By Padmaja Murthy
During Jana Andolan II, the Maoist insurgents were the major armed group present in Nepal. However, now several other armed groups have emerged motivated around caste, class, regional and ethnic lines. There are reports that criminal elements from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have entered Nepal; that violent clashes have broken at some places among workers of different political parties. Any extent of patrolling the open borders will not prevent the movement of the common man, essential materials, criminals and arms into India. In some ways directly and indirectly India is also responsible for the unfortunate situation that exists in Nepal today. However, it is not time to apportion blames but prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
India played a crucial role in the 12-point agreement concluded in November 2005 between the political parties of Nepal and the Maoist insurgents which later led to Jana Andolan II and the other historic developments. Though India has never openly acknowledged or discussed its role, the Maoists in their statements have acknowledged the Indian contribution. It is now time to set the stage for another understanding which will have far reaching consequences for stability in Nepal and as a consequence in India too.
India could pursue the following: First, New Delhi should shift its focus of basing the policy towards Nepal primarily on strategic considerations and give more importance to the drafting of the constitution. India’s grievances towards the Maoist led government, especially with respect to the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) relations with China, is not being contested. However, India should have reserved its judgment on the UCPN-M government until the peace process was concluded. Instead, India welcomed the 22 party led coalition government led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, while the largest party sat in the opposition. The change in government has benefited neither India nor Nepal; instead, the anti-India rhetoric of the Maoists became shrill. No doubt, the completion of drafting of the constitution will not automatically mean peace and stability. However, there will be a set of written rules and procedures to face difficult situations without uncertainty. India’s policy should be based on the twin goals of maintaining consensus among the political parties and ensure progress in the drafting of the constitution and peace process.
Second, India should aim to build bridges with the UCPN-M. Indian foreign policy towards Nepal which does not result in constructive cooperation with the Maoists will be hollow and ineffective. Such an arrangement will not serve India’s interests and will not facilitate stability in Nepal. India should acknowledge that the UCPN-M is now a permanent political player in Nepal and equally influential whether in power or in opposition. Despite the animosity and distrust between them, which has intensified in recent times, both need to come together.
Third, India should persuade the political parties of Nepal to arrive at a National Government without putting any conditions on a particular party. The leadership of such a government could be held on a rotational basis after deciding its duration. To overcome the present deadlock, the leadership could first be handed to one of the leaders from the marginal parties instead of the three main parties.
Fourth, New Delhi should encourage Indian civil society to interact with its counterparts in Nepal including people from all professions – the industry, education, health and so on to form a cohesive group which puts pressure and constantly monitors the progress or lack of it and reminds the political parties of their goals.
Finally, New Delhi could use its positive influence over the Nepal Army to maintain maximum restraint and dissuade it from taking any wider role which would imply the diminishing role of democratic institutions.
India could choose to take the above measures to help stabilize Nepal. Given the challenges India faces from its own Maoists or Naxals it is essential that the experiment of bringing Nepal’s Maoists into the mainstream succeeds. On the other hand India could continue the status quo in its policy. India’s recent statements reflect its support to the government led by Madhav Kumar Nepal. The deteriorating situation could drag India into the divisive politics of Nepal leading to India providing assistance to the Nepal Army to quell the situation. The army would gain momentary control, only to be challenged periodically. This would not ensure peace and only result in a long drawn conflict, the impact of which will spill over into India. This scenario is not beneficial for India.
This article is a part of a series. The first article in the series addresses the likely scenarios for Nepal.
Padmaja Murthy is a Former Visiting Research Fellow at IPCS, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and can be reached at [email protected]. This article was first published by IPCS