Monday, September 29, 2008

Exclusive interview with Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam

By Mikel Dunham
September 22nd, 2008
Source: Savetibet.org
September 18, 2008 - Kathmandu, Nepal
This morning I conducted a filmed interview with Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam at the Ministerial Residence Compound in Pulchok. Gautam serves as Deputy Prime Minister, the number-two man in Nepal's new government. He has also been appointed Home Minister, a position that oversees all matters of security in Nepal. Known as a long-time advocate of a multi-party democracy in Nepal, Gautam played an integral role in 2004 when he helped orchestrate meetings between the rebel Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance -a political merging that eventually led to the demise of the 260-year-old monarchy. This morning, Gautam and I spoke on a variety of issues including corruption, gang violence, rule of law in Madesh, sex trafficking, intra-party strife and the question of Tibetan deportation. As far as I am aware, it was during my interview that Gautam said for the first time, unequivocally, that Tibetans would not be in danger of being deported to China - not now nor in the future.


DUNHAM: I believe that improving the infrastructure in Nepal -- and as soon as possible -- should be a priority in the new government. But it is also my opinion that, before you can build infrastructure, the government must establish rule of law and nation-wide security. Do you agree with this?

HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: What you say is right, to some extent, but the development of infrastructure is not the only important work. Right now, the most important work is to achieve political stability. Forward-looking programs and the writing of the constitution are the most important tasks to pursue at the present time.
To do all this, it is very important to establish rule of law as well as establishing peace and security for the people - these are the main conditions that must first be achieved.
LAW AND ORDER IN MADESH
DUNHAM: There is already evidence that security has improved in the Kathmandu Valley. But what about law and order in Madesh [southern districts of Nepal that bordering India]? Isn't this a more challenging goal for the Home Ministry? How can we expect the Ministry to deal with future Madeshi unrest?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: I would like to thank you for your assessment that the security condition in the Kathmandu Valley has improved. But I don't consider it as improved. It is only on the way to being improved. When we implement the process strictly, the situation in Kathmandu will gradually improve.
As far as the security situation in Terai [Madesh] is concerned, it is weak. There are lots of problems because the past government's policies on security did not work properly.
Especially when you talk about the Madesh movement, which was started as a movement for the identification of the whole Terai region, that movement -- along with other problems -- is interconnected with the inaction of the previous government.
But now we have seen two different kinds of activities in Terai. One: activities that are politically motivated. Two: purely criminally motivated activities.
We have clearly understood both kinds of problems and defined them. We will begin the peace negotiation process to solve the political problem. A few days before, the Prime Minister has already called upon those who will sit in on the negotiations. When the Prime Minister returns from India, we will form a negotiation committee and get to work.
On the other hand, using force will control those groups that were formed with criminal intentions. Some progress has already started in that direction.
The most important thing to remember is that the people of Nepal want peace, progress and prosperity. To achieve this, maintaining law and order - peace and security - is vital. The government has already begun to move in that direction.
VIOLENCE BY GANGS AND THUGS
DUNHAM: My next question relates to this. Gangs of thugs and criminals are a big problem in Nepal. What is the best way the Home Ministry can break apart their power structure? More specifically: What impact do gangs coming from India have on Nepal? What can Nepal do to fight back?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: For the last two or three years, Nepal has been in a state of transition: The old regime is finished and the new regime has not yet been properly established. But we are confidently moving ahead to establish a new system in the state.
In this transitory period, several elements such as gangs, thugs, and international criminals have entered Nepal and harassed the Nepalese population.
First of all, we have started to control the violent activities of the thugs, gangs and looters who are now within the city limits of the capital [Kathmandu]. We have been getting positive feedback. We have already attacked the bases and sources of these criminal gangs. We won't let up with our efforts.
During the old regime, improvement within the security sector did not happen. Therefore, the present government is finding it difficult to make up for lost time.
Regarding the Indian criminals entering Nepal, we recognize the fact that they exist, that they come in from Indians bases, and that they have been involved in criminal activities on our soil. We plan to coordinate with the Indian government to stop these criminals.
Now, in Terai, those criminals who are coming from India are involved in murder, violence and abduction. But I believe that we can control them.
DUNHAM: There are twenty or thirty groups identified as political groups in the Terai. However, it's presumed that many of them are simply criminal gangs posing as political groups - smoke screens. Do you have a good idea as to how many of these groups are genuinely politically motivated?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: Both the political and non-political groups in Terai are involved with criminal activities. We see that. However, we are currently trying to determine which of these groups are authentically politically motivated.
The past government believed that there were two or three of these groups that fit into that category and attempted negotiations with them - especially with the two factions of Terai Janatarantrik Mukti Morcha - one led by Jwala Singh and the other led by Goit.
But the current government has not yet been able to meet with these groups because of our busy schedules. Our plan is to invite all the groups to come to the table and negotiate. If the groups are genuinely politically motivated, they should come talk to us. The ones who participate will be regarded as politically motivated. Those who do not participate will be assumed to be criminally motivated. In the latter case, we will deal with them accordingly.
THE TIBET ISSUE
DUNHAM: Last week it was announced that Tibetans who do not have refugee certificate (RC) cards face deportation. It's reported that those Tibetans who are currently detained at the Tibetan Reception Center - those who lack RC cards -- will be sent on to India. Does that mean that India has been designated as the standard destination for Tibetans without legal residence status, or is it also possible that Tibetans could be deported to China sometime in the future?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: Nepal is a country that has a very close and friendly relationship with both of its neighbors, India and China. We have enjoyed this relationship for a long time. From the very beginning, we have not let anyone use Nepal territory as the base for anti-Indian or anti-Chinese activities. Nepal has always been consistent in honoring this policy. We will continue to do so.
Regarding the Tibetan refugees: They have been living in Nepal for a long time. We have provided them with identity cards. However, we cannot continue to keep all the Tibetans who arrive in Nepal as refugees.
The Nepalese government recognized those who came at the beginning, especially those who arrived during the 1960s, as refugees. We have limited capacity to take care of refugees, so it must be limited to those who are recognized as refugees. All other Tibetans who come to Nepal, we hand them over to the UNHCR and, in turn, the UNHCR takes them to India. Once in India, the UNHCR coordinates with the Dalai Lama's office in Dharamsala, where they will be settled. We do not send them to India ourselves.
In the recent past, [since March 2008] Tibetans in Nepal have become involved in many activities [that have been problematic to the Nepalese government]. We told them that, while they are living in Nepal as refugees, they should honor the law of the land. We told them that they were not allowed to be involved with whatever they desired. We made ourselves clear on that point.
If they break the law, we arrest them and hand them over to the refugee camp and warn them against getting involved with such activities again.
Regarding the Tibetans who lack RC cards: They cannot be involved in any unlawful activities. If they do so, they are abusing the Nepalese government's friendliness and openness, which the government has extended to them.
If they are involved in such activities, we have been arresting and handing them over the UNHCR. We arrested those who were protesting in front of the Chinese embassy and then we talked to them. It was at this time that we discovered that none of them were refugees living in Nepal. As a result, we handed them over to the UNHCR. That is what we did.
We have not arrested nor deported any Tibetans to China. We will not deport them to China.
DUNHAM: In the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese and Nepalis very effectively sealed off the northern border of Nepal in an effort to prevent movement between Tibet and Nepal. Will the northern border of Nepal remain sealed now that Olympics are over?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: We tightened the Nepali-Chinese border because of the Beijing Olympics. Chinese officials closely monitored all the border points. At the request of the Chinese government, Nepal also tightened those border points.
Some people tried to disturb the march of the Olympic torch to the summit of Mt. Everest. In order to prevent that from happening, it was necessary for us to tighten security measures.
But it will not remain like that forever. We are in the process of easing those measures.
The Nepal government will request that the Chinese government do the same on their side. Some of the border points have already returned to normality. For example, the Tatopani border point, the border in Mustang, and in Humla [a northwestern district] have become very easy [to cross]. The Nepalese government sincerely hopes that, soon, all the border points where there was public movement along the Nepali-Chinese border will be as before [the Olympics].
VIOLENCE AMONG THE VARIOUS POLITICAL YOUTH GROUPS
DUNHAM: You are known as being a preeminent supporter of a multi-party democracy in Nepal. It seems to me that one of the major obstacles standing in the way of achieving multi-party democracy is the bad feelings between the various political parties - especially among the youth political groups. Everyday there are reports of clashes between the YCL, the Youth Force (UML) and/or the Tarun Dal (NC). Curfews have been imposed in some areas. But what other tactics can the Home Ministry implement in order to resolve the disruptive ongoing fighting?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: I will always remain on the side of multi-party democracy. I will always try to strengthen it.
In our context, the activities of youth political groups should be regarded as a transitory phase. The past government failed to establish political stability, as well as law and order. Because of that, the political parties established these youth wings, which were of an aggressive nature, in order to protect their respective leaders and to keep up the pressure in the political arena.
Among them, YCL, the youth group established by the Maoists, looks like its activities are inappropriate. Because of the YCL's activities, all the other political parties established youth organizations. UML established Youth Force, for instance.
Now, when political stability is established and the trust of the public in the new government is earned, then the youth organizations will no longer be required. If they continue their [unlawful] activities, they will lose the support of the people. If they continue to take the law into their own hands, creating anarchy, the government will take tough action against them to control them.
Furthermore, if the youth groups continue such activities, the various political parties will shut them down. If the parties fail to shut them down, those same parties will find themselves ostracized.
There is no point of having this government if the various parties maintain warrior-like youth groups who take the law into their own hands.
I don't believe that the situation will remain as it is. I believe that we will be able to control the youth groups and transform them into civil organizations.
LAND GRABBING AND THE RETURN OF SEIZED LAND
DUNHAM: Yesterday, according the Kathmandu Post, the National Human Rights Commission urged the government to take strong legal action against those guilty of land grabbing. What is your strategy for putting an end to this seemingly endless activity? The recent involvement of Matrika Yadav, Minister for Land Reform and Management, in appropriating land in Siraha seems particularly troubling.
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: I do not know and have not yet received such a report about the NHRC informing the government about this issue.
Regarding the activities in Siraha of our Minister for Land Reform and Management, Mr. Matrika Yadav, they are inappropriate. When the Prime Minister returns to Nepal from India, there will be serious discussion about it. I believe that the Prime Minister will stop this inappropriate activity of land grabbing.
DUNHAM: Speaking of the Prime Minister and the Maoist party, what about land that was seized by the Maoists in recent years and which has not yet been returned to its rightful owners? How will you proceed on this problem?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: The Maoist party had agreed with the former Seven-Party Alliance and the government to return the seized land and property. Recently, the Prime Minister expressed his commitment through the government's policy and program, [presented by the president in the Constituent Assembly] to return all the seized land and properties.
It's not true that they have not returned any land or property. The land has been returned in many areas, but not all.
Some of the land has been distributed to the homeless, landless poor people. In these instances, the people have not returned the land even after the Maoists made the request to do so. There are also some other reasons for failure to return land.
Now it is a governmental policy to return all the seized land and property to the rightful owners. This was agreed upon by the Maoists --the Common Minimum Program [guidelines for the unity government between CPN-Maoist party, CPN-UML party and the Madeshi Janadhikar Forum] --as a condition that must be guaranteed before we decided to join the government. This national unity government was formed only after the Maoists firmly expressed its commitment and made us believe that they were willing to return the seized land and property.
I believe that the Prime Minister will bring this process forward, in which case the Home Ministry will work toward the eventual return of the seized land and property to the rightful owners. If that doesn't happen, then it can be said that the agreement upon which the national unity government was formed, will have been breached. If the agreement is breached, a new scenario will arise and our party (UML) may consider other options, of which I cannot comment at the present time.
TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN
DUNHAM: I would like to end with an issue that plagues most of the South Asian countries: sex slavery and the trafficking of women. What are your plans to help curb the abduction and sale of girls and women in Nepal? Is this going to be a priority for the new government?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: Even though this is a problem throughout South Asia, Nepal is particularly hard-hit by sex-slavery and the abduction of girls. All the past governments have worked to end this problem in one way or another. But they were not successful. Their programs proved ineffective.
The sale of women by thugs - abduction, false promises, etc., to lure them away from their homes - is a criminal activity. On the other hand, because of the poverty - lack of food, clothing and shelter among poor families - families have been forced to accept the selling of their girls into sex trafficking.
Either way, whether the girls are abducted or sold by their families, the new government will not tolerate it and strictly put an end to it. In order to do that, we will create an environment in which there is alternative employment for these women. We will promote self-employment programs. Even in the cases of women working in foreign countries, we will try to ensure that they are employed in respectable jobs rather than in the sex industry.
Those who are involved trafficking by abduction or false promises or whatsoever means will be punished with the most severe sentences allowed in this country: life imprisonment.
The Home Ministry will do everything in its power to effectively implement the law and to protect the people.

