The Jakarta opportunity realised

But India should keep the pressure on Gyanendra

First the good news: Dr Manmohan Singh met King Gyanendra on the sidelines of the Afro Asian summit in Jakarta. According to Indian sources, the Indian prime minister insisted on a quick restoration of the political process. According to Nepalese sources, King Gyanendra received assurances that India would resume military aid, held up after his palace coup in February. Even before the summit, Nepal announced the impending release of some political prisoners — something that the Indian foreign minister was keen to achieve. With this, the “I won’t talk to you because you’ve been a bad boy” phase is over.

But did the Indian prime minister over-extend himself when he assured Gyanendra that India regarded constitutional monarchy as being one of the two pillars of Nepal’s polity (the other being multi-party democracy)? That may well be what India would like to see in Nepal, but giving Gyanendra this assurance may not have been the most prudent of moves.

Firstly, if Gyanendra is bad, his only son and heir, Crown Prince Paras is far worse. Neither of them inspire confidence that they would allow that other pillar to stand. Secondly, it is not clear if Manmohan Singh’s backing of the monarchy is serious enough to rule out some (republican) endgames in Nepal’s current civil war. Thirdly, it is by no means certain that Gyanendra will read these words as India intends them. If he interprets this as a vindication of his gambit to make India blink, he may feel less inclined to move forward on restoring what India sees as the other pillar — multi-party democracy.

Whatever may be the case, India now needs to staff the Nepal desk of its foreign ministry with some of its heavy hitters. The ice-breaking in Jakarta has opened up an opportunity for India to re-engage itself in Nepal. It will have itself to blame (all over again) if it squanders this chance.

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