In the first high-level Indian visit in over two years to Nepal, External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, will depart for Kathmandu on Tuesday morning. He is expected to meet Nepal’s president, Ram Baran Yadav, the chairman of interim government, Chief Justice Khila Raj Regmi, and the country’s top leadership across the political spectrum.
While official sources emphasise that this is a ‘goodwill visit’, Mr. Khurshid is expected to press hard for timely elections. A senior Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) source told The Hindu, “Our known position is that we want early elections, elections in November for a new Constituent Assembly in Nepal. The Minister will reiterate that, and offer all logistical assistance related to elections.”
Since the end of Nepal’s CA last May, the country has been without a legislature. Disputes over what party would lead the country to elections paralysed political process for almost a year, and it was only in March that the Chief Justice took over the reins of an election government. India is understood to have played an active role in encouraging this arrangement as a way to break the political logjam.
But while polls have been announced for November 19, several obstacles remain. A radical Maoist splinter has vowed to boycott and obstruct the polls, and smaller ethnic and regional groups are still not on board, demanding changes in the electoral system and the resignation of the CJ-led government. An official said, “The question of constituency delineation will also be controversial. There are still many ifs, but we hope that all forces will come on board and elections happen in a free and fair atmosphere.”
When asked if India will offer suggestions on federalism, which has proved to be a thorny issue, the official responded, “Nepal is attempting an unprecedented transformation, and everyone is uncertain about their future. No external power has any magic wand to resolve the concerns of 30 million people.” India’s role was to ‘offer support’, not specify prescriptions, he added.
Mr. Khurshid, an MP from Uttar Pradesh, is understood to be ‘deeply interested’ and knowledgeable about Nepal, and has met a range of Nepali visitors – including Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba –since taking over foreign office.