Friday, July 17, 2015

The Karan-Saran Conundrum

Shyam Saran (left) and Karan Singh
For a while, the domestic chaos surrounding the draft of the new Constitution succeeded in camouflaging the disquiet gripping its principal driver. The parade of Nepali leaders travelling to New Delhi in advance of the anticipated promulgation has begun to focus attention on India’s predicaments.
Indeed, New Delhi succeeded in bringing the Maoists to the mainstream and
abolishing the monarchy by forging an ambiguous accord between the agitating mainstream parties and the rebels.
Nepali governments and politicians since April 2006 have been competing with one another to establish their pro-India credentials. The Indian Embassy has emerged as the principal power center in Nepal, in line with the situation conceived under the 1951 Compromise. Yet, over these years, India’s anxiety is growing. Politically, New Delhi has not gained popularity points.
Karan Singh, the emissary Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dispatched in late April 2006 to quell the anti-palace protests, acknowledged recently that he had been able to convince then king Gyanendra to hand over power to the parties immediately before the Maoists overwhelmed the political landscape.
With admittedly less candor, Karan Singh conceded that he thought India would continue with its post-1990 two-pillar Nepal policy of a constitutional monarchy and democratic parties. He appeared to suggest that there might have been another Indian conduit with greater sway over Nepal that was responsible for the monarchy’s removal.
Former king Gyanendra has claimed he had reached an agreement with political parties in 2006 which they had reneged on. While much of the political class refuted the suggestion, Rastriya Prajatantra Party chair Pashupati Shumsher Rana disclosed that the political parties had indeed reached a secret deal with the then king to not abolish the monarchy. However, former Indian ambassador Shyam Saran torpedoed that deal.
“What Karan Singh said publicly before returning to India indicated that there was a deal between then king and political parties,” Rana had said. “But, the deal was off when Saran returned to Delhi.” An avid royalist turned avowed republican, Rana – like former king Gyanendra – is related to Karan Singh. So he may have been speaking on good authority.
For long, India profited from a diabolic game of playing on all sides and retaining enough plausible deniability to step in as the redeemer. It can no longer afford that luxury. Those who tried to heap anti-Indianism on the monarchy have been discredited in a peculiar way. The regular visits the ex-king has been paying to India have focused Nepali public attention on New Delhi’s motives. The prolonged transition has created condition where other foreign powers are emerging as key players rivalling India traditional clout.
Was an understanding reached between New Delhi and Beijing during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent official visit to China wherein New Delhi was free to act in Nepal as long as it curbed the Free Tibet movement on its own soil? Juxtapose that with the reality that the Lipu-Lekh controversy has raised serious questions among Nepalis about China’s real motives.
Ordinarily, such apprehension would have been a net plus for India. However, the burgeoning support for the restoration of Nepal’s status as a Hindu state has put the majority Bharatiya Janata Party government in a pickle. If the public demand for a referendum on settling the issue of Hindu statehood gains serious political momentum, how would the avowedly Hindu nationalist ruling party respond?
Perhaps the promulgation of the new Constitution – complete with its infirmities and flaws – is needed to set the stage for contending with the Karan-Saran conundrum.