From Tom Sullivan in Delhi, Sunday Herald.COM
The mass boycott of elections, protests, arrests, abductions and shootings in Nepal are threatening to destabilise the region, with India in particular concerned about the possibility of the political unrest spiralling out of control.

Despite Delhi’s fears of the Mao insurgency spreading into India, its support for Nepal’s autocratic King Gyanendra may be delaying a resolution of the crisis, or even worsening it, analysts say.

India’s foreign affairs spokesman Navtej Sarna criticised last Wednesday’s local elections in Nepal, and called for “a genuine process of national reconciliation, dialogue and participation”. Other observers have been less diplomatic .

The US dubbed the elections a “hollow attempt” by the king to legitimise his year-old power grab in which he abolished parliament, allegedly to defeat a Maoist uprising. But the rebels have since gained more ground and the death toll has risen.

The local elections – billed by the palace as a first step to restoring democracy – backfired when all major political parties refused to take part and turnout was low. With fears of Maoist violence high, there were candidates for only half the seats. The poll was further marred by angry protests which escalated after a demonstrator was killed by soldiers.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the Maoist insurgency, which marks its 10th anniversary tomorrow. Amnesty International has branded the country’s human rights situation “one of the worst in the world”.

Last year the rebels signed a deal with Nepal’s main political parties to work towards restoring parliament and held a four-month ceasefire to show a willingness to enter mainstream politics – but there was no response from the palace.

As south Asia’s dominant power, India is seen as a linchpin in international efforts to solve the problem. The US, UK and Europe, the other major players in the region, look to India to lead the way in proposing a solution to the growing crisis. However, analysts claim India’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy is not working.

“India is deeply frustrated with how the king has been behaving and how the conflict is intensifying,” said Rhoderick Chalmers, of the International Crisis Group.

Relations between India and Nepal are complicated, to say the least. If the king is ousted, security services fear the Maoist insurgency could spill over the border and strengthen India’s own Maoist (Naxalite) insurgency.

Nepal’s monarchy enjoys support from a section of India’s ruling Congress party and among Hindu nationalists keen to support the world’s only Hindu monarchy. Regional security is also a cause for concern for India which fought a border war with China, not far from its Nepal border, in the 1960s. Security sources also claim the country’s other major rival, Pakistan, might take advantage of a power vacuum in Nepal.

“India treats Nepal like its backyard,” said Suhas Chakma at the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights, adding that the Indian government will not accept outside involvement or a UN- brokered peace process and elections. “India follows a ‘wait and see’ policy. They are looking for a face-saving formula for the king, such as a constitutional monarchy role.”

According to Dr S D Muni, editor of the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, the disarray in Nepal is causing a lot of worry in Delhi. “A lot of problems are spilling over into India,” he said, referring to India’s sizeable Nepalese refugee population.

Muni added that the time is ripe for the Indian government to distance itself from the king. “The Maoists have made it clear they are willing to enter the mainstream. This is a golden opportunity for India and other countries to do something.”

But Indian government sources said change must come from Nepal. “They [Nepal] are very aware of what Indian interests are and what India wants to see happen,” said a senior foreign official . “But actually it’s up to them to solve it.”

12 February 2006