New dogs, old tricks
Some commentators have characterised the electoral performance of the Maoists in Nepal’s constituent assembly elections as catching India by surprise. That’s not entirely incorrect. Though polls have a tendency to get pundits wrong, election results surprised most people, including the Maoists themselves.
Does this mean India should be more worried about its relations with Nepal?
Not quite. Once Comrade Prachanda becomes President or Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal and comes to grips with the reality of running a state—as opposed to running a revolution—he will realise that he has about as much policy flexibility as his predecessors.
He has already declared that Nepal would maintain “equal distance from India and China”. He also uttered phrases like “historical relationship with India”, “open borders” and developing “closer ties”. The phrases might well have been uttered for diplomatic purposes…but it might well be that the Maoists have come to understand that “equal distance” on a two-dimensional map is quite different from equal distance in three dimensional reality. High Himalayas are very three-dimensional.
For India, the main issue is having to handle a new government in Kathmandu that must learn the ropes of governance while coming to terms with the gap between a revolutionary Communism and mundane reality. In the domain of international relations, it is quite possible that the new government would do things to show that there is a new show in town, and that it has other friends, and pose for its domestic constituency. While it might well be necessary to indulge them a little, Indian and Nepali interests will both be best served if Messrs Dahal & Co’s learning curve is short.