India wary of Maoists' strong show in Nepal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am

India is watching warily the unfolding triumph of the Maoists in neighbouring Nepal's weekend election, amid fears their success will encourage their brethren across the border.

For a government whose prime minister recently described India's Maoist insurgency as 'the single biggest security threat' to the nation, the strong showing by Nepal's Maoists has come as a rude shock.

With the Maoists poised to take power barely two years after emerging from the mountains, India finds itself wondering what a possible Nepali government led by Maoist leader Prachanda will want to change in bilateral relations.

The 54-year-old leader, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has already set off alarm bells. He has been quoted in the Indian media as saying that he wants to scrap the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which has defined the relationship between the two countries, in favour of a more balanced approach when dealing with India and Nepal's other big neighbour, China.

Of greatest concern, though, is the impact on India's own Maoist insurgency. The Maoists effectively rule large swatches of India known as the 'red corridor' running from the border with Nepal down to south India.

'Indian Maoists will get a tremendous morale boost from the Nepal victory. It will encourage them to redouble their efforts. But I don't see Prachanda helping them in any material way. That goes against their ideological beliefs that each movement must be indigenous and self-reliant,' said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi.

Mr Sahni adds that if he takes power, Prachanda is unlikely to risk antagonising India by offering overt support to his Indian counterparts.

'No government in Kathmandu will take the risk of providing safe havens for Indian Maoists or giving them arms. There is too much at stake,' said Dev Mukherjee, former Indian ambassador to Nepal.

For its part, New Delhi is expected to seek cordial relations with a new Maoist government. In the Foreign Ministry, there is already a sense of acceptance that a new, more equal relationship will have to be forged.

'The treaty will probably be reworked. Basically, it had the effect of placing Nepal under India's security umbrella and prevented Nepal from getting too close to China. That may change,' said international affairs expert G. Parthasarthy.

'Prachanda might try to assert himself against India, but even if he does, India stands to lose nothing. Nepal benefits more from the special relationship than India ... geography dictates a close relationship. India simply can't be wished away,' said security expert Manoj Joshi.

Some experts have been pleasantly surprised by Prachanda's comment that, 'If we win, I think Maoists in India will also come into the mainstream and this will help India.'