November 27, 2005Foreign Affairs

His kingdom gone

India needs to take a strong position in favour of Gyanendra’s exit

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The most vexing question for those concerned with India’s Nepal policy is this: who is the elephant in the room? Until the controversial assassination of King Birendra and his family, it was clear that Nepal had a Maoist problem. But since that time and especially since this February’s palace coup, King Gyanendra’s policies and actions have helped radically change the problem definition — more than the Maoists, it is King Gyanendra who is hurtling Nepal towards inevitable state failure. For his brinkmanship at the Dhaka SAARC summit, he may have received a large consignment of arms from China, but in so doing, he burnt his bridges with India.

Indeed, Gyanendra’s recourse to the China card’ in Dhaka could have been in anticipation of the coming together of Nepal’s democratic politicians and its Maoist rebels. It was in New Delhi that leaders of Nepal’s political parties had several rounds of discussions with the Maoists. The Indian government, along with its American and British counterparts has tacitly blessed this realignment of political forces. But the reconfiguration need not necessarily have turned out this way.

As a democracy, India naturally supports Nepal’s democratic political parties. The question that confronted India after Gyanendra’s takeover was deciding which of the other two actors — the King or the Maoists — would get along well with the democrats. By announcing a ceasefire and making overtures to the political opposition, the Maoists signaled that their readiness for a political compromise. Gyanendra, on the other hand, did little to cultivate India’s support. It was he who convinced India’s Congress-led, Communist supported government that the Maoists were, after all, the lesser of the two evils.

Having brought together the democrats and the Maoist rebels into a political formation that has called for a revival of parliament and the creation of a constituent assembly, Indian policy must now focus on ensuring that both parties, especially the Maoists, keep their promises. The Maoists have sensed a real opportunity to capture power in Nepal. Once in power though, they may find it convenient to set aside such constitutional niceties as elections and parliamentary processes. Nepal’s current civil war came about largely due to India’s unwillingness to act more strongly in the interests of Nepalese democracy. So it is all the more important for India to ensure that any future dispensation in Kathmandu does not undermine constitutional rule or threaten India’s internal security. By countenancing an arrangement that gives the Maoists far more legitimacy than they ever had, India has entered a risky compromise. Unless it can match astute political management with robust security arrangements, this compromise can go terribly wrong.

Chinese weapons he may have got, but unless Gyanendra is seriously delusional he must know that Chinese assistance may buy him time by prolonging the armed conflict, but it cannot ensure the survival of the monarchy. The case for supporting the autocrat in Kathmandu was based on the premise that he is or will be our autocrat’. That was never correct. Gyanendra has to go.

Related Posts: Secular-Right writes that India must focus on changing the Nepalese army’s attitude towards the King.

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