Trouble in the neighbourhood

Trouble in the neighbourhood
King’s move has deepened Nepal’s crisis
by H. K. Dua

There is trouble in India’s neighbourhood and Dr Manmohan Singh and his government may have to spend time and effort to decide what exactly to do in the evolving solution which is certainly not to its liking.

Particularly worrisome is the crisis in Nepal which has deepened after the coup King Gyanendra staged on February 1, dismissing his Prime Minister and the Cabinet and himself assuming charge of running the government.

The King’s move in Nepal, in addition to some of the recent developments in Bangladesh, made India cancel the Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka to attend the SAARC Summit.

By forcing the indefinite postponement of the SAARC Summit, India apparently has tried to achieve two objectives:

One, it denied King Gyanendra an opportunity to acquire an air of international legitimacy for his taking over direct control of the government in Nepal.

And two, it sent a strong message to the Khaleda Zia government in Dhaka that it was allowing quite a few things to happen in Bangladesh that were against India’s national interest and that the time had come when it should have another look at its unhelpful attitude towards New Delhi.

India’s statement after the royal coup clearly amounted to condemnation of King Gyanendra’s throwing the concept of constitutional monarchy overboard and replacing it with personal rule. It might have hurt the royal pride, but surely he could not have expected New Delhi to endorse what he had chosen to do.

New Delhi’s decision not to participate in the Dhaka Summit has been taken as a snub by the Khaleda Zia government, but New Delhi seems to have been deliberate in reminding it that it could not go on taking Indian concerns lightly — particularly its allowing insurgents from the North-Eastern region to seek shelter in Bangladesh, or its security concerns.

Apparently, the Indian Government’s policy to both King Gyanendra’s new regime in Nepal as well as the Khaleda Zia government in Dhaka has hardened of late.

The new policy towards the King’s regime will depend on how the situation unfolds on the ground; the policy on Bangladesh on whether it is prepared to give up its adversarial posture towards India.

A clear idea of the nature of new relationships with Nepal and Bangladesh will emerge only after the current policy review going on in South Block has led to some conclusions.

Evolving a new policy on Nepal is particularly a complicated exercise as King Gyanendra’s move has upset many a calculation of India and other countries who tried to help him restore order in the strife-torn nation.

India is worried that the King’s crackdown on an elected government, the imposition of censorship and the arrest of democratic opposition leaders, students and local opinion leaders will not only have serious implications for India, but also for Nepal, and even the monarchy itself.

King Gyanendra, who came to power after the palace killing of his brother King Birendra and his family, has never liked the democratic political parties despite the fact that the Maoists have been indulging in killings across the country to challenge the government in power, as well as the monarchy itself.

The King has never really liked the idea of sharing power with democratically-elected governments, believing that the political parties were a hurdle to his desire to wield absolute power in Nepal.

The dismissal of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government last Tuesday has been attacked by political parties as also by the Maoists, who in fact have invited the political parties—although for tactical reasons—to join hands with them to fight against the monarchy.

Ideally, the King could have used the democratic parties as a buffer between the monarchy and the Maoists, who want abolition of the monarchy. He has, however, removed the buffer between the monarchy and the Maoists.

The only element the King can now rely on is the Royal Nepal Army which at present is loyal to him. But the increasing dependence on the army in a country where democracy has often been smothered and where the Maoists have succeeded in creating a civil war situation has inherent dangers. Continued dependence on the army can lead to the weakening of the monarchy itself and whet the appetite of someone in uniform — a prospect which may look theoretical now, but may not remain so in the long run.

Also, when the democratic leadership has been rendered dysfunctional, the King has none but himself to fight the Maoists. The Maoists — whose influence has spread across vast areas of Nepal — can threaten the future of the monarchy itself. Moreover, the snuffing out of democratic elements can also push the students to join the ranks of Maoists.

India has a stake in Nepal’s stability. With India’s border with Nepal open, Maoists can cross over to India, as also a large number of people who may start fleeing the troubled country and move into Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Some Maoists are already reported to have crossed over to Uttaranchal.

India has its own problem with naxalites operating in several states and has been concerned about the links that have already been established between the Maoists in Nepal and the naxalites in India.

The King’s gamble is a setback for Nepal. It can have serious security implications for India as well.

How India will deal with the new situation in the North remains to be seen. Its options are limited and New Delhi’s experience has shown that the King does not appreciate even well-meaning advice from New Delhi.

India has given considerable military hardware to the Royal Nepal Army. Immediately, it may have to decide whether it should give more arms to an army which is being used to suppress the democratic movement in the country and give support to a ruler who is said to be not very fond of India.

Hardly any worthwhile contact has taken place between the Indian government and King Gyanendra since the coup. Nor does New Delhi know what the King is going to do next.

It could be that India may not be able to pull King Gyanendra out of the crisis he has created for his country and himself.