An opening with Nepal

The most significant outcome of Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's visit to India is the growing trust between the two countries, and between the Indian establishment and his own party, the Unified Communist Part of Nepal (Maoist). The stagnation that marked the bilateral relationship is now broken. New Delhi's policy of trying to keep the Maoists — the legitimately elected biggest party in parliament — out of the power structure over the past two years was counter-productive. It only prolonged the stalemate over constitutional issues, deepened the instability, and generated resentment against India. But there has been a policy course-correction in the last few months. India did well not to try and block the election of Mr. Bhattarai as Prime Minister by using its leverage with the Madhesi parties. The immediate invitation extended to the new leader, the low-key efforts by the new Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu encouraging all sides to be flexible, the new support for the integration of a certain number of Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army, and the atmospherics of the prime ministerial visit show a renewed Indian commitment to playing a constructive role. With a section of the Indian establishment remaining uncomfortable with the emerging rapprochement, Nepal's opposition parties seem to have lobbied with senior members of the Indian cabinet to slow down the engagement with Maoists. Fortunately, this didn't work.

Nepal appears to be on the verge of achieving a breakthrough in its peace and constitutional process. Its political parties are close to an agreement on the issue of the integration of Maoist fighters, which is at the core of the peace process. There is also a power-sharing proposal on the table, with the Maoists saying the Nepali Congress president, Sushil Koirala, can be the next Prime Minister who will lead the country into elections after promulgation of the new constitution. India must play a supportive role, as it did in 2005 when the 12-point agreement was forged. It should continue supporting the present government in its quest to wrap up the political transition, use its leverage with the Nepali Congress to get it to cooperate on the peace process, and nudge the Maoists to implement past commitments. Prime Minister Bhattarai and the Maoists took a political risk in signing the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement — his rivals back home have dubbed it an ‘anti-national' deal — because they want to tell India that they can deliver on contentious issues, including the security of Indian investment. It is vital that India recognises these changing political realities in Nepal, and plays the role of a constructive facilitator once again.

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 5:33:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/an-opening-with-nepal/article2568355.ece

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