucratic establishment have simply refused to treat Nepal as an independent and sovereign nation. Some politicians in New Delhi still lament India’s failure to annex Nepal during the creation of the republic in 1947. The scrapping of parliamentary democracy by King Mahendra, the current monarch’s father, in December 1960 was a reaction to Nepal’s inexorable drift into India’s sphere of interest. As a counterbalance to India’s hegemonistic ambitions, the royal regime sought to expand the kingdom’s international role. Nepal’s efforts to strengthen political and economic ties with its northern neighbor were criticized as a brandishing of the “China card”.

After India annexed the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim in 1974, Mahendra’s son, Birendra, sought to ensure Nepal’s independence by proposing that the kingdom be declared a zone of peace. The proposal received the support of 116 nations. New Delhi, however, considered this policy as a palace ploy to escape from its security grip. Not surprisingly, the first victim of the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990 was the peace zone proposal. Even before proper deliberations had begun on the structure of the new polity, democratic leaders had decided to scrap the proposal at the behest of India.

For much of the 1990s, India sought to pit political parties -- and factions within -- against one another. On average, Nepalis saw a new prime minister each year. The Maoist rebels, meanwhile, consolidated ties with their Indian counterparts in an effort to forge a South Asian “compact revolutionary zone”. The merger of once-bitter foes People’s War Group and the Maoist Coordination Center into the Communist Party of India (Maoist) last year has often been credited to Dr. Bhattarai’s good offices.

From India’s standpoint, the imperative of holding direct talks with the Maoist rebels stems from larger national security concerns. There are full-fledged Maoist insurgencies in at least nine out of India’s 28 states, some of which border Nepal. Top Indian security analysts have regularly been warning that the Maoists present a greater threat to national security than the Islamic militants in Kashmir. A Maoist takeover of Nepal thus is viewed as a direct threat to India.

India might have intervened militarily in Nepal but for its experience in Sri Lanka. In the late 1980s, New Delhi sent in a contingent of soldiers to defend the island nation’s ethnic Hindu Tamils fighting for a separate homeland from the Buddhist-dominated Sinhala government. The Tamil Tigers, on whose behalf the Indians were ostensibly in the country, ended up joining hands with government forces in chasing out the Indians troops.

The prospects of the Maoists sharing power in a Nepalese coalition government grew considerably during brief peace talks that ended in August 2003. King Gyanendra’s three-year plan to restore peace and reactivate the democratic process surely must envisage the inclusion of the Maoists, or at least a significant portion of it, into the political mainstream. This, more than the prospect of a complete Maoist takeover of Nepal, has troubled India. The rift between Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai must be viewed in this context. As the head of the party, Prachanda obviously covets the role of head of state in a republican Nepal. That eventuality is contingent on a total Maoist victory. Dr. Bhattarai, on the other hand, is the main contender for representation in a coalition government, perhaps even as prime minister.

After voicing serious differences with party policy during a plenum of the Maoist central committee last August, Prachanda reportedly expelled Dr. Bhattarai and his wife, Hisala Yami, from the organization. After weeks of denials, Prachanda admitted to a rift and all but confirmed that Dr. Bhattarai had been stripped of key positions he held in the party. Prachanda specifically listed the arrogance and ambitions of Dr. Bhattarai.

Among Dr. Bhattarai’s grievances was the withdrawal of a decision in favor of greater inner-party democracy and against democratic centralism that had been made a year earlier. During the 2004 plenum Prachanda sought to be declared head of the underground government which Dr. Bhattarai headed hitherto, as well as the party and the people's army.

The major source of rift, at least from today’s perspective, related to the Maoists’ official perception of India. In the early years of the insurgency, Maoist leaders unleashed diatribes against "Indian expansionism." Since November 2001, after the failure of the first peace talks, the insurgents diluted their anti-India rhetoric and sought to build contacts in New Delhi.

The August 2004 plenum identified India as the primary enemy which might interfere militarily or sabotage their talks with the king. Dr. Bhattarai, who considers the monarchy to be the Maoists’ main enemy, was for reaching out to India. If true, Prachanda’s withdrawal of disciplinary action against Dr. Bhattarai represents a significant capitulation. If Dr. Bhattarai is negotiating with India as the head of a breakaway faction of the Maoists, then a backlash can be expected from the Prachanda-led group.

Admittedly, New Delhi’s bargain with the Maoists would essentially conform to what it had struck with the mainstream political parties. India has openly backed the anti-palace movement launched by the seven mainstream parties, prompting the Nepalese foreign ministry to deliver a strong protest to the Indian ambassador. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that India’s current onslaught is against the monarchy and the military – the last remaining guarantors of independence.


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