Monday, May 19, 2008

The Guessing Game Continues

Barely a fortnight into his tenure, Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood has zeroed in on his brief: regaining India’s initiative in Nepal. Midway through our peace process, New Delhi clearly felt matters slipping from its grip. The United Nations was exceeding its mandate. The Chinese were becoming a far more assertive player – and flaunting it. The much-touted convergence of views with the United States looked fuzzier by the day.
By winning back Afghanistan as India’s top man in post-Taleban Kabul, Sood was the perfect candidate for Nepal. Jayant Prasad’s nomination was quietly buried in the Indian media.
Sood went straight to the heart of the matter. He suggested that India was not privy to any agreement on retaining the monarchy that supposedly facilitated the transfer of power from King Gyanendra to the Seven Party Alliance in April 2006.
But, then, Sood would be the last person to acknowledge the existence of such a document. India’s record speaks for itself. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru revealed the existence of secret letters exchanged with the 1950 Treaty nine years later. He didn’t do that to undermine Mohan Shamsher Rana, then safely in exile in India. Nehru did so to undercut Prime Minister B.P. Koirala’s assertion of Nepalese sovereignty.
New Delhi made public the existence of the 1965 arms agreement only four years later when King Mahendra prepared to expel the Indian military mission that, among other things, manned check posts along Nepal’s border with China.
India has not said a word about the draft treaty it presented to King Birendra in the spring of 1990. It essentially aimed at bringing Nepal tighter into the Indian sphere of influence, in exchange for pledges of support for the Panchayat system. When the palace refused, the monarchy paid the price. Interim prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai wasn’t too thrilled to find the same draft thrown at him months later.
And then there’s the 12-point agreement against King Gyanendra’s regime. It was one thing for top Nepali leaders to require urgent medical care in India at the same time. It was quite another for US Ambassador James F. Moriarty to accompany many of them on that flight. New Delhi has left it to the signatories to expound upon its precise role. Many of them – including Maoist leader Prachanda – did so in glowing terms. Yet when the Madhesi leaders met with government negotiators inside the Indian Embassy, it wasn’t the royalist right but the SPA and the Maoists that cried foul.
If there was any agreement on saving the monarchy, it’s up to King Gyanendra to release it. As the clock ticks down to May 28, when the interim constitution envisages Nepal becoming a republic, the palace is keeping us guessing. One report suggests the monarch has already sent a letter to the Maoists pledging to vacate the palace before that deadline. Others suggest he intends to dig in his heels until the full constitution is written and ratified.
Throw in the soothsayers who predict the monarchy will eventually prevail over the politicians. Then juxtapose that with some of these same stargazers’ assertion that Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala would never be able to pull off the constituent assembly elections. The fogginess is perfect for the behind-the-scenes games Sood and other Indian representatives are feverishly engaged in on all sides.