India: How will Maoist gains in Nepal shape two countries' ties?
The Maoist party had a surprisingly strong showing in recent elections. India is worried about the impact on its own Maoist rebel movement, the Naxalites.
The victory of Nepal's Maoists is as worrying for neighboring giant India as it was surprising. Following the former rebels' strong showing in general elections this month, government officials in New Delhi are wondering where the Maoists' victory leaves relations between the two countries. They are also concerned that the win may embolden India's own Maoist movement.
According to results posted Monday, Maoists won half of the 240 directly elected seats. Results for an additional 335 seats allotted to political parties based on the percentage are expected later in the week.
Nepal's Maoists have said they want to scrap the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed by Nepal and India in 1950. The treaty defines the countries' relationship, allowing Nepalis and Indians to travel freely across each other's borders. Until 1969, it also allowed India to keep security positions on Nepal's border with China. (A map of the region can be found here.)
India's Naxalites say they are fighting for India's poor and landless – just as Nepal's Maoists did. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has previously identified the Naxalite movement as the country's single biggest security threat. The Naxalites had reportedly expanded to half of India's 28 states in 1996, prompting a military counteroffensive, said The Christian Science Monitor.
The Nepal Telegraph, noting that the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Shiva Shanker Mukherjee, had met with "Comrade" Prachanda – the nom de guerre of Nepal's Maoist leader, which means "fierce" or "terrible" – said that India was anxious that Nepal not scrap "unequal treaties" made between the two countries.
But other commentators were more hopeful of improved future relations between the two countries.
India's Financial Express reported that India had expressed such a hope during Mr. Mukherjee's meeting with Prachanda . And The Press Trust of India (PTI) news wire reported that the Maoists were in talks with the United States to lose their "terrorist" tag.
Outlook, a leading Indian news magazine, noted that thus far, Prachanda had shown signs of being a sensible and cautious leader.
Indeed, many analysts expect the former rebels to be pragmatic in power, focusing on development. Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries, has suffered from decades of weak governance. The Maoists know that they will be unable to reduce poverty without the support of India, Nepal's main trading partner and the source of its fuel.
The weekly news magazine India Today noted that Prachanda had acknowledged the importance of a cordial relationship with Nepal's big neighbors. He had specifically mentioned the importance of friendly relations with India and China, the paper reported. Because the Maoists could ill-afford to antagonize Delhi, India should seize the opportunity to strengthen ties with Nepal.
Arvind Deo, a retired Indian diplomat, writing in the Economic Times also urged India to play a constructive role in Nepal's future development: