No grand designs

Three recent events have brought the unique relationship between India and Nepal strongly back into focus. Exactly as Nepal's political crisis was spiking, with the Maoists planning to resign from the government, the Indian foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, visited Kathmandu to pass on a stern message to the prime minister and the Maoist leadership: New Delhi wanted to see elections in November. A few days earlier, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had made a statement saying that Nepal's sovereignty was under threat. Sections of the media played up the statement, and pointed to India as the source of the threat, even though it is unlikely the prime minister had New Delhi in mind. Add to this a rise in the number of voices, among both Nepali politicians and international agency officials, blaming India for fomenting trouble in the Tarai. One increasingly gets the sense that Nepal, after a stint of feeling secure in the aftermath of the People's Movement of April 2006, is going back to the bad old days of blaming the 'foreign hand' for all its many (and expanding) troubles.

India-Nepal ties cannot be understood in the conventional framework of inter-state relations. New Delhi has traditionally wielded a disproportionate influence in Nepal's politics – from brokering the Delhi agreement between the Ranas and the king in 1951, to backing the 12-point agreement between the Maoists and the political parties that forms the basis of the current peace process. It has subsequently helped to micro-manage the peace process. Indeed, India is almost a local actor in Kathmandu politics.

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Himal Southasian