Prachanda has shown extraordinary flexibility, and not just with India.

BY, Aditi Phadnis
Source: Business Standard
Aditi Phadnis / New Delhi September 20, 2008

No prime minister from a neighbouring country has attracted as much attention as Nepal Prime Minister Pushpakamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, when he came to India last week. Prachanda began life as a teacher but was involved in politics. As a Maoist, he spent 10 years underground of which eight he spent in India, mostly in Haryana. So little was known about him that lore in Kathmandu in the late 1990s went that Prachanda was just a nom de guerre for human rights activist and Maoist sympathiser Padma Ratna Tuladhar who ran the Maoist movement from Kathmandu but let it be known that Prachanda was here and there and everywhere to prevent capture by the (then Royal) Nepal Army.
The first time the world put a face to the name was in 2003, when the Nepal Army circulated the first set of pictures of a bearded Prachanda beside Baburam Bhattarai, his colleague and comrade and Bhattarai’s wife, Hisila Yami. So important was it for Prachanda to retain his anonymity that not only did he never use his real name, but when two rounds of negotiations were held between the government of Nepal and the Maoists, it was Bhattarai who conducted the talks. He remained underground, with the price on his head going higher and higher. Like the Shining Path guerillas in Peru, his Way came to be known as Prachanda Path.
Maybe the long spell underground shaped his beliefs because when Bhattarai proposed that the Maoists join other political parties to fight an overground battle to topple the King, Prachanda refused. This was the beginning of the development of two groups among the Maoists: One, a set of ‘hardliners’ led by Prachanda who was supported by his guru Mohan Baidya, the doughty organiser from Thabang and CP Gajurel (both leaders were arrested in Chennai on charges of carrying a false passport and were kept in jail as long as India maintained its ‘twin pillar’ — constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy — policy towards Nepal). Also supporting this line was military commander Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ — now defence minister who will be winging his way to China on September 22 for a bilateral visit.
But the Battle of Khara intervened.
The first battle of Khara was an attack by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the Nepal Army in the mid-western district of Rukum in May 2002. More than 100 Maoists were killed in this battle. For reasons best known to the Maoist leadership — we can now surmise that it must have been at Prachanda’s insistence — decided to attack the Army at the same place again in 2005.
Presumably Prachanda thought this would be his great military victory, his Napoleonic triumph — for around the same time, Bhattarai and Hisila Yami were demoted by the politburo to the level of ordinary party members. Restraints were placed on their movements: by now Bhattarai had begun arguing at all Maoist fora that the military route was not the only way to toppling the monarchy and seizing state power. Bhattarai attacked his opponents as “those who consider feudal autocracy as more progressive than capitalistic democracy”.
But, in fact, the 2005 battle was a disaster for the Maoists. 350 cadres died. Bhattarai stood up, vindicated in his victory by the Maoist defeat.
But this is where Prachanda the statesman began surfacing. In November 2005, India helped Nepalese political forces agree to the Delhi Declaration, where the Maoists decided to join the overground movement for the overthrow of the monarchy. In June 2006, when Prachanda addressed the Hindustan Times Summit, a questioner asked if the Maoists had given up armed struggle. “Yes, we have,” Prachanda replied.
This is why Prachanda’s visit to India is so important. He has shown flexibility to an extraordinary degree and India, understandably, hopes to build on this. He has also resisted traditional India-baiting as a form of politics (in the old days, the Kosi disaster would have become a major diplomatic incident for political football in Nepal with India as the football — never mind that it is India who is as much the victim).
India must have shared its perspective on the changed Prachanda with the United States because despite being on the Terrorists Exclusion List, Prachanda goes to the United Nations General Assembly (with wife and son: he is a family man and never goes anywhere without his wife) later this month. Baburam Bhattarai, having just presented the budget, is preparing to travel to New York for a meeting with the World Bank.
It would be only too easy to crow over ‘defanged’ Maoists and sneer at how they’ve fallen in line. But they also have to be supported for they have — temporarily — given up their most vital belief, armed struggle, in the interest of peace and democracy. For this, Prachanda deserves to be congratulated as a statesman.
He has no dearth of problems: he has to run a coalition in which Maoist ministers are attacking the non-Maoists, Nepal’s economy is shot, he needs to run a party, rein in the Young Communist League, address the issue of nationalities in Nepal and somehow find the time to help draft a constitution. The people have high expectations: they demand to know how, despite Nepal’s hydroelectric potential, the country has to endure hours of load-shedding every day, there are long queues for petrol and diesel although there is no war on now, and there are no jobs. But at least now, Prachanda shows responsibility and promise. And he has shown that he cannot be baited.

