India should push for a new constituent assembly in return for the Maoists renouncing violence
All King Gyanendra really offered, with an insensitivity that has characterised his style, was to set the clock back to January 31, 2005, the day before his palace coup. It is not surprising that the combined opposition — political parties, Maoists and ordinary people — dismissed this as too little, too late. That’s because much has changed in the period since Gyanendra’s ill-considered coup last year. Not only have the political parties and the Maoists become allies of convenience, the Nepalese people have surprised everyone by declaring that they want change. Let there be no mistake — if Gyanendra is on the backfoot today it is not because of the Maoist campaign or the SPA protests. It is only because the middle class was out on the streets of Kathmandu and other towns.
India, along with the United States and others have welcomed Gyanendra’s move. They, especially India, didn’t have much choice. Gyanendra’s offer came after Dr Karan Singh gave him the message, so India could hardly criticise him for it. But one suspects, given that the Indian foreign ministry has reverted to including the phrase ‘constitutional monarchy’ in its official statements about Nepal, that this is more or less what India wanted Gyanendra to do. That is unfortunate because instead of ‘cutting and cutting cleanly’, it has almost certainly allowed the stalemate to continue.
What India should attempt is to get the players to trade-off the two crucial issues in the Nepal imbroglio — the end of Maoist terrorism for a new constituent assembly. The Maoists’ bluff will be called if they are offered their long-demanded constituent assembly in return for a permanent end to their armed struggle. Gyanendra’s bluff will be called too — as his claim of being the only hope of ending Maoist terrorism will be put to test. India is best placed to help guarantee that each side keeps its promise.
Instead, India appears to be heading back to its regular place on the horns of its Nepalese dilemma. While it is officially patting Gyanendra on his back, the UPA government’s Communist allies are inclined to persist with the protest until the ‘revolution’ succeeds in getting rid of the monarchy. That course of action will play entirely into the Maoists hands, as they will neither have an obligation nor any incentive to disarm. While this is what the Indian Left may desire, the Indian government must realise what an awful outcome that will be for Nepal, as it will be for India. If there was ever a time for some deft diplomacy, it is now.