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PM's Bharat Yatra: Beneath And Beyond The Rhetoric

PM's Bharat Yatra: Beneath And Beyond The Rhetoric


By M.R. Josse

After all the sound and fury, breast beating and hyperbole, on balance, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's recent four-day official visit to India may ultimately turn out to be more significant for what didn't transpire than for what actually did.

Indeed, it is possible that a few months hence, when the carefully worked up euphoria enveloping the visit has dissipated, Koirala's Bharat yatra, or political pilgrimage, it will be recalled more as the beginning of a rupture between the SPA and the Maoists than marking the start of the building of a new brave world in Nepal – one that neatly coincides with the Maoist vision incessantly flogged by certain political quarters in India, notably by CPM politicians such as Sitaram Yechuri.

(Significantly, Yechuri's name does not figure in the long list of notables that Koirala met, called on or conferred with during his politico-diplomatic excursion to the Indian capital. Incidentally, it is also worth bearing in mind that around the same time Maoist supremo Prachanda was making furious statements against India and the US).

NEW POLITICAL/STRATEGIC EQUATION

In fact, a careful analysis of the 12-point Joint Statement (JS) released at the end of the visit on 9 June (for full text see inside page) and a number of other visit-related developments/statements would tend to suggest as much.

Of course, the "historic" economic package that serves as its convenient overarching public cover or fig leaf has tended – as planned, no doubt – to divert public attention from the more important new political/strategic equation that has clearly been struck between Kathmandu and New Delhi, no doubt a result of the one-on-one confabulation between the two Prime Ministers.

As much is also indicated by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who in an address to the Nepal Council of World Affairs, 12 June, singled out only India for specific mention while elaborating on the rationale or thrust of Nepal's foreign policy in the changed political context, including against the backdrop of Koirala's recent India visit. (See elsewhere for further details.)

Incidentally, that such an understanding has been forged was hinted by Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee's remarks to the press following his meeting with Koirala disclosing that all relevant security related questions had been "sorted out" as also that the Nepal-India Security Cooperation Group would begin its meetings soon.

Though Mukherjee predictably denied that India would immediately resume arms supplies to the Nepalese Army, it hardly requires great foresight to envisage that such could easily happen – if the Maoists do not play ball as per the rules ostensibly set by the SPA but, in reality, dictated by the powers that be in India and the US, India's new "strategic partner."

Here, it may be recalled that senior American officials have stated publicly on more than one occasion that arms supplies could be resumed to the Army if the political leadership were to request it.

Incidentally, the strong misgivings obtaining in India regarding the Maoists have been reflected in the public observations by the Indian leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani of the BJP who, following a meeting with Koirala, told the media that while SPA-Maoist talks are no problem for India he went on to warn "that should not in any way have any adverse negative effect on India's internal security." ( Kathmandu Post, 9 June.)

Noteworthy, too, are the reported remarks of M.K. Narayanan, India's National Security Adviser, to Koirala suggesting that emphasis be accorded to the decommissioning of arms by the Maoists. Such an endeavour he stated was "something that will also benefit the Indian side."

In the above context, it bears recalling that Koirala has successfully resisted demands from the Maoists and SPA constituents, especially the UML, to sack General Pyar Jung Thapa, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

According to sources proven reliable in the past, both New Delhi as well as Washington have lent their weight to ensure that Gen. Thapa's dismissal does not come to pass. In their view, widely shared in the country, the Army remains the only organised, armed force that is still intact and capable of resisting a direct takeover attempt by the armed Maoists.

M-WORD MISSING

To return, however, to the JS what is striking is the complete absence of the M-word: M standing not only for the Monarchy but, indeed, for the Maoists, as well.

Indeed, if one were to conclude from such a calculated omission in the JS that, in India's new scheme of things in Nepal there is no place for the Monarchy (once an integral element of its 'two-pillar' doctrine) one would, then, perforce have to surmise that the same holds for the Maoists, too.

While India's implacable opposition to an assertive Monarchy in Nepal is hardly a secret, it is far more significant, in my view, that there is no mention anywhere of the word Maoists. All this, mind you, despite the fact that India has hosted their leaders and offered facilities for medication and R & R for their cadres, besides aided contacts between them and their counterparts in India, not to mention having acted as mid-wife to the anti-King SPAM pact executed in its capital and unveiled to the world on 22 November last year!

Now, all of a sudden, the Maoists appear not to exist for India! As far as I can tell, it suggests a new found reluctance on New Delhi's part to accord the Maoists the international legitimacy it has always sought. Incidentally, that would figure with what has been indicated in a recent Times of India editorial where it takes umbrage that "South Block is also opposed to the UN mediating between the SPA and the Maoists because that would give legitimacy to the rebels."

In fact, even in the segment of the JS that could have had a reference to the Maoists, there is none. Here, I refer to the portion (paragraph 7) reading "to consolidate the achievements of the People's Movement by finding a solution to the armed conflict…" Thus, there is no qualifier to "the armed conflict" when, for the sake of objectivity, it could have read "the armed conflict that the Maoists or the CPN (M) have launched since February 1996."

I am pretty sure that the Maoist leadership has noted such twists and turns by the powers that be in New Delhi and drawn the necessary conclusions.

What they must surely also have taken cognizance of in the JS is this formulation: "The two Prime Ministers agreed that the success of democracy lay in creating an atmosphere free from violence and coercion and respect for the rule of law."

To my mind, that clearly points to the Maoists with the implied suggestion that the SPA do what is necessary to achieve such an environment – whether though carrots or sticks or a combination of both. Which is where the clear possibility of arms resumption by India (and the US) is highly significant.

NOT IN JS

Besides the M word, a host of other expectations have been belied – at least going by the language of the carefully worded JS, no doubt the artful work of South Block drafting wizards. Follows below a shortlist of the same.

1. Although SPAM-friendly media here had gone to bat loudly predicting that Delhi would heartily endorse the HoR declaration of 18 May claiming for itself self-arrogated supremacy, nothing of that kind has in fact happened, as far as the JS is concerned.

2. Likewise, there is no reference anywhere in the JS to the fabled Constituent Assembly elections which the HoR announced as its Holy Grail no sooner that it was reinstated, and which was/is the prime political objective of the Maoists. Is, in fact, India opposed to it?

3. There is nothing anywhere in the JS about the redundancy of the 1990 Constitution or, indeed, of the imperative of an interim Constitution.

4. Similarly, there is also no reference in the JS to the dissolution of HoR immediately or in the near future. Perhaps it can be assumed that India would like HoR to continue for as long as possible – anathema to many here, not only the Maoists?

5. The new coinage of "Loktantra" is conspicuous by its absence: only "democracy" finds mention.

In fact, all things considered, the overall assumption must be that, in exchange for India's support for placing the SPA and, more pointedly Koirala, in power, the SPA-ruled Singha Durbar has had to make significant or politically awkward compromises.

To conclude, it is significant that India has neither promised help on the Bhutanese refugee front or come up with any public statement on release of Nepalese Maoists in Indian jails. Furthermore, support for UN mediation has not come through, as also indicated by the Times of India editorial quoted above. The impression that the Koirala mission was – as predicted here last week – chiefly to receive directives, including on the foreign policy/security fronts, is thus impossible to erase.

Of course, that bitter pill has been rendered more palatable or marketable by the proposed economic sweetener though much of that too would, in the end, depend on there being a condition of sustainable peace. Unfortunately, that remains as elusive as ever despite hopeful rhetoric to the contrary.

ENDS


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