A new beginning

Editorial
Business Standard / New Delhi September 21, 2008, 0:10 IST


The new Maoist leader of Nepal, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by the nom de guerre “Prachanda” that he adopted through his long years in the underground, has underlined the importance of India for his country by choosing it for his first foreign visit after assuming power. This has been worthwhile for both him and the host as truly a new era has been initiated in India-Nepal relations as the former mountain ‘kingdom’ begins its journey as a federal democratic republic. Both sides have agreed to take a fresh look at the nearly six-decade-old treaty of peace and friendship, perhaps the most important piece of paper for Nepal (it is yet to write its Constitution) which different political leaders of Nepal have sought to revise in the past but failed. By excluding nothing from the ambit of the new look, India has sought to convey its sincerity in beginning anew.
There are inevitable complexities, with what is in the mind being as important as what is on the ground, in the relations between a large and a small neighbour. Matters are not made any easier by Nepal also having another very large neighbour, China, with which India still has an outstanding border dispute. To put the past behind them, the joint statement at the end of the official visit affirms that both sides want a new dynamism in relations which will reactivate bilateral mechanisms. In keeping with this, no important issue, however thorny, has been brushed under the carpet. Indian concerns over cross-border security issues, a euphemism for Pakistani terrorist camps in Nepal, have been addressed. Similarly, a firm deadline of one month has been set for the commerce secretaries of the two countries to meet to comprehensively review the trade and transit arrangements which are critical for the economic growth and development of landlocked Nepal. In addressing Nepal’s immediate needs, India has agreed to lift for Nepal the ban it has imposed on exports of food as an inflation fighting measure, extend a Rs 150 crore credit for Nepal to import petroleum products and agreed on arrangements for Nepalese road traffic to go through Bihar till Nepal’s roads damaged by floods are put back on their feet again.
But by far the most important decisions, which can have the most far-reaching consequences, are to look at ways in which water, hydroelectric power, irrigation and flood control issues can be addressed to mutual advantage. In the weeks before Prachanda’s visit, Bihar was ravaged by unprecedented floods caused by a breach in an embankment in Nepal along the Kosi river, which is supposed to be looked after by India and which Bihar’s engineers claim they cannot without the cooperation of the Nepalese authorities. The Kosi poses an almost annual nightmare for Bihar whereas if the waters of that and other rivers which come down to the plains from Nepal are properly harnessed, Nepal can reap huge gains from the sale of hydroelectric power to India. Hence it is heartening that the two sides have agreed to schedule a secretary-level meeting in two weeks to begin work on infrastructure development in Nepal.
Additionally, the Nepalese prime minister has promised an investment board with himself as chairman to devise fast-track solutions which will make it easier to do business in Nepal. If this attempt not to duck important issues, however sensitive, gets translated into fruitful cooperation, then Nepal will prosper and India will feel more secure.

Nepal's Maoists take a wary step out of India-China shadow


Sep 19, 2008
KATHMANDU (AFP) — Landlocked, impoverished Nepal has always struggled to punch above its diplomatic weight, but its new Maoist leader has lost no time in shaking up ties with giant neighbours India and China.
In office for barely a month, Prime Minister Prachanda, a former warlord, has already visited both countries, signalling his desire for closer ties with Beijing and a stronger voice in dealings with traditional ally New Delhi.
In an apparently calculated snub to India, Prachanda broke with long-standing precedent by visiting China first.
Past Nepali leaders have always made New Delhi their first port of call and Prachanda's move ruffled official feathers in India which is extremely wary of any regional shift that might complicate its difficult relations with China.
"His China visit broke a long tradition and sent a message that the Maoist-led government wants to change position," said Gunaraj Luitel, an editor with New Republic, an English language daily in Nepal.
Although Prachanda insisted that his attendance at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games did not constitute an "official" visit, he did meet with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
His subsequent official visit to India was a warm one, but on his return to Kathmandu, Prachanda explicitly laid out Nepal's aspirations for a diplomatic realignment.
"In the past Nepal has had closer connections with India ... I am of the view that Nepal will now build equal relations with both neighbours," said the prime minister, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal but who prefers his nom-de-guerre Prachanda, meaning "the fierce one".
While in New Delhi, Prachanda also pushed for the re-negotiation of a treaty that has governed bilateral relations for more than half a century.
Many Nepalis argue that the 1950 Indo-Nepal pact allows India an excessive say in their country's political and economic affairs -- most notably a clause preventing Nepal buying arms and weapons from a third country without Indian permission.
Some analysts say Prachanda's efforts to project the image abroad of a more assertive Nepal are largely aimed at appeasing nationalist sentiment at home, and that his overtures towards China are little more than an unsubtle bid to gain more leverage in dealings with India.
"Playing India off against China ... has never really worked in the past," said one Western diplomat here.
The fact is that Nepal's landlocked status makes it hugely dependent on India, which supplies all of the Himalayan nation's oil products and the vast bulk of its consumer goods.
This severely restricts Prachanda's room for manoeuvre, and provoking any serious rift with New Delhi could result in a repeat of the crippling economic blockade imposed by India in the late 1980s following a dispute over transit rights.
"The Maoist-led government may try to decrease Indian dominance in Nepal but it won't happen anytime soon because we are not yet politically stable and we are economically dependent," said researcher and political analyst Basker Gautam.
Gautam also suggested that the new prime minister's pro-China leanings were partly motivated by a desire to underline his party's "revolutionary image".
For the 20,000 exiled Tibetans living in Nepal, however, they pose a very real threat. Last week, the Nepalese Ministry said any Tibetan who did not have any official refugee papers would be deported.
The move followed large protests by the exiles in Kathmandu over a Chinese crackdown in Tibet.
"This is one area where the new government has made a change to keep China happy," said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the weekly magazine, Samay.

Nepal PM says country's path a 'sweet dream'

Herald Trebune
The Associated Press

Nepal's prime minister, the former Maoist rebel chief known throughout his country as "the fierce one," did not sound so ferocious as he marveled Wednesday at his plush surroundings.
"To be with you is just like a sweet dream for me," Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, told an audience at the Asia Society's Park Avenue building, in one of New York's most exclusive neighborhoods. "Miracles have happened."
He was speaking of both his personal transformation from feared insurgent commander to Nepal's political leader and his country's path from a 10-year rebellion in which more than 13,000 people died to a republic now governed by a Maoist-led coalition.
Prachanda said Nepal, after so many years of bloodshed and crushing poverty, is now ready to embrace democracy and peace. "Our people deserve it," he said.
Addressing skeptics, he said his government's commitment to creating a new Nepal and distancing itself from its feudal past is "total and real."

The former rebels gave up their armed revolt in 2006, joined mainstream politics last year and now lead Nepal's government after elections earlier this year. The new government abolished the centuries-old monarchy.
The United States believes the Maoists have tempered their views since entering the political process, and Washington has revised its policy and met with the former rebels now leading the country. But the Bush administration has said that the degree to which the U.S. will work with them will depend on how successfully they stay away from violence.
During his appearance at the Asia Society, Prachanda answered a question about the way the Maoists conducted their violent insurgency, including allegations of murder and the forcible recruitment of underage fighters and poor villagers.
"For every revolution, there may be some excess," he said. While "no excuse can be given to the excess," he added, "something new is going to happen in this small, poor country of South Asia."
He said a peaceful, prosperous Nepal is in the interest of the country's powerful neighbors, China and India, and he said Nepal was eager to cooperate with both nations.
His government, he said, has also reassured businesses in Nepal that it is focused on building the economy and spurring trade and investment, in Nepal and with the rest of the world.

