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India to once again broker peace in Nepal

January 03, 2011 08:58 IST

As political churning continues in Nepal, India will make another attempt at reconciliation between the warring parties.

It has planned to invite leaders from across the spectrum, including Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai, foreign minister Sujata Koirala, former army chief Rookmangud Katawal, as well as Maoist military commander Barshaman Pun 'Ananta', to sit around the same conference table in New Delhi this week.

That table is being laid at the Vivekananda International think-tank on January 6-7 to debate a new 'Strategy for Political Reconciliation' in Nepal, with Delhi seriously concerned about its northern neighbour descending into a failing spiral, where the political leadership refuses to even elect a new prime minister, let alone discuss a Constitution for the new republic.

External affairs minister S M Krishna will speak at the seminar. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who held the foreign minister's portfolio in the first UPA government, is deeply involved and concerned at the manner in which events are unfolding there. The Nepali delegation is expected to meet the Indian political leadership during their visit here, on the margins of the seminar.

India's outgoing ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, has helped put together the large Nepali delegation, but the biggest flaw in the invitee list is that there is no representation from rival factions in the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

UCPN chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as 'Prachanda', remains an enormously charismatic figure, but neither he nor his compatriot, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, or even C P Gajurel and Mohan Baidhya 'Kiran' from a third Maoist faction have been invited to the Delhi meeting.

This leaves the Delhi conference open to the charge that India is once again seeking to broker a peace process in Nepal by giving importance to only certain Maoist leaders like Bhattarai.

Informed analysts say the Foreign Office's attempt to "divide and rule the Maoists in Nepal will surely come a-cropper", which is why an attempt is also being simultaneously made to broadbase the talks. Mahara, seen to be close to Prachanda, is also being invited to Delhi, but at a later date.

In the last week, all three Maoist factions have held several meetings in Kathmandu which have produced accusations and counter-accusations, but the silver lining is that they have also agreed to hold a Central Committee meeting in the run-up to the Delhi conference.

Nevertheless, the presence in Delhi of Barsaman Pun 'Ananta', the Maoist military commander before the April 2006 people's revolution put an end to the monarchy in Nepal, also constitutes a diplomatic coup.

Key anxiety
Both 'Ananta' and Gajurel have rubbished claims that the Maoist People's Liberation Army has provided training to Indian Maoists, with Pun telling journalists in Kathmandu in November that such "fake reports" were being pushed by the Nepali army, and that India's ambassador, Rakesh Sood, had forwarded this to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has publicly said the Maoist insurgency at home was the biggest threat to both peace and stability as well as the country's aim of 10 per cent annual growth, and that a variety of causes, including the state's failure to provide equitable growth, was at its root. However, Nepal's Maoists have so far not been publicly accused by Delhi of linking with their Indian counterparts.

At the Kathmandu press conference, 'Ananta' said: "We would like to demand the government of India to formally clarify its position over the allegation…We are in no position to provide training to the Indian Maoists because we believe that they are much stronger than what we are…we share similar ideological values but the Maoists' movement in India is their internal matter."

At the Delhi seminar, 'Ananta' and Rookmangad Katuwal, two men who have not seen eye-to-eye on the integration of the Maoist cadres into the Nepal army, are set to speak on 'Rehabilitation and integration of PLA combatants.'

Delhi's initiative in holding this seminar and speaking to a cross-section of Nepal's leadership is also a function of the growing closeness between Nepal's Maoists with China.

Highly placed sources said Prachanda had also recently offered to come to Delhi and speak to the Indian leadership, but on the condition that the "Ministry of External Affairs was not involved in the talks". The proposal was turned down, but the sources said Prachanda's comment "spoke volumes about India's failing Nepal policy".

Attempts to recover some of its lost influence was made some weeks earlier, when former Foreign Secretary and the PM's special envoy, Shyam Saran, was sent to Nepal to talk to all sides on restoring the peace process, agreeing on electing a prime minister and framing a new Constitution.

Saran, a former ambassador in Nepal and instrumental in forging the April 2006 peace accord, had said in his report to the Indian establishment that "communication lines" between Delhi and the Maoists needed to be restored, the sources said.

Jyoti Malhotra in New Delhi
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