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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 14:56 GMT
India's worries over Nepal crisis

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Sher Bahadur Deuba with Manmohan Singh
India has always backed multi-party democracy in Nepal
The dismissal of the Nepalese government by King Gyanendra has provoked a strong reaction from its powerful neighbour India.

Delhi has said the development constitutes a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and is a cause of "grave concern" to India.

It says that the move will only strengthen the Maoist rebels.

Many here say that while India had expected some political development in Nepal along these lines, the dramatic and drastic nature of the steps have come as a surprise.

At the moment there is no possibility of any support,
Nepal expert Dr Parmanand
"The fact that politicians have been placed under house arrest, phone lines cut and the airport shut down is something that would definitely have alarmed India," says Professor SD Muni of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Others believe the move is a snub to the Indian government which has been trying to persuade the king to form a united front of political parties to take on the country's Maoist rebels.

Harsh words

Soon after the king's announcement on Tuesday, India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, held an hour-long meeting with top officials including Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.

It was followed by an official statement that spelt out India's position.

Nepal's King Gyanendra
King Gyanendra - unlikely to earn Delhi's sympathy
Professor Muni points out that the wording of the statement is identical to that made by Prime Minister Nehru in 1960, when Nepal's then King Mahendra dismissed the popular government of BP Koirala.

"At that time too, India had described the move as a 'serious setback to democracy in Nepal'," says Professor Muni.

Last month, King Gyanendra was due to visit Delhi - a trip that was put off following the death of former Indian premier PV Narasimha Rao.

Influential neighbour

Some analysts believed that the king would have sought India's backing for his political moves.

India surrounds Nepal on three sides sharing a 1,600km border and the Himalayan kingdom depends on its giant southern neighbour for international trade, economic and military assistance.

India will have to rethink its basic policy and get directly engaged with the Maoists and the political parties
Professor SD Muni
Nehru university
India is the biggest foreign investor in Nepal and its biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly 50% of the country's trade.

Delhi's support is considered critical for the king in the days to come.

But not many believe he will get it.

"At the moment there is no possibility of any support," says Dr Parmanand, a Nepal specialist at Delhi University.

India's public stand has always been to back multi-party democracy in Nepal and that is unlikely to change.

"It's a theme that India has been harping on for a long time," says Dr Parmanand.

"It has observed that the previous government had curtailed powers and that parliament had been dissolved, so it is unlikely to extend its co-operation."

Common threat

It is believed that King Gyanendra might have hoped to tap into India's growing concern over the Maoist insurgency in Nepal and hope for some backing for his position.

Nepalese soldiers
India is a major source of military assistance
India has recently declared that the Nepalese Maoists present a common threat to both countries.

Many Indian states are also fighting Maoist rebels who are believed to have links with their counterparts in Nepal.

But not many believe that this is enough of a threat to make India change its position on Nepal, especially as there are doubts here over the king's possibility of succeeding where previous governments had failed.

Retired Indian army officer Maj Gen Ashok Mehta, a defence analyst, believes the Royal Nepalese Army is unlikely to perform any better under the king's direct control.

"A lot more troops will have to be committed to the Kathmandu Valley to ward off popular protests against the king, so there operations against the Maoists will be stretched," he says.

Delhi's dilemma

But it is not clear what steps Delhi is likely to take in the coming weeks.

Some like Professor Muni feel that India should suspend military assistance and even threaten to close down some trade routes but admits its a move that will only have a short-term impact.

"India will have to rethink its basic policy and get directly engaged with the Maoists and the political parties, perhaps with the help of the international community," he says.

But others feel that Delhi may not be willing to go out on a limb for fear of destabilising its neighbour.

"India may not be in a fighting mood," says Dr Parmanand.

"How far it goes remains to be seen."




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