Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 17:47 UK

India worries over Nepal's future

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Supporters of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chant slogans during a rally
Nepal's Maoists have been celebrating - but there is concern in India

The strong showing by Nepal's Maoists in the parliamentary elections has taken its influential neighbour India by surprise.  

Diplomats at its sprawling embassy in Kathmandu, its largest mission anywhere, privately concede that it is a result that they hardly expected and least favoured.  

With a strong possibility of the Maoists forming the next government, many in Delhi are wondering where it leaves relations between the two countries.

While India has nurtured some ties with the former rebels, there is growing concern over the Maoists' links with China, and also with India's own troubling Maoist insurgency.  

Reports in the Indian and Nepalese media have quoted Maoist leader Prachanda talking about taking a more "balanced" approach in his country’s dealings with its neighbours.  

Saying that he will develop "new relations" with India, he is reported to have said that Nepal will maintain an equal distance between Delhi and Beijing.  

It is a comment that has already sent policy-makers in Delhi into a tailspin.

Special relationship

Many here are concerned that the Maoists will use their new-found electoral clout as leverage over India.  

"It means that the special relationship between India and Nepal which dates back to British days and 1950 is in its terminal phase," says KV Rajan, a former Indian ambassador to Nepal.

A Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which both countries signed in 1950, defined their political and economic relationship.  

Supporters of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) with Communist flags
Some fear Nepal's Maoists could encourage Maoist rebels in India

Under the Treaty, people living in both countries could freely travel across the border for employment, and could reside in either place.  

It also granted preferential trade arrangements and, until 1969, allowed India to maintain security posts in Nepal's northern border with China, as well as a military mission in Kathmandu.  

India's basic concern, say diplomats, was always China.

Delhi, which had already fought a bitter border war with Beijing in 1962 which it lost comprehensively, was paranoid about China establishing a major presence in Kathmandu.  


"The 1950 treaty was basically meant to help address India's security needs," says Ambassador Rajan.  

"In return, Nepal got economic benefits, such as the right to live and work in India. That was the basic arrangement."  

But increasingly, many Nepalese were uncomfortable with the Treaty, believing it gave India major political and economic influence.  

The Maoists have regularly raised the issue and said they want the Treaty scrapped.

They also want a review of other agreements, especially those relating to river water and irrigation – issues which are very sensitive on both sides of the border.  

And there is the question of links between the Maoists in Nepal and those in India.  

Security threat

India's bloody Maoist insurgency runs across a broad swathe of its territory from its northern border with Nepal down to its central tribal belt and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

It was recently identified by the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, as the country's single biggest security threat.  

Security experts believe that the Maoist victory in Nepal will come as a big morale booster to Maoist rebels fighting in India.  

India's problems also stem from the fact that they have traditionally backed the mainstream political parties, particularly the Nepali Congress of the outgoing Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala.  

They have always backed a role for the monarchy, too, albeit one that has changed somewhat over the past two years following the pro-democracy protests of 2006.  

Ironically, many of the senior Maoist leaders have studied in India and would often hide in the country at the height of the insurgency.

Next government

They also have relatively close ties with India’s own mainstream Communist parties, who support the governing coalition in Delhi.  

But their influence is limited, particularly after the Maoists' current political position following the election.  

"We will have to accept that India will have to deal differently with the next government, and accept that Prachanda represents the sensitivities and aspirations of the majority of Nepalese," says one foreign office mandarin who wished to remain unnamed.  

But there are some who believe it is time for relations between both countries to change, and reflect the new realities, rather than be mired in history.  

"Our relation was one between a sovereign country and a semi-protectorate. It now needs to be one of equals," says Ambassador Rajan.  

Ultimately, some believe, India’s importance to Nepal outweighs its political imperatives.  

Both countries have strong cultural, economic and ethnic ties, and India is Nepal's largest neighbour. And many here think that no government can ignore that.    

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