Indo-Nepal Relations: When Believing Is Seeing

By Bhavesh Shah
Source: Newsblaze
Nepal's new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' created waves during his recent visit to India. From politicians to academics to the media, Indians were charmed by the former Maoist rebel chief's words and gestures. In the exhilaration, it was easy to forget that the Maoists had begun their anti-monarchy insurgency 13 years ago on a charter full of anti-India diatribes.
Yet until the eve of his election as premier, Prachanda had been accusing India of interfering in Nepali affairs, specifically to prevent the Maoists from taking charge of the new government. He, like most Nepali politicians, conveniently forgot that without Indian 'interference', Nepal would perhaps still be languishing under royal absolutism.
Undoubtedly, credit for the restoration of democracy in April 2006 goes to the millions upon millions of Nepalis who took to the streets of Kathmandu and other Nepali cities against the rule of then-king Gyanendra. It is equally undeniable that New Delhi was actively involved in creating an alliance between the Maoist rebels and the mainstream Nepali opposition parties. The perceived impossibility of such cooperation between then-fierce rivals is what had emboldened the royal palace.
The monarchy, which was never a friend of India, is now consigned to the history books. However, the anti-Indianism it had fanned to consolidate its power since the 1950s remains a living feature of Nepali politics. Cutting across party lines, this sentiment emerges with vengeance, such as in the aftermath of the Koshi floods and the vice-president's decision to take his oath in Hindi. As New Delhi struggles to come up with a rational post-monarchy Nepal policy, it must not lose sight of the collective Nepali psyche.
Ordinary Indians remain genuinely perplexed by the antipathy their country engenders at almost every turn of Nepali life. A common religious, cultural and social heritage, after all, should have been conducive to far more tranquil relations. India, despite its own needs, has over the decades contributed generously to Nepal's socio-economic development. What went wrong and how? A new book, "The Raj Lives: India in Nepal" (Vitasta, New Delhi) helps put things in perspective.
In the book, Sanjay Upadhya, a leading Nepali journalist, repeats familiar gripes of his compatriots. By tying them firmly to the evolution of Indo-Nepali relations, he has enabled a better understanding of the factors driving the Nepali mindset. Some of these grievances are outrageous (i.e., that India staged the Indian Airlines hijacking in 1999 to expose the links between Pakistan and Nepal in fomenting anti-Indian activities and that Indian intelligence agencies were complicit in the assassination of King Birendra and his family in 2001).
Others are more amenable to bilateral discussions (i.e., reviewing the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty and other agreements Nepalis consider unequal.) Still others are merely rooted in differing perceptions (i.e., Kathmandu's objections to Delhi's legitimate security sensitivities vis-à-vis China, Pakistan and other quarters.)
Sadly, as Upadhya advances in his central argument, these distinctions do not seem to matter much in Nepal. As Nepal's fractious political parties persist in their political games, these issues - and certainly newer ones - are bound to mar a bilateral partnership that holds much promise. In the final chapter, Upadhya lays out the opportunities that have been missed amidst mutual recrimination.
The inclusion of historical photographs as well as maps identifying existing border disputes would have brightened the book. Incorporating the text of the 1950 Treaty and the letters exchanged - the symbol of India's highhandedness in many Nepalis' eyes - might have facilitated easier comprehension of the subject matter without having to consult other books. Overall, these omissions do not diminish the importance of the book for serious students and general readers alike.

China announces military aid for Nepal

Sep 27th, 2008 By Sindh Today
Kathmandu, Sep 27 (IANS) Nepal’s northern neighbour China has announced a military aid of NRS 100 million (over $1.3 million) for Nepal, the first military aid received by the new Maoist-led government of the Himalayan republic.
China’s Minister for Defence Liang Guanglie made the announcement during a meeting with his Nepali counterpart, Maoist Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ Friday. Badal is on a visit to China at the invitation of the Chinese defence ministry to observe military exercise ‘Warrior 2008′.
The Russia-educated Badal, who was the military strategist of the Maoists when they were an underground party waging an armed war against the state, is the first defence minister Nepal has seen after a long time.
In the past, the portfolio was held by the prime ministers themselves.
Just as Nepal’s new Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ visited China soon after assuming office, Badal also followed suit.
Though Nepal’s official media reported about the military assistance Saturday, it was, however, not specified whether the aid comprised cash or military equipment.
Around last year, when the Indian government sent non-lethal military assistance to Nepal, it created a furore with the Maoists lodging vigorous protests and accusing New Delhi of trying to sabotage the peace process.
Badal, who also met Guo Boxiong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, the apex body in the Chinese armed forces, reiterated his government’s commitment to the One-China policy.
Badal also repeated the assurance given by Prachanda during his visit that Nepal would prevent anti-China elements - meaning mostly Tibetan refugees - from staging anti-China activities on Nepal’s soil.
Indian military officials would be closely watching Badal’s visit. Even though the Indian government says it is unperturbed about Prachanda choosing to visit China before India, the Indian military establishment is wary of Nepal’s China tilt over defence issues.
During King Gyanendra’s government, India took serious umbrage at the royal government going on an arms buying spree and paying the Chinese manufacturers hard cash while ignoring the mounting dues to India for the supply of arms at a high subsidy.
China had been the only neighbourhood country to supply arms to the Nepal army during King Gyanendra’s regime. The weapons were used to combat the Maoist insurgency as well as the pro-democracy movement started by the political parties together with the Maoists and civil society.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nepal-India Relation: Synergy through Energy?

Source: Telegraphnepal.com
Sujit Mainali

Unfortunate is Nepal with more than 60 MW-capacity equivalent to a mega-power project of annual leakage through non-technical losses only, signs an agreement with power deficient neighbor India to fulfill the sheer power shortage currently being faced by the country.
The magnanimity of the Indian leadership is also to be lauded for that it prefers to keep its citizens in dark but not the some what “obedient” neighbor.
Not for nothing Mahatma Gandhi- the father of the Indian nation said in his words of wisdom, "One who serves his neighbors serves the entire world."
In the Nepali context though, the agreement in itself is a jocular one and perhaps exposes the myopic vision and corrupt mindset of the government officials and the Nepali leadership who instead of charting plans to reduce the electric leakage prefer to buy extra electricity to the tune of 60 MW (that equals the non-technical loss) and that too at a high price than it is available locally.
As per the latest figure made available by the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), the annual loss is nearly Rs. 7 billion through leakages that account for both technical and non-technical reasons.
Approximately, there is the total loss of approximately 25 per cent (~150 MW) electricity out of the total 615 MW generated now.
“Technical leakages are difficult and equally expensive to reduce but non-technical leakages needs to be taken care by our political leadership-which seriously lacks in our case thus the country men pay such a high price”, say NEA officials.
“Such as in Bhaktapur and Siraha districts more than 60 percent of electricity pilferage is taking place that are well protected by the local political leadership there”, say NEA officials in the condition of anonymity.
The NEA only recently said that it would hike the power tariff by 15 per cent to bring down its annual loss- what a shame?
However, the decision has been kept on hold after the Maoists’ led revolutionary government took to the office a month ago.
“The clients of NEA have been growing by more than 10 percent every year, unable to check the leakage and produce more electricity as demanded, the nation is bound to face more load shedding in the future”, the NEA officials say.
A Memorandum of Understanding to import 60 MW of electricity from India was signed on the final day of a “Two Day Power Summit”- virtually participated in by just the Indian investors, held in Kathmandu that ended on Wednesday, September 24, 2008.
Nepali observers present at the Summit say that the Indian investors looked very aggressive and demanded that that they (Indian companies) be given first priority in Nepal government’s ambitious plan to produce 1000 MW of electricity every year for ten years time.
In the first day of two day Power Summit, the high profile government authorities from both India and Nepal accepted that to date Nepal-India relation has been solely determined on the basis of water resources.
Addressing the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Power Jairam Ramesh said, “India is looking forward to create a new architecture of bilateral cooperation, an architecture whose distinctiveness will be synergy through energy.”
He said that the shortages of energy in India and the potentiality of water resources of Nepal can best be harnessed to enhance bilateral relations.
He said the Indian investors are keenly watching towards Nepalese water resource potential. Pointing towards the Minister of Water Resources of Nepal, Bishnu Poudel, Mr. Ramesh said, “I have made him clear that the Remote Control of water resources is in your hand, the Indian investors will follow simply the direction of your Remote Control.”
Nepal’s Deputy PM Mr. Bam Dev Gautam said Nepal's water resources has crucial role in maintaining bilateral relation between Nepal and India in good stead.
“We are ready to make any sacrifice to increase foreign investment in water resources”, Gautam added.
Mr. Gautam immediately got a snub for the use of the word sacrifice by Jivanath Khanal, a resident of Sankhuwasaba district, who opined that “Sacrifice word has double meaning….submitting to foreigners and the violence that follows”
“We are not ready to submit our resources to foreigners”, Khanal angrily concluded his intervention.
Perhaps Khanal’s remark also summed-up the benefits of holding the “Two Day Power Summit” for both India and Nepal.

