Gyanendra''s decision to declare an emergency in Nepal, sack his government
and assume direct control has confronted India with the most acute foreign
policy dilemma that it has ever faced: to back the King in what is bound to
become an all-out conflict with the Maoists, or to back away from him and
let Nepal slip out of India''s sphere of influence as he goes looking for new
Delhi''s immediate condemnation looked like a knee-jerk defence of the principle
of democracy. But it was anything but that. The Indian government had been
aware of King Gyanendra''s increasing restiveness, and had been counselling
patience for some time. It had therefore had plenty of time to decide what
it would do if he took the bit between his teeth.
King''s growing frustration was easy to understand. The Maoist insurgency had
been going on for nine years. A succession of elected governments had failed
both to crush the movement and to bring the Maoists into the political mainstream.
A cease fire had been painstakingly negotiated in January 2003, but endless
rounds of talks had brought the Maoists no closer to accepting the 1991 constitution.
the meantime, the strife had disrupted Nepal''s economy, and choked off the
revenue from tourism upon which it depended for most of its foreign exchange.
The Maoists were using the lull to consolidate their hold on the rural areas
of the kingdom. By some estimates they now controlled 75 per cent of the country.
The political parties had proved incapable of resolving the problem. The King
had therefore acted out of desperation. This was a very different action from
that of his father King Mahendra, who had declared an emergency in 1960 mainly
because of his personal dislike of the prime minister B.P. Koirala.
despite this New Delhi has felt it necessary to express deep concern over
the King''s action, to cancel prime minister Manmohan Singh''s visit to Bangladesh
at the last minute in order to avoid meeting the King, and prevent the new
Army chief, Gen, J J Singh, from receiving the honorary generalship of the
Royal Nepal Army, it is because it is utterly convinced that the King has
made a terrible mistake.
eliminating the elected government from the political arena, he has entered
into a direct confrontation with the Maoists. Since the prime purpose of the
Maoists, ever since they first sought power through elections in 1991, has
been to abolish the monarchy, there is now literally no room for compromise.
Renewed conflict is therefore around the corner and, given the forbidding
terrain of Nepal outside Kathmandu valley, and its relatively small army,
it is a conflict that the government cannot win.
Gyanendra may not be aware of this. Like all his predecessors, he is surrounded
by a coterie of sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear. The Royal Nepal
Army too is fanatically loyal to the monarchy, and may have given him an exaggerated
impression of what it could do if the shackles of civilian control were removed.
(This is indeed what the RNA spokesman Brigadier-General Gurung, told the
Indian Express on February 4). Finally, he is aware of the deep reverence
that ordinary Nepalis feel for the monarch, whom they regard as an incarnation
of Vishnu. These considerations seem to have persuaded him that support for
the Maoists will melt away if he assumes direct control of the anti-insurgency
, however, knows from its own bitter experience that most of his optimism
is based upon wishful thinking. There were never more than 500 active ''A''
grade terrorists in Punjab, backed by about 2,000 helpers and 5,000 sympathisers.
Yet they tied up over 350,000 police, military and paramilitary forces, and
unleashed a reign of terror, that claimed more than 50,000 lives over the
course of a decade. In the same manner there have never been more than 3,000
active insurgents, or terrorists in Kashmir, but the resulting violence has
claimed around 60,000 lives and despite the deployment of 375,000 military
and paramilitary personnel, is not yet fully under control.
Nepal the active Maoist cadres are estimated to exceed 5,000. Even in relatively
friendly terrain the government would need half a million soldiers to wrest
control of the countryside from them. But in the mountainous terrain of Nepal,
where communications are primitive and large stretches have no motorable roads,
even such large counter-insurgency forces would not suffice. Against this
the entire RNA numbers less than 80,000.
King''s precipitate action has left India with Hobson''s choice. If it backs
the King in a direct conflict with the Maoists, it will find itself embroiled
in a low intensity conflict that cannot be won. As the conflict intensifies
the stakes for India in the King''s victory will rise, and it will find itself
sucked ever deeper into the war. What starts as a supply of sophisticated
arms to the RNA could end by sucking Indian troops into the conflict. After
the IPKF''s bitter experience in Sri Lanka, that is the last thing India wants.
is worse, the main victims of the violence will not be the cadres of the Maoists
or the soldiers of the RNA but defenceless villagers. While the Maoists will
terrorise them to create safe havens for themselves, the RNA will terrorise
the same villagers to dissuade them from giving sanctuary to the Maoists or
to punish them when they do. If the violence is prolonged, it will provoke
a large exodus into India. In the end the failure to crush the Maoists will
embolden India''s home grown Naxals. These have already spread their tentacles
to 157 districts, or about a quarter of the country, but so far lack the popular
support to pose a serious threat to the state.
alternative, to deny support to the King, and refuse his request for arms,
is fraught with risks of another kind. Under a 1965 agreement, Nepal has the
right to procure weapons from other countries if New Delhi cannot, or will
not, provide them. The King has sent signals that if his request for arms
is turned down, he will turn to the UK, the US, Pakistan and China. The UK
and US are as reluctant to get sucked into the Nepali quagmire as India, but
New Delhi fears that Pakistan and China may not be able to resist the bait.
If either country establishes a permanent military presence in Nepal, India''s
northern ramparts will be decisively breached.
Delhi has temporised by agreeing to send the arms that are already in the
pipeline, but deferring a decision on agreements that have not as yet been
signed. However, this can at most buy time. The more difficult task is to
persuade the King to back away from his impulsive folly and hand back power
to an all-party, national government. This will recreate the buffer that existed
between the monarchy and the Maoists, and reopen the possibility of finding
a compromise solution that brings the latter back into democratic politics,
while preserving the monarchy in some form.
Delhi will find it much easier to persuade the King if it abandons its insistence
on bilateralism, and involves the US, the UK, and the EU (and just possibly
China and Pakistan) in the search for a solution. Such a multilateral initiative
stands a far better chance of persuading the King to restore democracy and
concede the Maoist demand for a constituent assembly, while simultaneously
reassuring him that it will fully support the preservation of the monarchy.
It will also put far greater
pressure on the Maoists than Delhi alone can, to accept a compromise in the
recasting of the constitution that the King can live with.
The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the
Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial
Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of
India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road
to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China,
and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular
columnist with several leading publications.