India’s Intervention and Crisis in Nepal

Brij Bihari Pandey

J ust before the Foreign Minister Natwar Singh’s visit to Nepal, the situation in the Himalayan kingdom took a significant turn when the King, after trying Lokendra Bahadur and Surya Bahadur Thapa of the Rashtriya Prajatantrik Party (RPP), invited Sher Bahadur Deuba of the breakaway Nepali Congress (Democratic) to assume premiership and form the government. Deuba is the same person who was sacked by King in October 2002 on the charge of being “incompetent”. This time Deuba has from the very beginning started attempts to form a multi-party government and solve the Maoist problem through peace talks. His efforts seem to bear fruit now as the largest party in Parliament, CPN(UML) has drawn a Common Minimum Programme with his party NC(D) and would very soon decide to join the government. Sadbhavana Party and RPP are also expected to follow suit. CPN(UML) is keen to attain peace with Maoists even by accepting their demand to hold elections to constituent assembly and revise the constitution.

Natwar Singh’s Nepal visit was manifestation of the pro-active policy that the newly installed UPA government has adopted towards the rebellion-ridden Nepal. This significant foreign policy initiative came in the wake of resignation tendered by Surya Bahadur Thapa in the face of nationwide protest, making it clear that despite all Indian and US military and financial help, the King was unable to maintain law and order. Indian newspapers had demanded urgent intervention and South Block was very much worried. JN Dixit, who took charge as the new National Security Advisor, has already expressed his serious concern over the situation in Nepal.

The Indian establishment holds that India should lead the global intervention to stabilise Nepal. As it turned out, Indian government has a three point agenda in response to Nepal crisis: to ensure that, as per the King’s promise, elections are held in 2005; to limit the influence of Maoists by training the Royal Nepalese Army coupled with providing developmental aid and; to end the political situation conducive for Maoist insurgency by evolving a multi-party government that could help achieve the above two objectives. “Formation of a multi-party government”, Natwar said during his visit, “would also pave the way for holding elections and tackling the insurgency.”

After meeting the Army Chief of Nepal, Natwar Singh said that authorities in both nations concur that the anti-government rebels posed a common threat. “I pledge India’s continuing support in strengthening Nepal’s security capabilities and in developing her infrastructure, including in the field of water resources,” Natwar Singh assured, “We pledge the support that will help Nepal put down the insurgency.”

The appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba just two days before as the Prime Minister was not the only significant incident on the eve of Natwar Singh. Another significant incident was the arrest of 11 Maoists, including Hit Bahadur Tamang, Chief of Tamang Autonomous Revolutionary People’s Council (TARPC), in Patna in a surprise raid by police on 31 May (TARPC covers four Tamang-dominated districts of Nepal where Maoists have their stronghold). Police sources in India revealed that they were specifically asked by the foreign ministry to conduct such a big operation before the Foreign Minister’s visit. The signal led CPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda to decry Deuba’s appointment as a move “directed by foreign imperialists and is a conspiracy against the Nepalis aspiring for democracy and peace.”

In response to the Indian police assault, the Maoists launched a big attack on 14 June on Nepali Armed Police killing 21 of them. All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R), student wing of CPN(M), launched a nationwide strike. And TARPC called a transport bandh as well as ban on Hindi films in Kathmandu and nearby districts and, which resulted in the stopping of Indian supply to Nepal. However, later the Maoists agreed to call off the educational strike and transport bandh as well as the ban on Hindi films after the Government invited Maoists for talks and said it is committed to lift the ‘terrorist’ tag from the revolutionary students.

Analysts say that Madhav Nepal, despite being the leader of the largest parliamentary party subsequent to the division in Nepali Congress, was not called by the King because Indian establishment was against the option. The CPN(UML) had demanded a review of the 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty, which they hold as an unequal treaty, out of which India is given benefits at the cost of Nepalese interests. The treaty has made it possible for citizens of Nepal and India to freely visit each other’s country, get education, secure a job or run a business there and even acquire property. The 51-point agenda forwarded by the CPN(UML) includes making Nepal, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, a secular state, scrapping of existing regulations governing work procedures of the council of ministers (WPR) as the first step to correct regression (as this will give the executive powers in the hands of the government in the real sense), reviving the tenure of representatives of local bodies for one more year, holding peace talks with Maoists to draft a new constitution and holding parliamentary elections under UN’s norms and procedures.

It seems that Girija Prasad Koirala was the Indian choice, which was made clear by Natwar Singh when he asked the former to take more active and constructive part in Nepal politics. But Koirala no more finds a place in the King’s good book. When, subsequent to Deuba’s appointment, CPN(UML) came out of the Five Party Alliance and stopped taking part in the agitation, the GP Koirala-led Nepali Congress continued the agitation along with the other three parties including Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party on the demand of reinstating the Parliament, although the movement has lost much of its edge and impact. On his part Deuba has issued a veiled threat to this agitation, reimposing a ban on political strikes. It is the same Deuba who had imposed emergency in the name of crushing Maoist rebellion.

While welcoming Deuba’s appointment the CPN(UML), which held the step as his “reinstatement”, and thus a positive step towards reversing the “regression”, the party made it clear that this is not his “political reinstatement”. To achieve this, they asked the government to nullify the notorious Work Performance Regulation (WPR), according to which the government was required to seek King’s consent before any important decision or appointment. It was only after the regulation was annulled that the party is considering participation in the government.

Both India and US hold that constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy are the two main organs of Nepali political apparatus. Deuba’s government enjoys the backing of India, the US and European powers. Ambassadors of Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday have urged Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxists Leninists (CPN-UML) and other parliamentarian parties to join the Deuba Government. All the three – India, US and UK have been providing Nepal both developmental aid and military help to crush the Maoist rebellion. The United Kingdom will deliver two spy Islander aircraft. According to an agreement between the two countries, India is assisting Nepal counter the Maoist insurgency by bearing 70 per cent of the cost of any military hardware, including helicopters. After Natwar Singh came back, India has given Nepalese Army two military attack helicopters on 70% grant to suppress the Maoist rebellion. Earlier India had provided four helicopters besides trucks, mine-resistant vehicles, weapons and training to Nepali soldiers.

While Deuba has called Maoists for talks, the UN has also started showing an interest in mediating between the government and Maoist rebels. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recently sent Samuel Tamrat as his emissary to Nepal to offer the proposal to Deuba. Maoists have agreed to UN mediation, but the government is yet to qualify its position. India however did not take the UN initiative well and the Foreign Ministry has made it clear by asserting that there was no need for UN to intervene. There are talks of holding elections in Nepal under UN supervision, and on this matter and India holds that elections in Nepal could take place under a multinational team led by India. On its part India has invited the Election Commissioner of Nepal to come to India and learn how to conduct elections.

While peace in Nepal is certainly welcome, India must desist from acting as big brother or bullying superpower and should not intervene in the internal affairs of Nepal. While full democracy in Nepal is certainly desirable, it must not be dictated to or imposed by India on Nepal by virtue of its might. Let the people of Nepal decide their own destiny.