Friday, September 19, 2008

India, Nepal to inject new zing in bilateral ties

Shobori Ganguli
The Pioneer, India
Presiding over a very significant cusp in Nepalese history, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda on Wednesday said bringing the nascent peace process to a "logical conclusion, writing a new Constitution and accelerating the pace of economic development" are the main priorities of his Government in the days ahead.
Admittedly India too is keenly aware of the dramatic change of texture of the Nepalese Government, face to face for the first time with an insurgent group that now defines Nepal's mainstream polity. Prachanda's visit obviously provides India a renewed opportunity to seek Kathmandu's assistance in dealing with several political, diplomatic and economic arrears that have accumulated in recent years between the two countries.
In a joint statement that reflects this new-found awareness, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prachanda have "acclaimed the importance of peaceful, political, democratic transformation of historic significance in Nepal." Both have "expressed their support and cooperation to further consolidate the relationship in the days ahead."
To begin with, the two countries have decided to revisit the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship that has hitherto defined their relationship. Resolving to "reactivate the existing bilateral mechanisms in the evolving context," India and Nepal have acknowledged that bilateral relationships between the two "needed further consolidation and expansion in a forward-looking manner to better reflect the current realities."
Therefore, the two have "agreed to review, adjust and update" the 1950 Treaty as well as some other agreements, "while giving due recognition to the special features of the bilateral relationship". A Foreign Secretary-level Committee has been set up for this purpose.
In view of the "historic changes" that have taken place in Nepal, the two sides acknowledged "the need to inject new dynamism" into bilateral relations "for a forward looking change in tune with the realities of the time as well as the wishes and aspirations of the people of both the countries."
Prachanda has assured the Indian leadership that his Government will take all necessary steps and measures for "the promotion of investor friendly, enabling business environment to encourage Indian public and private sector investments in Nepal." The Indian industry in recent years has had genuine concerns over Nepal's stability owing to which there has been a steady drain of Indian investors out of Nepal.
Another crucial area where India would expect Nepal's new Government to address comprehensively is crime and terrorism across the porous borders. The joint statement says the two have "agreed to enhance cooperation in handling cross-border crime and security concerns." The Home Secretaries of the two countries will meet soon to implement this decision.
Yet another major irritant in bilateral relations is the annual flooding of the Kosi which leads to routine blame games. While India has offered to provide Rs 20 crore as immediate flood relief, the two countries do realise the need to address the problem on a long-term basis. To that end apart from launching relief and rehabilitation measures for the victims, the two sides have agreed on the "reconstruction of the damaged infrastructure, and other measures as per the agreements, immediately, and take up preventive measures to avoid recurrence of such events in the long term."
They have also decided to "take up preventive measures for the Gandak and other barrages under existing bilateral arrangements." Given the recurrent problem of inundation in the border areas between Nepal and India, the two have decided to "take up necessary work for its effective prevention on the basis of bilateral consultation." India will also rebuild the segments of the East-West Highway, damaged in the recent Kosi floods. In addition, India will set up a camp office in Biratnagar to facilitate movement of vehicular traffic from Nepal through Bihar till highway is repaired.
In the long term, the two have also decided to set up a three-tier mechanism "to rationalise and raise the efficacy of the existing bilateral mechanisms in order to push forward discussions on the development of water resources in a comprehensive manner, including hydro-power generation, irrigation, flood control and other water related cooperation."
Existing trade and transit arrangements will also be revisited "with a view to promoting industrialisation in Nepal, expanding complementarities of bilateral trade on a sustainable basis and removing the barriers to trade."
Last but not the least, India has pledged itself to economic assistance to Nepal's fledgling democracy. To that end, it has decided to remove ban on the export of rice, wheat, maize, sugar and sucrose. India has also offered continued assistance in several areas, including infrastructure, human resource development, health and education.

Changing stripes of Prachanda

Source: Telegraph Calcutta
Capitalist or communist, Nepal PM has a face for every occasion
SANKARSHAN THAKUR

Prachanda in Bangalore on Wednesday. (AFP)
New Delhi, Sept. 17: Prachanda wriggled out of two scheduled press meets during his first visit to the capital as Nepal’s Prime Minister. His delegation put it down to “logistical confusion” but the real reason may lie in an odd irony: it wasn’t that Prachanda had things to shy away from, it was that he had put out too much of himself.
During his two-day whistle-stopping of power destinations in Delhi, Prachanda left his trail a little befuddled by pulling on too many contrary faces; in any direct interaction with the media, questions would have been asked about the real Prachanda. Revolutionary or revisionist? Radical or reformer? Iconoclast or conservative? Marxist or capitalist?
On the evidence of what he told his different audiences, the new Nepali premier could have been all of those, a living likeness of Winston Churchill’s famed description of Soviet Russia — “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
His first outing was a session with industry czars and the Maoist spoke like a market propagandist. “Capital is critical in today’s world and the private sector is its engine, we want you all in Nepal, please come, this is a win-win opportunity for both of us,” he told them.
Perhaps after the fashion of his Indian counterpart, who professes no love for anything Left, leave alone Maoist or revolutionary, Prachanda is eyeing a 10 per cent growth rate for Nepal and made seductive noises to enlist Indian industry into that effort. A Dabur unit in Nepal was recently shut down by Prachanda’s cadres, but here he was unfurling promises of a new prosperity for industry, even special economic zones along the Indo-Nepal border if big business so desired.
He made an impassioned pitch for capital injection again the next afternoon at a gathering of Delhi’s influential elite at the India International Centre.
“We are a nation in transition,” he said. “But we are firmly committed to fundamental freedoms and we know we cannot do without the market. Having played a constructive role in this transition to a new democracy, it is now also India’s responsibility to take the process ahead by investing in Nepal.”
Barely hours before that, he had been speaking to a select set of “friends and sympathisers”, several of whom had arranged shelter and transit for Prachanda during his underground years.
Behind closed doors at the Nepali embassy, the revolutionary was in prime play. The “comprador bourgeoisie”, Prachanda told them, was the “main enemy” of the “revolution” the Maoists were trying to effect in Nepal.
“I speak to you not as Nepal’s Prime Minister but as a comrade,” he told them. “Objective conditions in Nepal are not ripe yet for a communist republic, but we have not given up. A formal parliamentary democracy as the world understands it is not acceptable to us, we will have to build a new democracy, something between a parliamentary democracy and a revolutionary one. Kranti samapt nahin hui hai, usko purna karna baaki hai (The revolution has not happened fully, it needs to be completed).”
But the revolutionary had vanished yet again when Prachanda met top leaders of the BJP who have oft bemoaned the demise of the world’s only Hindu kingdom. But they could have been fooled about reports about the slaying of their gods at the hands of Nepal’s ascendant Reds.
Prachanda was music to their ears, making elaborate references to the “indelible links” between Ayodhya and Janakpur, assuring them that the “Hindu essence” of Nepali society could not and would not be altered.
So which one is the real Prachanda? The Nepali premier was clear he didn’t want to face that question on his maiden visit. But those who have closely followed the Maoist — Nepalis and Indians — are guessing that Prachanda’s many faces on display are not a case of schizophrenia, much less of duplicity.
“He is new and probably still a little insecure in the job. He is merely trying to reach out to all sections on his first visit,” said a member of Prachanda's delegation. “There has been consistent negative speculation in India about Prachanda and the Maoists, I think he is keen to allay any doubts or suspicions that might exist. Importantly, he went a little out of his way to assure the BJP, he is looking as much at the future of ties as at their present.”
It is fairly well known that the Maoist surge in the elections earlier this year took New Delhi entirely by surprise; Prachanda was not the horse it was backing. But it quickly reconciled to Nepal’s changed political reality and stuck to a strict hands-off policy, allowing independent play to the churn in Nepali politics.
Prachanda’s ascent to premiership after prolonged negotiations between Nepali power players is probably a sign India refrained from hidden-hand manipulations in Kathmandu. Prachanda has responded by donning as many faces as were required to please.

With BJP, Prachanda’s temple, Ram diplomacy

Source: Indian Express

New Delhi, September 16 After inviting L K Advani to visit the Pashupati Nath Temple in Kathmandu during his meeting with the NDA prime ministerial candidate here on Monday, the visiting Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” in some smart Track II diplomacy broke bread with the brotherhood in saffron here on Tuesday.
Advani — who has never been to Nepal — is reported to have remarked in a lighter vein that “it was probably the wish of Pashupati Nath that he visits Nepal during the prime ministership of Prachanda”.

On Tuesday, the visiting Communist dignitary disarmed everyone by using the “Ayodhya-Janakpur” meta-phor when he called on BJP president Rajnath Singh.

