His kingdom gone

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

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.

14 thoughts on “His kingdom gone”

  1. It’s mind boggling to think one would support Maoists terrorists rather than the king, even if he is a stupid person as he has shown to be. If Maoists were so interested in governance and democracy, why were they fighting an insurgency in the first place? Maoists naxalites are the same everywhere – in Nepal, in Bihar, and in Andhra Pradesh. They want a totalitarian rule akin to the rule of Fidel or Mao. By creating a sanctuary for Maoists to take control, India (along with US and Britain) played right into the insurgencies hands. What mechanism do they have to enforce the settlement they brokered between Communists political parties and insurgents? None. They are not going to invade Nepal to depose Maoists, if things go wrong.

    If the king is killed (and that his only fate if Maoists take over), the blow back from this action will be felt for decades in India. The ground work for this already exists in India. India, probably, single handedly created a second monster in the neighborhood (after the Islamic terrorism on the other border).

  2. I agree with the previous commenter in that supporting the Maoists is a very risky option that has little chance of any good coming out for India. Also, I’m very unconvinced about the “China supports the king” line of thought. Are you suggesting that China is not supporting the Maoists in material and finances? It is highly likely that China is playing both hands and supporting both sides – a win-win situation.

    India should make it clear to the democratic parties that it will support their goals of reverting the kingdom back to a democracy – but it should make it also clear that it does not see the king as the enemy. Avoiding the king like plague is a mistake – just like China worked it out with the king, so should India. The goal should be to bring about bring the king and the democratic parties to one table – if not directly by India then via UK/USA. We need a friendly Nepal across the borders, not a Maoist state which also controls the Nepali army and which is idealogically opposed to India & democracy.

    Maoists were never friends (they have killed Indians on our side of the border too) and will never be (supporting them would likely not bring any benefit to India). Once given the power, they will not think twice before wiping out their democratic “friends” and taking over the country.

    Supporting them to overthrow the king would be a mistake for which India would have to pay a heavy penalty over the coming years and decades.
    –Das

  3. Chandra & Das,

    Whether or not the Maoists (or Gyanendra or the political parties) are friends is a different matter from who India should support at the moment. I have previously argued that India’s interest resides with the Nepalese people; not in the king, the Army, the Maoists or the politicians.

    Unless India is prepared for a heavy military and political intervention in Nepal, it is difficult to see how Gyanendra’s forces can win without backing from China. And India is unlikely to intervene strongly because of both external (vis-a-vis China) and internal (coalition politics) reasons. As Secular-Right points out, for reasons of its own, China too will stay out as long as India does not intervene too strongly. That suggests that the bloody stalemate will continue, with the King and the Maoists fighting a war of attrition, destroying the Nepalese economy. That is not good news for India.

    Given the stakes, both the king and Maoists are playing India and China against each other. Ironically, they seemed to have nudged closer to their ‘unnatural’ partners. But it was Gyanendra who made the choice to antagonise India. He should not go unpunished. It cannot be a reasonable argument that a Nepal under Gyanendra will be any more likely to be sensitive to Indian interests than a Nepal under an alternative arrangement.

    Getting the monarch out of the game makes it a clear battle between the Maoists and the democrats. When that happens, I do not think it will be difficult for India to decide which side to support. Besides, bringing the Maoists’ political agenda (the call for a constituent assembly) in the political mainstream will leave them with only their ultra-left and terrorist baggage, for which there is little support among the Nepalese people.

  4. A choice between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. It really depends on how far the Maoists can be “distinguished” from those on our soil. In my opinion, we should rather sup with the “known” devil. More so, since supping with the Maoists will inevitably mean more examples of the stupid ceasefire and agreements of the kind the Andhra Pradesh Govt. used.

  5. Here, we go again. Nitin and his delusion of India’s grandeur right in our backyard. I do not think King G has antagonised India in any way. He was then, according to the NEPALI people not the politicans protecting the very existence of Nepal. Yes, they have been high handness in King G’s part during his rule.
    IS the best interest for us necessarily the best for Nepal?

    India’s interest lies in first and foremost : protecting the state of Nepal from the Maoists.

    Das has in his post laid it out clearly.

    Why do you think a radical communist outfit beleives in the very basic principle of democracy: constitutent assembly. You tell me that and I will be back to counter argue more.

  6. Nitin,
    I re-read your previous writeup on Nepali politics (per your response) and found nothing to disagree in that article – it looks like there is some contradiction between the two articles. Or maybe a re-think? To zero-in, the final paragraph of your previous article has this recommendation “Indeed, India must step up cooperation with the Nepalese armed forces and provide them with more assistance in combating the Marxist insurgents.” Whereas in the current article you seem to be recommending the opposite! Or am I mistaken?

    I don’t think Gyanendra “antagonizing” India was a random act without any provocation on India’s part. The Left’s role in arranging for secret meetings with the Maoists and the India government’s implicit support (by means of silence) all needs to be woven into the king’s reaction. “Punishing” Gyanendra by supporting the Maoists would be akin to a “cutting the nose to spite the face” approach by India, IMHO. There is also an assumption here that somehow the Nepali people support a radical and violent Maoist leadership where there is no evidence of this from what I read.

