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Salvaging an old friendship

A renewed suspicion of Maoists could explain India’s overtures to Nepali Congress

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: June 17, 2013 5:44:15 am

A renewed suspicion of Maoists could explain India’s overtures to Nepali Congress

New Delhi accorded a warm welcome to Sher Bahadur Deuba,senior leader of the Nepali Congress (NC),reiterating its concern over the situation in Nepal and its prescription that an early election alone will lead the way to normalcy. Deuba met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,senior ministers and opposition leaders,NSA Shiv Shankar Menon and Sonia Gandhi. Delhi’s efforts to build relations with the Nepali Congress through Deuba,for long perceived as pro-US and pro-monarchy,comes at a time when the party suffers from internal feuding and has lost its image of the main democratic force.

India’s help in bringing the Maoists into the peace process and mainstream politics seven years ago worked in a way,but that also meant Delhi dumping the monarchy and alienating the NC. The monarchy’s hasty exit is seen as the main cause of the prevailing instability,while a divided NC,criticised within its ranks as the Maoists’ “B-team”,has come to mean that democracy is far from taking roots. But still,the Maoists have reasons to be optimistic about the polls on November 19,as announced by the electoral government led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi.

Despite the UCPN-M’s split last June,and the anti-election posturing of the splinter group,the two groups are believed to be quietly trying to patch up. At times,the splinter group tries to appropriate the opposition space. It has also avoided registering with the Election Commission. Delhi is certainly aware of the Maoist party’s potential. When India invited Prachanda in April,senior leaders acknowledged his contribution in annulling the party’s worldview of India as an “enemy”. But Delhi may not be glossing over the possibility of the two groups reuniting,with the return of anti-Indianism as policy. Turning back to the NC,a party and leader (Deuba) with better democratic credentials and a past ally,is perhaps an easier and more compelling option.

Moreover,Nepal’s Maoists have avoided condemning the recent Naxal attack on Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh. And privately,they are trying to convince Indian Maoists that they “have only made a tactical shift,and not surrendered [their basic policy.” So,maintaining proximity with Nepal’s Maoists and calling them “democratic” and Indian Maoists the “biggest internal security threat” may not be seen as India’s contribution to peace and democracy in its neighbourhood. Rebuilding relations with traditional democratic forces,therefore,seems to be an option India may be exploring. In the current context,much will depend on how far Deuba can carry his party with him,since he also runs the risk of increased isolation within the NC after his Delhi visit.

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