As Rajnath said, “India and Nepal share much more than political ties or geographical borders. We share an emotional bond,” Prachanda responded by talking about how Ram, who hailed from Ayodhya, married Janakpur’s Sita. “There may be ideological and political differences but we have great respect for the cultural heritage shared by the countries,” Prachanda said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Prachanda: time to go for a fresh start
Special Correspondent
Political transition in Nepal a “collective accomplishment”
New Delhi: Pronouncing himself “fully satisfied” with the “new chapter” in bilateral relations that had been established as a result of his first official visit here this week, Prime Minister Prachanda of Nepal described the momentous political transition which had taken place in his country as a “collective accomplishment” to which India too had contributed.
“After the historic change, people in Nepal have high expectations and hope this visit will create a new chapter,” he told a breakfast meeting of editors and journalists on Tuesday. “And though I had been here many times, I also was wondering what kind of discussions I would have in India as Prime Minister of Nepal.” However, after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, he said, “I was fully satisfied ... that a new chapter has been initiated.”
He said the Nepal and India which were meeting today were not the same countries of 60 years ago. “There is a new democratic consciousness in Nepal and new development consciousness in India.” Appreciating the Indian reassurance that a peaceful and prosperous Nepal was in New Delhi’s best interest, Mr. Prachanda said the era of “petty contact” was over and that the two countries needed to embark on large projects together. “Our people have high expectations and without huge projects these cannot be realised. We cannot be satisfied with petty contact. For example, we want an East-West railway in the terai which will create revolutionary change in the lives of people. Also, we want huge hydroelectric projects — we are speaking of 10,000 MW in 10 years — and if India and Nepal collaborate and there is trust, we can even go to 20,000 MW,” he said, adding, “Only with big projects can we have revolutionary change.”Treaty needs change
Asked about the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty, Prime Minister Prachanda said Kathmandu wanted a change but was not blaming anyone or arguing that the existing arrangements were all bad. “But a lot has changed in 60 years. We are now a democracy. There is no cold war. There have been big developments in science, technology. We have to grasp the dynamics of change and go ahead. The 1950 Treaty has brought us this far ... If someone says it has only worked against Nepal, this will not be a correct analysis. But now it needs change to help the relationship get stronger, based on new ground realities.”
He said the Task Force which Nepal and India had decided to set up would examine the issue. “This is a treaty signed at the time of the Ranas. It is not a question of which provision is bad, but we can have a new treaty on a new basis. It is not a question of negating, but of updating. This is a historic opportunity. This is really the time we should catch it and go for a fresh start.”
On New Delhi’s concerns about Nepali territory being used by forces inimical to India, Mr. Prachanda said his government intended to be even more strict about this than its predecessors. “We cannot do magic overnight but we are taking this very seriously,” he said.
Mr. Prachanda said the peace process and integration of former Maoist combatants in the Nepal Army needed to be seen from a broad ideological and strategic perspective. “Without this, we can’t understand the dynamics. This is not a question of manoeuvring and tactics but of a big transformation ... To lead a People’s War and then become the largest party in CA, this is something new that has happened.” He said integration was a “delicate and sensitive problem” but that a basis for it had already been laid down.
India had helped in the peace process because the ‘12 point understanding’ between the Maoists and Nepal’s other parties was reached in Delhi, he said. “If we Nepalis fail, its repercussions will also be in India. So we have a collective responsibility to ensure success.”
Asked about his party’s links with the Indian naxalites, the Nepali Prime Minister said there are “ideological relations.” But when the Maoists in Nepal spoke of taking part in elections, their Indian counterparts spoke of a “rightist deviation,” he said. “When we won, they congratulated us but warned us not to take part in government. Now, of course, we are leading the government.” The historic transformation in Nepal could serve as a reference for revolutionaries and Maoists elsewhere, he said. “A serious debate has already begun in India and the world on our experience and in time you will see the results of this,” he said.
The biggest challenge facing the Constituent Assembly, he said, was to develop a new model of democracy for Nepal. “We need to go beyond formal democracy and create new mechanisms of power which truly empower the oppressed classes and castes,” he added.



Prachanda shows his softer side17 Sep 2008, 0122 hrs IST, Ashish Sinha,TNN
Times Of India
NEW DELHI: Shorn of diplomatic protocol, Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's brush with the full spectrum of Indian politicians on Tuesday indicated that the guerrilla-turned-democrat could do well to drop his party name 'Prachanda' — 'the fierce one' — because he hardly sounded like one. Even otherwise, the repeated reference to him as 'Shri Prachanda Ji' sounded outlandish considering that his formal name reminded people of a delicate lotus. Prachanda fitted that bill, making it hard to think of him as the leader of an armed struggle that swept through India's neighbourhood for over a decade before it finished monarchy through one massive upsurge. "I'm turning emotional. The years that I spent in India made me understand its people and history. India has a big role to play in the new democratic experiment started in Nepal," Prachanda, 53, said at a luncheon hosted by Indo-Nepal Parliamentary Friendship Forum. Else, leaders like Somnath Chatterjee, I K Gujral, Sharad Pawar, Murli Manohar Joshi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Prakash Karat, Digvijay Singh, Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav would have hardly got a chance to come together and hail what Prachanda now stands for. The politicians present on the occasion were happy with his candid admission that the foundation of Nepal's peace process was laid in India. "Our relations (with India) have always been special and sweet, rarely seen in the world. What we now favour is the initiation of a new continuity. I understand the security concerns of India and Nepal. A peaceful, prosperous and stable Nepal is in India's interest," Prachanda said. Prachanda's other wish to generate 10,000 MW of hydro power in Nepal in 10 years was the hint that Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, facing the uphill task of rebuilding the Kosi-ravaged regions and find a lasting solution to the recurring floods, picked up with vigour.


Buddha invites Prachanda to invest in West Bengal


NDTV Correspondent
Wednesday, September 17, 2008, (Sandeep Phukan)
Singur may have kept investors in West Bengal on the tenterhooks, but that doesn't seem to stop Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.The Chief Minister has invited Nepal's newly elected Prime Minister Prachanda to invest in his state with the Left parties' approval.Nepalese Prime Minister and Maoist leader Prachanda is on his maiden visit to Delhi. His next stop is Kolkata. Buddhadeb has invited him to invest in his state."After the puja and diwali, he has promised to come to Kolkata," said CPM leader Sitaram Yechuri.So just what can Nepal offer West Bengal, considering that the former Himalayan kingdom itself wants Indian investment?
(Watch)West Bengal is looking at developing Hydel power by tapping into Nepal's water resources, cement industry to utilise rich limestone deposits, but most importantly, increase trade along the Bengal-Nepal border."There is a misconception that communists don't look for investments," said Yechuri.CPM leaders played a crucial role in getting Maoists to join the mainstream. Now, they not only want to cement their ties but also improve trade relations

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nepal's investigation on Tibetans 'international practice'

Source: Xinhua
KATHMANDU - The Nepali government made the decision to investigate the Tibetans in the country on its own according to international practice, not under "pressure from China" as alleged by some media reports, a Nepali official told Xinhua on Friday.
"This decision was made on the basis of international practice. We are just verifying if they (the Tibetans) are legal or illegal. It's not due to pressure from China. It's our own decision," said Modraj Dottel, spokesperson of the Nepali Home Ministry.
Dottel was talking about the decision to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nepal verify the identity of the 106Tibetans arrested in demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy, consulate and other establishments.
"They will only be allowed to stay in Nepal if they have documents to prove they are Tibetan refugees," Dottel said, "The United Nations refugees office in Kathmandu will decide what to do with the illegal migrants staying in Nepal."
"The Tibetans continued their anti-China protest in Nepal despite our repeated warnings. We won't tolerate any activities against our friendly countries," Dottel said.
Local newspaper The Himalayan Times on Friday quoted government sources as saying those failing to prove their refugee status would be sent to India via the UNHCR.
Reports by The Kathmandu Post said the Home Ministry has received what officials said was reliable intelligence that the refugees were backed by certain non-governmental organizations in Europe and the United States.
"We've tolerated the protests to date but we won't tolerate them any more," said a senior Home Ministry official, who asked not to be identified.
"Such protests are not even allowed in India," the official said.
The so-called "Tibet Independence" activists organized many demonstrations outside UN and Chinese diplomatic missions in capital Kathmandu and other regions in Nepal since March 10.
The activities often went ugly, leading to disruptions of city traffic and sometimes violent clashes with the police.

Nepal's Maoist PM to visit India

Source: BBC
By Charles Haviland BBC News, Kathmandu
Former Maoist rebel leader and new Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda is to make his first official visit to India since his April election victory.
Prachanda says he will not sign any concrete agreements but he leads a large delegation on a four-day visit packed with political meetings.
Nepal has a prickly relationship with its larger southern neighbour, India.
Nepal's Maoists have used tough anti-Indian rhetoric, calling for treaties they see as unequal to be abolished.
India denies it was taken aback by the Maoists' election win. But its diplomats were reportedly unhappy when Prachanda's first foreign trip was to China, for the closing ceremony of the Olympics.
Nepalese commentators point out that this country is independent and say it is not open to bullying.
Nevertheless, the weight of ties means Prachanda has had to stress that his arrival on Sunday in New Delhi for a five-day visit is his first political foreign trip - as though to reassure Indians uneasy about where the new Maoist-led republic is heading.
Uneasy relationship
The two countries have a special but often uneasy relationship.
At times, Nepal's leaders have even accused India of having designs on the smaller country's territory.
India's official language, Hindi, is widely used in southern Nepal - but when the new vice-president here took his oath of office in Hindi, there were days of riots in response.
The countries are tightly bound by culture, religion and history and keep their long border open. Simple geography makes co-operation crucial.
The terrible floods in India's Bihar state were caused when a river in Nepal burst its banks.
Treaties oblige the two countries to work together on maintaining the man-made structures which channel such waterways. India is also Nepal's sole supplier of fuel.
Prachanda's Maoist party is wary of India. Its ideological soulmates, known as Naxalites, are waging insurgency across a swathe of India.
On the other hand, Maoist leaders spent a lot of time in India while still underground.