    In any case, your articles are thought provoking and I love reading them.
    Thanks,
    –Das

  7. Das, I think you need to get hooked up with the foreign policy walas in New Delhi. I think this is a kind of reasoning India needs, not just the anti-King stance. We can have more solutions than that stance. From what I hear from the Nepali medai, while the majority welcome any kind of movement towards peace, there is a huge doubt whether this complex 12 point agreement can be truly and honestly taken up by the political parties and the Maoists. Everybody doubts it and rightly so.
    On the Maoists front: According to the Nepalese media they has been a slow and steady trickle of Maoists surrendering and ofcourse we cannot deny the fact India is the second home to the Maoist leadership and their cadres, for god sake’s they have an Interpol alert on them. Just hand them over and get this over with.Imagine your reaction if Nepal chaperones Dawood in Nepal.
    As I have told in all the blogs: India’s interest lies protecting the state of Nepal from the Maoists, not playing games with the King. It’s petty

    ” it is King Gyanendra who is hurtling Nepal towards inevitable state failure”. can you also elaborate on this?

  8. Das,

    You are right. I am advocating a change in position vis-a-vis Gyanendra. That is because between then and now, Gyanendra has done little to suggest that he is somebody India can do business with. His response has been intransigent, expecting India to yield to his terms. And his terms are something that work against India’s core interests in Nepal (which reside in the Nepalese people).

    While India’s interests in Nepal have not changed, its policy cannot remain ossified and inflexible in terms of the positions it takes. There’s no point in trying to engage Gyanendra if he refuses to play ball. Allowing him to believe in the TINA (There is no alternative) principle will hardly make him more amenable to India’s suggestions.

    This does not in any way suggest that Maoists have popular support or that India back them unconditionally. The objective reality is that they control territory, and Gyanendra’s forces cannot defeat them. India needs to deal with them in one way or the other, by military and/or by political means.

    Santosh,

    Do you notice a contradiction in what you say: If it is a ‘delusion of grandeur’ for India to influence its own backyard, how come you suggest India define ‘protecting the state of Nepal from the Maoists’ as its interest?

    In any case, I disagree with the formulation about protecting the state of Nepal, if the state of Nepal is an autocracy. Indeed, I would argue that India failed to protect its interest (democracy in Nepal) in the 1990s and the 2000s from attack from monarch and Maoists.

  9. Ok, maybe India’s grandeur is indeed delusional.
    However, I like to disagree to your idea of protecting our interests.
    You may not like the King but we do not have many choices left. Our open support of the Maoists is definitely going to be a bit too much to swallow for the King.
    Ever since the 60’s we have been carefully consodilating our influence in Kathmandu. King Manhendra’s Nepal was kept within our sphere of influence and not the Chinese. Now, we are at a point where we are about to throw it away.
    The Chinese interests are becoming clearer by the day.
    Your idea of political parties+Maosist-King= protection of Indian interests is messy and dangerous. The only way to protect our interest in Nepal is to help them stabilise the situation. This means not protecting the Maoist leadership in India.
    I think, now the Indian position is clear to the King. He is going to make all out effort to subdue the Maoists before the Feb 2006 elections.If the elections suceeds, he is in a win win situation. And, also the King goes to China on the 26th of Dec. He is bound to get something that we will not like.
    India has supported more autocratic regimes than King G’s.

  10. Santosh,

    I think, now the Indian position is clear to the King. He is going to make all out effort to subdue the Maoists before the Feb 2006 elections.

    You mean he was not making all out efforts until now? The point is without external assistance his all out efforts will not allow him to defeat the Maoists.

    India has supported more autocratic regimes than King G’s.

    Maybe. But how is that relevant?

  11. Yes, precisely, he could not do much without external assistance. It was in our interest to help him to that.Now, the Chinese have done it. The King does not need the whole world to fund his army, just one country of China’s stature is enough. And, he is getting it. And, I hope they start using it by killing those very Maoists.What muddled thinking you have proposed is totally destabilising for us in protecting our interests in Nepal. It is beyond workable.

    About autocratic regimes:

    It may not be relevant to you but to the Nepalese it is extremely important.

  12. Santosh,

    I don’t think you are following the arguments. Let me explain:

    a) Gyanendra cannot defeat the Maoists without external assistance
    b) He will not get enough military support from China to enable him to defeat the Maoists
    c) India’s interests lie in a Nepal becoming a thriving democracy
    d) Gyanendra’s actions have shown how much democracy Nepal can have under him
    e) Getting the King out is the first step towards solving Nepal’s civil war which is killing people.
    f) Maoists are a problem too. They need to be dealt with. There may a possibility for them to be eventually forced into the political mainstream. (eg like the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam)

    I appreciate your opposition to the Maoists. But if this is to be a useful discussion please use reasonable arguments. “It may not be relevant to you but to the Nepalese it is extremely important”. You need to prove both assertions you make in that sentence. Whis is it not relevant to me? And why is it important for the Nepalese people that India has supported more autocratic regimes in the past?

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