India must tweak its policy on Nepal -Suhas Chakma
AS NEPAL Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai left for the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil on 18 June, the hardline faction of the Maoists led by Mohan Vaidya announced the split of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). India appears to be relieved at the split, but as the country having the most significant stake on Nepal, it ought to rethink its policy of the last decade.By the time the Maoist insurgents paralysed Nepal, India had already burnt its fingers with the LTTE. It provided unstinted support to political parties as well as King Gyanendra until democratic processes abolished the institution of monarchy. To his credit, Gyanendra had managed to split the Maoists, with Bhattarai being demoted by the Maoist supremo Prachanda. An intervention of a senior leader of the CPI(M) — then partner of the UPA-I government — facilitated reconciliation between Prachanda and Bhattarai.
India successfully facilitated signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Maoists and other political parties in 2006. However, India maintained its dual policy on the Maoists. On one hand, it facilitated mediation between over-ground political parties led by GP Koirala, who often checked into the aiims for checkups only to slip away to hold dialogue with Prachanda in Noida. On the other hand, senior Maoist leaders like Mohan Vaidya and CP Gajurel were rotting in Indian jails. They turned against India.
Since the signing of the CPA, India’s policy on Nepal has been sliding. Then envoy Rakesh Sood continued to implement the policy articulated by National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, acquiring the nickname ‘Viceroy’. The musical chairs for Prime Ministership continued but Prime Minister Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal of the UML failed to deliver on the peace process in the absence of cooperation from the Maoists.
India started engaging with Bhattarai, who frequented Delhi, much to the consternation of India-baiters amongst the Maoists. Once Bhattarai became Prime Minister at the expense of Prachanda in August 2011, India sensed the success of its policy. Bhattarai further delivered on one of the stumbling blocks of the peace process: disbanding the People’s Liberation Army. He also appeared to be committed to the unwritten agreement to hand over the chair to the NC after adoption of the Constitution to hold general elections.
As the deadline for adoption of the Constitution neared on 27 May, the NC and the UML refused to accept ethnicity-based federalism or allow vote in the Constituent Assembly on the issue. Bhattarai, taking advantage of the Supreme Court order to adopt the constitution or hold fresh elections, dissolved the Constituent Assembly and announced Constituent Assembly election for November 2012.
India is at a loss currently and has failed to read the situation on many counts. First, India underestimates the support base of the Maoists. Second, India and its security analysts considered that Prachanda’s era had come to an end after his fourth phase of campaign against India was called off unilaterally in December 2010. Further, the middle class in Kathmandu publicly opposed Prachanda’s bandhs. This author consistently held that with the declaration of 11 ethnic-based provinces during his movement against India, Prachanda had decimated independent leadership of the Janjati groups with one stroke.
Third, for its engagement with the Maoists, India emphasised on splitting the Maoists around relations with India. This only impacted the hardliners while Prachanda and Bhattarai increasingly found themselves on the same page as their political future is dependent on each other. The agreement reached with the NC and UML on 15 May provided for a directly elected President sharing powers with the Prime Minister elected from the bicameral Parliament. Prachanda and Bhattarai sensed the possibility of a Putin-Medvedev style arrangement in Nepal and this has been one of the critical factors for dissolution of the CA and announcement for election. The unwritten agreement no longer mattered.
FOURTH, WHILE India had sought disbanding of the PLA as desired by the Nepal Army, India had no position on the question of federalism despite the issue being the centre of New Nepal. India was caught between its support for the Madhesis’ demand for meaningful federalism and the Maoists increased support amongst the Janjatis through ethnicity-based federalism. Consequently, India failed to impress upon the NC and the UML that Nepal is no longer about Kathmandu valley: The peripheries have become the centre of Nepal’s politics and aspirations of the Janjatis and the Madhesis must be addressed.
Currently, the Maoists and India appear to be on the same page on the question of federalism in Nepal but schisms developed over the last decade endure. The split of the Maoists makes the game wide open.
Suhas Chakma is the director of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights.