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Double trouble: Why Nepal, Maldives poll results shocked India

November 23, 2013 19:56 IST

New Delhi had misread the signs, and drastically so, before the run-up to the elections in the two nations, says Anita Katyal

The unexpected election results in Nepal and Maldives -- two of India’s neighbouring countries -- have raised serious concerns for New Delhi.

The humiliating defeat suffered by the Maoists in Nepal has sparked fears about another round of political instability and the possibility of another civil war. This is bad news for India, which has huge political, economic and strategic interests in the Himalayan kingdom.

The results of the Constituent Assembly elections in Nepal came as a big surprise for New Delhi. Although India had estimated that the centrist Nepali Congress would lead the polls, it had not bargained for such a poor showing by Prachanda’s Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.

Well-informed United Progressive Alliance sources said that while intelligence inputs had suggested a narrow gap between the Nepali Congress and Prachanda’s party in the electoral results, the virtual decimation of the latter was unexpected.

While India is comfortable in dealing with the Nepali Congress, it fears that the political marginalisation of the Maoists could tempt them to resort to violence once again.

Political experts believe that there is a very slim chance of Maoists forsaking the democratic process. India is, nevertheless, worried as the former rebels could whip up an anti-India campaign to reclaim lost support.

Prachanda has already refused to accept the election results and alleged large-scale rigging during the polls. There have been sporadic incidents of violence after the Maoist leader’s supporters gathered in the streets to “fight back” against the results.

These election results have dealt a severe blow to Prachanda, who had attained an iconic status in his country.

After leading the Maoists in waging “a people’s war” against the government for nearly a decade, Prachanda and his followers gave up arms in 2006. In a landmark event in the history of Nepal, monarchy was abolished and all political parties, including the Maoists, decided to join the democratic process.

Riding a wave of popularity, Prachanda’s party won 120 of the 240 seats in the 2008 elections, only to suffer a humiliating defeat five years later.
Not only did he lose his own seat in Kathmandu, but a number of Prachanda’s senior party leaders as well as several of his family members were also shown the door by the voters.

Prachanda could, however, draw some solace from his marginal victory from Siraha, a second constituency he contested from.
Nepal has witnessed a gradual disillusionment with Prachanda’s government over the last five years, amid accusations that the Maoist leader had failed to remain true to his ideology and embraced a luxurious lifestyle instead.

While India will be working the diplomatic channels in Nepal to ensure that the Maoists do not abandon the political mainstream and all political parties arrive at a working arrangement, it will also be keeping a close watch on the developments in Maldives.

The results of the recent elections in Maldives have also raised some disturbing issues. The shocking defeat of former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party to Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party has once again placed former autocratic ruler Moumoon Abdul Gayoom in a commanding position.

Although New Delhi has extended a hand of friendship to President Yameen, India may be hamstrung in dealing with the new regime in view of the latter’s critical dependence on the conservative Jumhooree Party, which believes in forging an “Islamic identity”.

The shocking defeat of former President Mohamed Nasheed is a setback for India as it failed to read the signs correctly before the elections.

While New Delhi was hesitant to support Nasheed when he was ousted last year, it took a sharp U-turn and threw its weight behind the former president during the recent polls.

By openly backing Nasheed for the president’s post, India has already invited the wrath of the new government, which cancelled a multi-million dollar contract with GMR for the construction of an airport at Male, in retribution. Relationship between the two neighbours has hit a new low.

India also failed to gauge the level of distrust against Nasheed, whose rivals successfully projected him as being “anti-Islam” during the run-up to the elections.

The return of the Yameen-Gayoom combine to the political centre-stage means India will have to work doubly hard to re-establish its relations with Gayoom since New Delhi had been instrumental in steering Maldives towards a democratic set-up.

While India may still succeed in this mission, as New Delhi has dealt with Gayoom earlier, it is feared that the new regime’s dependence -- on conservative elements who champion the cause of Islamic values -- could well come in its way.

“Earlier, Gayoom was in total control but now a coalition government is in charge in Maldives which will obviously exercise its influence,” remarked a senior minister in the UPA Cabinet.

Gayoom had urged the Jumhooree Party to support Yameen’s PPM on the plea that the new regime would defend Islam and the nationalist identity of the people of Maldives.

Living up to his promise, Yameen has asserted that he will forge an “Islamic identity” for the nation and “defend its faith”.

Image: Supporters of Nepali Congress Party cheer for their party as Constituent Assembly Election scores are displayed on a screen outside the Constitution Assembly Building in Kathmandu ' Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

Anita Katyal in New Delhi