By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
A group of eminent Indians with deep interests in Nepal gathered in New Delhi on Saturday to talk about the ‘changed Nepal’ in which they critiqued the first 100 days of the Maoist-led government, raised eyebrows on the Integration, expressed suspicion to ‘the China Card’ and discussed on ways to stop Maoist victory in the elections under the new constitution.
One of the participants in the discussion program organized jointly by Indian Council for International Cooperation and India International Center (IIC) was N N Jha, former Indian
ambassador deputy chief of mission to Nepal and a Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) expert on international affairs, who recalled his recent meeting with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and said that India has to find ways to prevent a Maoist victory in the elections held after the formulation of new constitution.
“The Maoist game plan is to grab the power as much as possible,” said Jha who met Dahal earlier this month in Kathmandu. “Having got rid of monarchy, they are targeting other institutions like judiciary and central bank. The promise to return back the seized land hasn’t been fulfilled; some land has been redistributed to their cadres.”
Jha said that he didn’t see immediate threats to India in the Maoists but said that the former rebels might come up as a problem to India if they win majority in the parliament in next election. “I don’t think that they will do anything to annoy India between now and 2010 when the fresh elections are supposed to be held under the new constitution,” he said. “But if they get majority, they will take everything into their hands and change the constitution the way they want. We have to make sure Maoists don’t win in 2010. We have to plan for now.”
former Indian Foreign Secretary Secretary (East) at the Ministry of External Affairs agreed on the necessity of such plan and indirectly suggested that India should go for rigging of elections in Nepal should situation demand so. “It may not be a moral thing to do [the rigging of election for the world’s largest democracy] but foreign affairs doesn’t always work on morality,” Sikri said.
Another participant of the discussion titled “Changed Nepal: Concerns and Challenges for India” held in IIC complex was retired Major General Ashok K Mehta who said that India could use ex-Gorkha soldiers against the Maoists in the polls. “Ex-servicemen who mostly come from West Nepal are our constituency and we should mobilize them [against the Maoists] which we couldn’t do in the previous election [that saw a Maoist victory],” he said.
Claiming that the government in Nepal was represented by hardliners from coalition parties including Home Minister Bamdev Gautam who headed the hardliner faction of the CPN UML, Jha said that Nepal was increasingly siding with China while pointing fingers at India. “Home Minister told me that the unrest in Terai could be traced to the persons at the Indian consulate in Birgunj,” Jha recalled his meeting with Gautam earlier this month. “I heard that even Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) is trying to establish relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. In our meeting Upendra Yadav [Chairman of the MJF and Foreign Minister] didn’t tell me about that and why would he do. He is a former Maoist himself and has learned the tricks from Prachanda who tells only good things to the listener in front of him. And China has offered to build four-lane highway from Kathmandu to Rasuwa. This is the situation we have to deal.”
While discussing about Nepal’s ‘China Card’ participants of the meeting agreed that Jawaharlal Nehru’s theory that ‘India’s frontier lie on the north of the Himalayas’ was irrelevant in present context when the ‘Chinese influence in Nepal has grown by leaps and bounds.’ “Our relations with Nepal are always seen through the India-China prism,” said Dr Ravni Thakur of Delhi University while presenting a paper titled “Impact of China on Indo-Nepal Relations”. “Our policies must not try to bring Nepal into so called India sphere. The [Sino-Nepal] relationship is there and is already significant. Chinese give all kinds of concessions to their small neighbors like Nepal and always support whoever is in power in Nepal. China looks Nepal as an extended economic zone. Perhaps India can mitigate a growing Chinese influence by seeing Nepal as a free trade route to China.”
That view that Nepal should be a free trade route between India and China was immediately countered by Rajiv Sikri who said that that India shouldn’t do that as long as it doesn’t see direct benefit.
Presenting a paper on ‘100 Days of Maoist Rule”, Dr. S Chandrasekharan, Director of South Asia Analysis Group said that the Maoist led-government’s performance was ‘high on oratory and low on achievement.” “Government has failed miserably on law and order,” he said. Claiming that the government was stuck in three cocoons- 1) The Maoist party that is increasingly being controlled by hardliners like Mohan Baidya and C P Gajurel, 2) Ruling coalition that is marred by conflicting interests of the member parties and 3) the Interim Constitution, Chandrasekharan suggested that the government should ‘break out the first, compromise on the second and confine themselves on the third.”
Saying that the present government is led by the party that is ‘ideologically more prone to look North,” S. K. Sinha, retired Lieutenant General and Indian ambassador to Nepal during the 1989 Indian blockade, said that India “should ensure, without stepping on their toes, our national interests are well safe guarded.”
Suggesting that army remains the most important constituency in Nepal Sinha opined that the integration of Maoist combatants in the national army is a serious issue for India. Stating that India never incorporated outside combatants in the national army Sinha said when Bangladesh did the same (by absorbing guerillas from the Mukti Bahini) that led to the assassination of President Sheikh Mujib by the former guerillas. While agreeing that India has very special links with Nepal army and national armies of both countries were ‘enjoying the best of their relations’ participants said that the same might come under threat if the Maoist combatants were included in the national army. “It is something which effects out national security,” said Sinha. “Be it four thousand [Maoist combatants integrated into Nepali army] or five thousand.”