Is Nepal’s defence minister going to visit China?

Sep 12th, 2008 By Sindh Today Category: India, Olympics
Kathmandu, Sep 12 (IANS) After Nepal’s new Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda chose to break with tradition and made China his first destination abroad instead of India, now Nepal’s new Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ could be heading for Beijing once again.
Badal, the Russia-educated military strategist of the Maoists’ guerrilla army during the decade-old armed insurgency, has been invited to visit China from Sep 22. Besides meeting officials, he has also been invited to inspect the Chinese army.
The defence minister’s office Friday confirmed the invitation to IANS but said no immediate decision has been taken on whether the minister would accept or not.
For a long time, Nepal did not have a defence minister as the prime minister himself held the crucial ministry.
Beijing would be eager to cultivate close relations with the defence minister since it is trying to sell indigenously manufactured arms and aircraft to the Nepal Army.
China had supported King Gyanendra’s army-backed coup in 2005 and in exchange, had been able to sell its aircraft to the army at marked up prices.
After the fall of the royal regime, the cash-strapped Nepal government asked Beijing to scrap the deal, but the Chinese authorities refused to oblige.
If Badal decides to accept the invitation, it is bound to stoke the India-China controversy here afresh.
When Prachanda chose to visit China within the first week of assuming office, it triggered speculation that Nepal was trying to cosy up to China and snub its biggest trade partner India.
To scuttle the rumours, Prachanda said the Beijing trip was intended only to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games and that his ‘political’ visits would start with India.
The prime minister is embarking on a five-day India trip Sunday.

India gears up to host Pracahanda, new pacts unlikely

Sep 12th, 2008 By Sindh Today Category: India, Olympics
New Delhi/Kathmandu, Sep 12 (IANS) India Friday announced the first official visit of Nepal’s Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, who comes here on Sunday on a five-day trip that has the potential to modernize ties between the two neighbours, bound by close cultural and fraternal relations.
“The visit will provide the opportunity for discussing the entire gamut of issues between our two countries,” India’s external affairs ministry tersely said in New Delhi while announcing Prachanda’s maiden visit to the country after assuming office.
No new pacts are likely to be signed as it will be primarily a goodwill visit meant to reaffirm ties between the two countries, official sources said in New Delhi and Kathmandu.
In a bid to soothe frayed nerves in New Delhi following Prachanda’s visit to Beijing to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympics last month, the new regime in Kathmandu has taken pains to package the Maoist leader’s India trip as his “first formal political visit” to any country.
Sections of the Indian establishment felt uneasy about Prachanda’s visit to Beijing as New Delhi has traditionally been the first port of call for a newly-elected Nepali prime minister.
India, too, has indicated it would regard the five-day visit as a ‘political’ one that will provide New Delhi an opportunity to understand the mindset of the new dispensation in Kathmandu and enable the two countries to share their perspectives on the course of bilateral ties in the days to come.
Prachanda, who comes here after wide-ranging consultation with major political parties in Nepal on improving and consolidating ties with India, would be accompanied by four ministers: Foreign Affairs Minister Upendra Yadav, Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Commerce and Supplies Minister Rajendra Mahato and Water Resources Minister Bishnu Poudel.
Besides meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prachanda is also scheduled to hold talks with Congress leader and ruling UPA chief Sonia Gandhi and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani.
Imparting a more contemporary character to bilateral ties, which could include talks on a revision of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, is expected to top the agenda of Prachanda, a former revolutionary who Aug 18 became the first prime minister of a republican Nepal.
During his election campaign in April, the Maoist leader had promised that all treaties with India, including the friendship treaty, will be reviewed. New Delhi is positively inclined towards a revision of the treaty, but feels more substantive discussions are required.
Other issues, like a comprehensive compensation package for the victims of the floods that have devastated parts of Nepal and rendered thousands homeless will also he high on the agenda. India is likely to announce a hefty relief package for Nepal’s flood-hit during the visit. Details are still being worked out, official sources said.
Nepal’s major political parties have advised Prachanda to seek compensation for to the flooding caused by the breach of the Kosi embankment. Nepal says that as per the Kosi Treaty of 1954, India is responsible for the repair of the embankment and other structures on the river.
Nepal is looking at a compensation package that will include the rehabilitation of the over 100,000 people left homeless in Nepal by the flood, the repair of the damaged embankment spurs and the rebuilding of infrastructure destroyed by the deluge.
Increasing access of Nepali goods to India, easing of quarantine and tax procedures and improved fuel supplies will also figure prominently in talks.
The Maoist chief, who is looking for greater foreign investment, will address top business leaders in a conclave organized by top industry bodies in New Delhi. He will also go to India’s IT hub Bangalore, where he is scheduled to be taken to the Infosys office.

It will be nostalgia time for Prachanda in India

Sep 13th, 2008 By Sindh Today Category: India
Kathmandu, Sep 13 (IANS) When Nepal’s Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda begins his first official visit to India Sunday, it will be a homecoming of sorts, full of the memories of the days he spent incognito in this country off and on during the decade-long ‘People’s War’ he led from the front.
‘Prachanda is very fond of visiting India. He is looking forward to his first official visit to India,’ Anirban Roy, who has authored a biography of the charismatic leader entitled ‘Prachanda: The Unknown Revolutionary’, told IANS.
Travelling incognito when the Maoists were banned as a terrorist organisation in both Nepal and India, Prachanda had also visited Goa and West Bengal, says the biography.
The book reveals various facets of a former guerrilla leader who defied pollsters to emerge as the first prime minister of the Federal Republic of Nepal.
‘He spent several years during the Maoists’ 10-year ‘People’s War’ in India, mostly New Delhi, and he probably feels nostalgic about it,’ the author said.
Roy’s book has rare photographs showing Prachanda with his wife Sita and son Prakash gazing at the Taj hotel in Mumbai as tourists. Incidentally, it will be at the Taj in New Delhi that the former revolutionary will be staying.
It will be his second known visit to India - the first trip was in November 2006 when the Maoists signed a peace pact and he had been invited to New Delhi to attend a leadership summit.
A return to Delhi Sunday would, therefore, be also a journey down memory lane for the Maoist supremo.
However, Prachanda has dismissed Nepal’s fears that he would be swayed by the memories into making undue concessions to India. ‘I firmly believe India showed good will in dismissing its two-pillar theory (of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy in Nepal) and supporting the constituent assembly election,’ he told IANS here.
‘India should now rise to a greater height to address Nepal’s aspirations.’
It will be Prachanda’s first interaction with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders like Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani.
‘Prachanda is young and dynamic and has established himself as the leader of a democratic republic,’ Roy said. ‘The interactions will definitely help India understand Nepal better.’
The India visit will start the diplomatic career of the 54-year-old former school teacher, who was born in a paddy field in Dhikurpokhari village in central Kaski district to poor farmer parents.
The oldest of eight siblings, he was born Chhabilal Dahal. However, while studying in the Mahendta Primary School - named after the then king - a teacher praised his cherubic looks and rechristened him Pushpa Kamal - meaning as radiant as the lotus.
He loved the name and adopted it. In the 90s, when his party was preparing to start an armed revolt, he came close to adopting the war name Gaurav but then was given the name Prachanda.
Though the ‘People’s War’ ended in 2006, Prachanda refused to relinquish his nom de guerre, loving its connotation of valour. It was the name he used when he took oath of office as republican Nepal’s first prime minister on Aug 18.
After studying agriculture, Prachanda taught in two schools before joining the communist movement. He went underground in 1980 and after several changes in the communist movement, founded the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) which began a guerrilla war in 1996 despite its modest success in a parliamentary election.
Over 13,000 people were killed during the insurgency and Prachanda, asked if he did not feel his hands were stained with blood, admitted he regretted the deaths but it was a cruel necessity. He blamed the feudal system and Nepal’s powerful royal family for triggering the armed movement.
Despite starting out as a rag-tag party, the Maoists accomplished their goal of abolishing Nepal’s 239-year-old monarchy and forced King Gyanendra to vacate the royal palace.

