Former Indian Foreign Minister: “We Are Very Concerned With the Situation in Nepal”
Posted by Ka Frank on January 16, 2010
This article was published in eKantipur on January 13, 2010.
India’s Interest in Nepal
The views of the Indian political parties converge in the protection of our national interests. But in details, there might be some differences. Nepal is the closest neighbour of India. We have a long relation of friendship and cultural affinity. India is interested in having the best possible cordial relationship with Nepal. To an extent, our strategic interests are also involved because we have an open border and there is a lot of interaction at the informal level. A large number of Nepalis work in India.
India’s interest, in this light, lies in a sovereign, friendly, peaceful and stable Nepal. India has protected and preserved its democracy through trials and tribulations and therefore we are committed to democracy in our country and elsewhere. We are committed to democracy in Nepal also; what form of democracy is for the people of Nepal to decide.
There was a great deal of misunderstanding in Nepal that the BJP was supporting the monarchy which was far from the truth because we have always said that whether Nepal will have monarchy or not is for Nepal to decide, for the representatives of Constituent Assembly (CA) to decide. In fact, I was the foreign minister when the question of the postponement of October, 2002 elections in Nepal came up. I remember telling then-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba that postponement will do no good. I gave him examples of how we planned the elections in Jammu and Kashmir and in a disturbed Assam. I said it is possible to extend the elections over a period of time.
We just had elections in my state of Jharkhand, which were extended over a month’s period. Because of the Naxalite movement, the elections had to be carried out in five phases. Extending the electoral process does not amount to negation of democracy; postponement of elections does. But that advice was not taken and 2002 elections were postponed. We were very happy when the CA elections were held. We were interested in free and fair elections. The people of Nepal and the international community accepted the elections and the results. Subsequently, the CA was formed to frame a constitution. We hope that the CA will also give Nepal a government which will fulfill its primary responsibility of framing a constitution. Again, what that constitution should be is entirely for the CA and the people of Nepal to decide.
We thought the CA would give Nepal a constitution within the stipulated timeframe. A government was formed under the leadership of Prachanda and the business of framing the constitution started. But the process soon ran into difficulties. When I went to Kathmandu and met the prime minister and other political leaders, I got the feeling that it was an uncomfortable government. After the fall of Prachanda’s government, we now have Madhav Kumar Nepal at the helm.
Our view is that we can’t impose a regime. We don’t believe in the American model of regime change and therefore we will deal with whatever regime is in power in Nepal. But what are India’s interests in Nepal? India, I believe, wants, 1) friendship; 2) a peaceful, settled border; 3) that Nepal should not become an intrusion point to India, either for counterfeit currency or for terrorist activities; and 4) stability. We would not like Nepal to be a hotbed of anti-India activities and whenever such things have happened we brought our concern before the Nepali government. Beyond that, whether there should be monarchy in Nepal, whether there should a presidential system or a parliamentary system, or who should be in power is for people of Nepal to decide.
But we feel concerned when Prachanda makes anti-India statements or marches to what he considers to be disputed areas in the border. We feel concerned when on the exchange of humour people thronged the street of Nepal in an anti-India protest. I remember a particular incident in which Hrithik Roshan was supposed to have made a statement and there was such a huge demonstration against him in Kathmandu. But he had not made any such statement. Recently, the Indian army chief supposedly said something about whether the Maoists should be included in Nepal Army or not. I am not a government representative, but I know the statement was distorted and taken out of context.
These are India’s concerns. BJP is one with the government of India as far as the protection and safeguarding of national interest of India is concerned.
We had our concern about the Maoists, but even so the CA elections were held and they got elected. The Maoists seem to have retained the right to street actions. Some street action in a democracy is permissible but you cannot hold the whole country to ransom. If you are not able to arrive at decisions democratically, you can’t force them on the people. That is where we differ both with the Indian and Nepali Maoists as well as those who take to violence anywhere in the world.
We are very concerned with the situation in Nepal. We are aware of the explosive nature of the polity and are worried about the failure of the constitutional process and the violence which might be unleashed. I don’t think anybody including the Maoists have reasons to protest. If they can muster the numbers in CA, let them be the centre of power. But we are against violence, we are against unrestrained street actions to force agendas, we are against blackmails, we are against anti-India attitudes and we are against unconfirmed allegations which are levelled at us.
The government can function on the basis of a majority, but the constitution cannot be framed without a two-third majority. Nepal was able to abolish monarchy because there was national consensus for it. But with regard to the induction of the erstwhile Maoists into Nepal Army, there was no national consensus. In a democracy, consensus is very important and especially when you are framing the constitution, which cannot be based only on numbers. It has to have a national consensus.
So what is the alternative for Nepal? The alternative is that like you arrived at the 12-point charter — an agreement between the political parties that projected national consensus — you think about establishing a two-tier structure through consensus. The structure will comprise: 1) a government based on majority and; 2) some kind of a coordination committee which will be looking at the main issues in the constitution and evolving an all-party consensus.
Nepal may have a coordination committee, which will not be the government, but which will be inclusive of all political parties, to sit together and decide on the fundamental issues in constitution making. The details can be worked out later. But what should be the structure of the constitution, what kind of polity and other issues can be decided in an all-party meeting. This is one alternative. The other is formation of an all-party national government.
As far as constitution making is concerned, a lot of work has already been done. Many of the contentious issues have been resolved. So whatever remains can be discussed in this all-party mechanism.
(Based on an interview by Akhilesh Upadhyay and Sudheer Sharma on Jan. 7 in New Delhi)
Sinha was the Indian foreign minister in the BJP-led government from July 2002-May 2004. He is currently the Chairman of Committee on External Affairs in the Lower House.