Sunday, April 23, 2006

Behind India's Two-Pillar Obsession

India is still wiping off the egg that landed on its face after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rushed to reaffirm his faith in New Delhi’s twin-pillar policy on Nepal.
In effect, India stood behind the restoration of the 1990 constitution’s political order.
Such dualism must be discarded, Indian analysts stress, because it is acceptable neither to the Seven-Party Alliance nor the Maoist rebels arrayed against King Gyanendra.
Both believe that if constitutional monarchy is allowed to stay, the king might bide his time and dismiss another elected government to seize absolute power.
Moreover, the growing anti-monarchy sentiment seen, heard and felt on the streets could easily dissipate once the palace receded to the background.
Prime Minister Singh must have expected such a response. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have sent Dr. Karan Singh, a prominent lawmaker of the ruling Congress party with close ties to the Nepalese royal family, as his special envoy.
After his mission, Karan Singh probably told the Indian premier that King Gyanendra would not take any step toward the restoration of multi-party democracy until the monarchy’s role in the new arrangement was established.
Aboard a special aircraft en route to Germany, Prime Minister Singh sounded undaunted. He asserted that India couldn’t afford Nepal to become a failed state. (Under the domino theory, Bangladesh could stand next in line.) Translation: The two pillars stay.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who owes his accelerated promotion in large part to his performance record as ambassador to Nepal, had to come out with a clarification on New Delhi’s optimism over King Gyanendra’s readiness to appoint an SPA government.
But Saran couldn’t bring himself to discard the twin-pillar doctrine. What could explain this Indian obsession? Perhaps the fact that it has worked well for India all these years. History is instructive here. Remember the Delhi Compromise of 1951 under which Jawahar Lal Nehru constructed the platform for King Tribhuvan, B.P. Koirala and Mohan Sumshere Rana to work out their differences?
Mohan Sumshere and B.P. found themselves locked in the same noose; the survival of the Rana-Nepali Congress coalition government was predicated on the passion of the partners participation. Once either constituent pulled out, the coalition would collapse. And it did after nine months.
As the triumphant revolutionary, B.P. Koirala thought he deserved the prime minister’s job. He pulled out of the coalition precisely for that purpose. But the Lightning Brigade, that elite military symbol of real power, had moved from Mohan Sumshere’s control to King Tribhuvan’s. The Nepali Congress did get to form the government, but it was B.P.’s elder brother Matrika Prasad Koirala who took the oath as premier.
Let’s face it, India is still committed to the two pillars. The plinth and dead weight could be worked out in accordance with developments. The first pillar will no doubt be the political parties. The second is up for grabs.
The monarchy and the Maoists must brace themselves for a rigorous test. All is not assured on the SPA side, either. Surya Bahadur Thapa is not formally in the opposition alliance. Moreover, he might be considered a venerable has-been by a rising and shining India.
Maila Baje always thought Arjun Narsingh K.C. had a promising future. Well positioned in the Nepali Congress, Maila Baje hears that his recommendation letter counts a lot at the Indian Embassy’s cultural scholarship section. A Prime Minister K.C.? Maybe not right away. But don’t count him out just because you don’t see him running from pillar to pole.