Nepal poll fiasco means another Indian failure
Kathmandu | October 06, 2007 3:05:07 PM IST
The decision by Nepal's Girija Prasad Koirala government to indefinitely put off a vital election only 47 days before it was scheduled does not reflect discreditably on the ruling coalition and its Maoist allies alone but also indicates yet another failure of India's Nepal policy.
There's heavy irony in the fact that last year, though India opposed an election in Nepal, the then royalist regime of King Gyanendra ignored New Delhi and went ahead with the exercise.
This year, when South Block was pressing for an election, the democratic government supported by India still went ahead and cancelled the polls.
According to a preliminary estimate, Nepal lost at least NRS seven billion just over printing ballot papers, posters and training election officials.
It would be interesting to know how much India had poured into Nepal for the flop poll. India's assistance ranges from vehicles to the electronic voting machines donated less than a week ago, even when it was clear to everyone that the Nov 22 election was doomed.
When the constituent assembly was postponed from June, the turmoil in the Terai plains bordering India was regarded as one of the main reasons.
To ensure that the election was held in November, India brokered a hasty pact between Koirala and the most influential ethnic group in the plains, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. The Forum agreed to call off all its protest programmes and take part in the election.
However, the pressured pact had severe fallout. Dissidents in the Forum walked out and began waging yet another war on the election.
India pressured another party from the plains, the Nepal Sadbhavana Party, to bury the hatchet between its two rival factions and announce a merger.
Soon after the reunion between the royalist faction and the pro-democracy group, the party last month split again with the dissidents calling a general strike to block the election programme.
Even the unification of Koirala's Nepali Congress party with its breakaway group, the Nepali Congress (Democratic), in which India had shown keen interest, contributed to the poll fiasco. Koirala gave more attention to strengthening his own party to win the election than the election itself.
Ironically, before the unification, the autocratic prime minister repeatedly expressed his commitment to the November election; after the merger, the breakaway faction's leader former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, sacked twice for failing to hold elections, threw his weight behind the poll postponement.
India had made its position on the election amply clear in August when the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, said that a parliament vote to decide King Gyanendra's fate would not be legitimate since the current parliament is not an elected one.
He also said that if the Koirala government failed to hold the November election, it would lose legitimacy.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who came to Nepal last month, reinforced the same message.
Before his departure, Menon told journalists that all the parties, including the Maoists, had shown keenness in the election.
Less than three weeks later, the Nepal government put the election off and called a parliament vote to decide the king's future.
India's Nepal policy has been dictated by what it wants to see instead of the ground reality.
Two years ago, it made the same blunder with King Gyanendra.
Reports say the king had planned his coup earlier than February 2005 and had conveyed the idea to New Delhi.
However, the Indian government resisted the plan and told him not to put it into action.
A few months later, the king went ahead and did exactly what he wanted to. And this time, while India's traditional rivals China and Pakistan knew about the plan beforehand, the army-backed royal coup caught New Delhi napping.
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