So Nepal is going to be a democracy. Call it Marxist?or Maoist?democracy if there is such a thing, but at least Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda is an elected leader and no one can complain that he came to power by force of arms, even when he led a party that freely indulged in plain terrorism prior to the elections. His claim was that he was fighting a feudal system that had been in existence for 240 years and, whether one likes it or not, that system had to come to an end. That it has now come to, was inevitable and historically predictable.
What needs to be carefully watched is how Prachanda?the Maoist is better known by his pseudonym than by his given name?will run the new Nepal. The wise will remember that Hitler too came to power through popular support during free elections. Elections, under the circumstances, are no guarantee that the duly elected will turn out to be role models. One can only hope that Prachanda will not go the Hitler way, or Mao-ist way, but provide a worthy example for Maoists everywhere to follow. Prachanda seems to be only too well aware of the responsibilities that lie in wait for him.
In an interview he gave to The Hindu (April 29), he sounds more like a statesman than a Stalin or a latter-day Mao. Three issues command his immediate attention. One, relieving the King of Nepal, Gyanendra of his throne and royal perks, two, re-designing the Constitution, and that would mean giving fresh to Indo-Nepalese relations and three, coming to terms with the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum which has also bagged an impressive number of seats to the Nepal Parliament. The first issue is easily resolved. The Nepal Supreme Court has up-held a declaration of a 601- member Special Assembly to strip King Gyanendra of all his powers and to bring the Nepal Army under the purview of the Legislature.
The apex court has also upheld the provision to declare Nepal a secular state and it would be a wise Gyanendra if he makes graceful exits. Royalty became an anachronism a long time ago; the ruler of Bhutan has been quick to understand it. Gyanendra has taken his time but now he must go, for his own good and the good of his people. We may regret the demise of the only professedly Hindu kingdom in the world, but we cannot change history. But democratic life ahead won'tbe all that easy. Already there is a popular demand that the Maoists must destroy their weapons in public or hand them over to the Army and Prachanda himself must quit his post as Supreme Commander of the Maoist People'sLiberation Army (PLA) if he wishes to head the government, as, according to Nepali Congress vice-President Gopal Man Shreshta, one cannot head both the PLA and the Nepali Army at the same time.
Nepal, for its size, has too unwieldy an army. Prachanda has openly admitted that Nepal does not need an army with its present size of 90, 000 and wishes to pare it down to almost half its size, between 30,000 and 50,000 over a period of 5 to 7 years. That would be both economical and sensible though the question of how to provide alternate employment to those retrenched calls for study. Nepal has long been a notable field for man power exploitation for serving in both the Indian and British armies.
Prachanda, in his interview sounds like a pragmatist who knows both the limitations and strengths of a resurgent Nepal. There has been in the past, an inseparable bond between Nepal and India which, one hopes. Prachanda realises he cannot break, to serve the interests of Maoist China. If Nepal'sMinister for Physical Planning and Works, Hisila Yami, is to be believed, Nepal wants to act not so much as a buffer as much as a bridge between India and China, to gain from both. One hopes that Prachanda will always keep this in mind. Nepal and India, besides, have an open border extending upto 700 kms and the proposed 1,500 km road project along the border, and cross-border rail links at five locations, should help boost trade.
But India will have to keep an open eye on smuggling of cheap Chinese goods and entry of spies. India, of course, has an interest in Nepal beyond human resources. Bihar'sChief Minister, Nitish Kumar, speaking at a recent seminar held in Patna on Emerging Trends in Indo-Nepali Relations, called for mutual cooperation in the use of water resources and promised. India'sinvestments and expertise in developing Nepal as a hydro-electric market. Nitish Kumar suggested construction of high dams, with the assurance that India would purchase the power generated. India cannot afford to lose Nepal'scooperation and friendship?and vice versa. At that same seminar, senior politburo member of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist(CPN-M) C.P.Gajurel, stressed that his party's foreign policy would be asked on panchsheel and equi-proxomity. The CPN-M, he said, was not interested in developing special relations with either India or China, to avoid causing disadvantage to either of them. As he put it: ?We?ll not play the China card against India and the India card against China?. One can only hope that the CPN-M will stick to its promise. For India to have an overly Sino-friendly Pakistan as a neighbour is bad enough. We cannot afford to have a Hindu but newly-secularised Nepal to use China to embarrass India. Apparently the CPN-M has three main points of immediate concern; land to the tiller autonomy to regions and ?industrial capitalism geared towards socialism??the latter, no doubt, taken as a lesson from Buddhadev Bhattacharya's West Bengal.
According to the CPN-M'sprogramme, Nepal will be divided into eleven regions, each with substantial autonomy. That may not necessarily be a wise step considering that autonomy should not end up in clashes between one region and another. India has a quiet role to play here. In all development activities Delhi must be the first, last and ever-willing neighbour to help Nepal and to keep China out under any and every circumstance. Modern economy requires close integration of all regions within Nepal. India must help to promote Nepalese inter-regional harmony in its own self-interest.
A Nepal at loggerheads with itself cannot be a good neighbour. For Delhi what has transpired in Nepal is a wholly new, though not entirely unexpected experience. It must exhibit patience and, more than anything else the will, to help Nepal prosper. Indeed, Indo-Nepal'srelations must become a role model for future Indo-Pak relations. Prachanda'sdeclared desire to scrap the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed on July 31,1950 and sign a new one should be taken seriously and in good faith. Treaties are not for ever. It is time for a new Treaty which will cater to the relevant needs of both countries in mutual under standing of their security needs above all else. That understood, much else will be easily understood.