India’s Nepal policy has not always been the outcome of rational choices. Although ensuring Nepal’s political stability and economic well-being through the development of its hydropower potential and a smooth flow of trade has been India’s stated priority, its approach to Nepal has largely been determined by its own security interests. The security interests have been defined in the context of evolving India-Nepal relations and regional concerns and, more broadly, ij terms of preserving and consolidating India’s strategic space in Nepal. India has been very sensitive to the strategic presence in Nepal of extraregional powers like the United States and of its known adversaries like China and Pakistan. Nepali national as well as ill-intended foreigners have been known to use India’s open borders with Nepal to weaken India’s security.
The precise thrust of India’s interests and approach at any given point in time is shaped by the balance of forces among multiple stakeholders in India’s Nepal policy. These stakeholders are diverse and varied and their positions often mutually incompatible. Some are even beyond the reach of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Prominent among these actors are the recognized political/administrative establishments (The Home, Finance, and Commerce Ministries; intelligence and national security organizations; and the Prime Minister’s Office); the Indian army, which has traditional fraternal relations with the RNA and has maintained seven Gurkha regiments since independence; the business community; the members of the former princely ruling class who have close matrimonial and family relations with Nepal’s feudal rulers (both The Shahs and the Ranas); Indian political parties and their leaders who maintain close institutional and personal relations with their Nepali counterparts; the Hindu religious interest groups; and, finally, the Indian states bordering Nepal.
There is also a large Nepali diaspora in India (an estimated population of 10 million), which has extensive social and matrimonial ties with the Indians. Most of these stakeholders harbor strong anti-Maoist feelings, not only because of their radical ideology and violent tactics but also because of the Maoists’ anti-Indian stance, which regularly denounces Nepal’s neighbor as “expansionist” and “exploitative.” In addition, because the Maoists have also linked themselves to the Maoists of India (the Naxalites), as well as other Maoist groups in South Asia and elsewhere (under the Revolutionary International Movement
[RIM]), many in the Indian security establishment perceived them as a direct security challenge to the stability of India and the whole South Asian region. The intelligence establishment in India, particularly the Intelligence Bureau (IB), has been ideologically structured to face the challenge of communists in general and leftist extremists in particular ever since the British days.
By the time Nepal entered its momentous transition phase, India’s Nepal policy had long been based on two pillars: the constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. Yet this premise could not be sustained in the face of rapidly growing tensions between these two pillars, resulting from the king’s attack on democratic institutions and processes. For analytical convenience, India’s policy towards Nepal’s People’s Movement and its approach toward the Maoists, can be looked at in three phases; (1) pre-palace massacre. (2), post-palace massacre (2001-5), and (3) the period from February 2005 royal coup to the People’s Movement (2005-6). During the momentous developments of the third phase and even earlier all the major players in Nepal’s People’s Movement were in contact at different levels with the Indian government and political leadership.
The Maoists came “down from the hills” to join the democratic mainstream because, in their own assessment, they were unable to take over the Nepali state militarily and hold it under the prevailing national, regional, and international conditions. However, the Maoists have not given up their socioeconomic agenda of transforming Nepal from a feudal to a modern, inclusive, and egalitarian society. It is still being debated whether they have fully committed themselves to peaceful and democratic politics; a section of the Maoist leadership still believes that their goals could be achieved through the use of force. However, many of their internal discourses and public pronouncements at the highest levels of leadership reiterated the futility of such methods again and again, although through radical Maoist jargon.
India became disenchanted with Maoists during their stint in power. Since there has been concerted effort to keep Maoists politically marginalized.
The mainstream political parties of Nepal and the international community, particularly India, joined the Maoists in the Jana Andolan II in pursuit of their respective objectives in response to King Gyanendra’s autocratic moves. They supported the Maoist agenda only half-heartedly and tactically, if at all, and only to force themselves back into the power structure. It is doubtful whether the mainstream political parties realize the depths to which the Maoist agenda of Nepal’s socioeconomic transformation has penetrated the psyche of ordinary Nepali people. India, which played a key role in bringing the Maoists and the mainstream parties together during the Jana Andolan II, became disenchanted with the Maoists during their nine months in power from August 2008 to May 2009 on issues of India-Nepal bilateral relations and the Maoists’ political conduct. Since then there has been a concerted effort by the mainstream political parties and sections of the international community, especially India, to keep the Maoists politically marginalized in order to weaken them in the long run. The worst casualty of this development has been Nepal’s peace process and its task of establishing a new democratic constitution.
The responsibility of mainstreaming the Maoists into a democratic process does not exclusively lie with the Maoists. The mainstream political parties and the international community have to do their share to help them in the process. The Maoists can neither be kept out of power nor can the thrust of their agenda be ignored. As long as that effort continues, the vision of a new Nepal unleashed by the Jana Andolan II will remain a mirage, and the domestic peace and stability in Nepal will continue to hang in a precious balance.
(Excerpted from SD Muni’s essay “Bringing the Maoists down from the Hills” in the new book “Nepal in Transition: From People’s War to Fragile Peace” being released in Nepal today)