Prachanda armed with new India-Nepal treaty draft

Sep 13th, 2008 By Sindh Today
Kathmandu, Sep 13 (IANS) Though Nepal’s first Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ Saturday described his upcoming trip to India as a ‘goodwill’ visit, yet he said he would be going to New Delhi with a draft that Nepal would like to replace the existing - and controversial - 1950 India-Nepal treaty of peace and friendship.
‘The treaty was signed (during) the Rana regime,’ Prachanda told the state media. ‘But today, we have come a long way. The Ranas were overthrown and so were the Shah (kings)… In the new political context of Nepal’s transition to a federal democratic republic, it would be sensible to replace it with a new one… The objective should be to consolidate mutual welfare.’
The Maoist chief said critics who were saying his party had not done adequate homework on the new treaty were ‘misguided’.
‘We are thoroughly prepared and have already prepared a draft which I am carrying to India,’ the new Nepal prime minister said.
During his five-day visit, Prachanda would propose the formation of a special India-Nepal taskforce to finalise the draft through ‘mutual consultations and understanding’.
The Nepali delegation will also take up the issue of the recent Kosi devastation.
Nepal would ask for a review of the 1954 treaty as well as negotiate over relief and reconstruction measures. Nepal’s major parties have asked the prime minister to seek compensation from India since the treaty makes it India’s responsibility to maintain and repair all constructions on the river.
Prachanda has also been asked to raise the issue of the Mahakali treaty, asking for its review and the controversy about 11 embankments Nepal says India built unilaterally along the border, putting Nepali territory in jeopardy.
Trade talks are also expected to feature largely in the talks.
‘Our trade deficit with India has reached NRS 105 billion,’ Prachanda said. ‘Indirect trade deficit could be four times that.’
To correct the imbalance, Nepal would seek to simplify tax and quarantine systems as well as transit facilities. Besides Kolkata, Nepal is seeking transit facility through Mumbai port and to Radhikapur in Bangladesh.
The controversial high dam that India has been mulling to tame the Kosi would also be discussed as well as building a diversion canal.
Nepal would try to get more Indian investment in the Himalayan republic’s hydropower sector. However, the generated power would be harnessed first to meet the national demand

Prachanda brings promise of change- Ex-rebel no longer an unwelcome irritant in New Delhi

Source: Telegraph Calcutta
SANKARSHAN THAKUR AND JAYANTH JACOB

New Delhi, Sept. 13: A suite at the Taj will probably count the least among the many transformations in Prachanda’s India experience when he arrives tomorrow on a five-day state visit. Neither will it merely be the change from a wanted head of insurgency to a vaunted head of government.
Prachanda, aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was till just the other day the nub of differences between India and Nepal. Now he turns up laden with potential to make a difference — elected Prime Minister of a fledgling republic that is seeking to put relations on a new keel. No longer an unwelcome irritant furtively ducking in and out of holes in Noida; very much an honoured guest New Delhi will hope to toast the future with.
There has been whispered annoyance in South Block at Prachanda’s decision to break convention and choose China as his first port of call on becoming Prime Minister, but the Nepali leader has been eagerly prefacing his arrival with loud disclaimers to suggestions that Nepal under him will turn more to China; Beijing, his managers have been saying, was not strictly a state visit, more an incidental trip occasioned by the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.
Equi-distance with China and India has become the new mantra of Nepali foreign policy; at the moment, that isn’t creating too many worries in the Indian foreign office. Indo-Nepalese ties, official and people-to-people, are too deep and diverse for any nation to pose a threat, the argument goes.
Prachanda himself has been batting about to clear the “anti-India” air that surrounds him. “India has played a very important role in initiating the peace process, we want to enhance our relationship on the basis of the changes in Nepal and on a new and equal footing,” he told an Indian newspaper editor ahead of his visit. “We will put an end to whipping up of anti-India sentiment in Nepal.”
There has been virulent speculation these past weeks that Nepal under Prachanda’s Maoists is set to unilaterally scrap the Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950; the odds are the revolutionaries, having assumed power, will not tilt to such radicalism.
India has expressed its willingness to revisit the treaty and senior officials have cited the precedent of a similar agreement with Bhutan being amended keeping in view the “changing times”. But the mutual will to amend/revise aspects of the treaty may take more than a five-day visit to complete.
Instead, the focus may be on more urgent issues like the Kosi floods, which have caused devastation on both sides of the border.
While India is expected to announce assistance to the Kosi flood victims in Nepal, Nepal’s major parties, including the Maoists, the communists and the Opposition, have advised the former revolutionary to give priority to the devastation caused by the Kosi and prepare the ground for reviewing water treaties, including the Kosi, Mahakali and Gandak pacts.
Nepali foreign minister Upendra Yadav had said during his recent India visit that the Kosi river treaty had to be changed as Nepal could not “put a stone into the river water on its own” — a reference to the fact that the repair and maintenance of the Kosi’s embankments is solely India’s responsibility.
Prachanda is making a strong pitch for better trade and economic relations and security and transit issues. This has been amplified by pre-arrival statements from different quarters in Nepal, and by foreign minister Yadav during his visit.
The Maoist leader, who promised an economic revolution in the annual policies and programme of his government this week, is expected to take up the issue of easy access for Nepali goods to India, easing of quarantine and tax procedures and improved fuel supplies.
The bilateral trade between the two countries now stands at $1.4 billion; the industry body Assocham calculates this volume will double by 2010. Nepal exports vanaspati, jute goods, polyester, pulses, hides and skins, herbs, cardamom, rice bran oil, ginger, oil cakes and noodles, while India imports rice, mechanical equipment, cotton textile, cement, chemicals, electrical equipment, milk products, farm equipment and tobacco.
With Prachanda now in the saddle, India will hope the Red revolution will get off the list of Nepali exports.

India looking forward to Prachanda visit

Special Correspondent, Hindu

New Delhi: India will respond positively to any proposal for revising the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty that Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda may make during his first official visit to the country on September 14.
The Manmohan Singh government, official sources said, was looking forward to Mr. Prachanda’s four-day visit and saw it as an opportunity for New Delhi to establish a political equation with the new Maoist-led dispensation in the Himalayan republic.
Though Mr. Prachanda, who heads a potentially fractious coalition government, has been getting contradictory advice from his political allies on what his agenda ought to be during his visit to India, officials here fully expect him to raise substantive issues such as the fate of the 1950 treaty. India, the sources said, had no objection to revising the treaty to make it up to date and in tune with contemporary realities. Though the Indian side’s preference is to go in for a brand new treaty — as has been done with Bhutan recently — rather than tinker with or cherry-pick individual elements from the existing treaty, New Delhi believes these issues can be sorted out through any review mechanism Prime Minister Prachanda may propose.
The sources said India’s agenda vis-À-vis Nepal did not depend on which party or government was in power there.
Broadly speaking, New Delhi’s traditional concerns revolved around questions of security and border management — including the potential misuse of Nepali territory by elements inimical to Indian interests — as well as the imperative of promoting economic cooperation, especially in the hydroelectric sector.
Though the new dispensation in Kathmandu seems receptive to ‘win-win’ cooperation with India in this sector, the sources recalled the period of the mid-1990s when a government led by the Unified Marxists-Leninists started out with good intentions but ultimately got caught up in the anti-Indian rhetoric of domestic politics. “Right now too, we get the sense that their internal balance is not yet settled. There is no question Prachanda is a great man, otherwise he would not have got where he has,” the source said. “But how this translates into action remains to be seen ... I think it will take more than one visit to get a measure.”
The sources said joint action for flood control would also figure high on the agenda of Mr. Prachanda’s visit. “We have a common interest in working together. Both of us have to do the right thing at the right time,” he said, in a reference to the maintenance of barrages and embankments along the Kosi.
India was also prepared to assist the Nepal government in the process of integrating the cadres of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army with the Nepal Army. “Last year itself, we had offered six vocational training centres, the idea being to give them [demobilised rebels] some other skills.”
India intends to raise with Mr. Prachanda the recent incidents of harassment and intimidation of Indian businesses in Nepal by the Maoist Young Communist League.
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CPN-M leaders stress on reviewing ties with India

KATHMANDU, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Senior leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M), the ruling party, said Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda", may review ties between Nepal and India, local newspaper The Rising Nepal reported on Sunday.
Mohan Baidhya known as "Kiran", chief of the CPN-M organizational department, said the government had all rights to sign in the bilateral and multilateral treaties, as it is the elected body.
However, he also said the present government, like previous ones, would not sign in any agreement without doing proper homework.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda", in his visit to India that started from Sunday, would candidly raise the issue of replacing the 1950 Treaty with India, he said while speaking at the Reporters' Club Nepal in Kathmandu on Saturday. "The Treaty should be reviewed for mutual benefit of the two countries, as it was unequal," he added.
The Prime Minister would raise the agenda of border encroachment, bilateral trade, problems created by the Saptakoshi floods and other issues, Kiran added.
On Saturday, Finance Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, another senior CPN-M leader, said the India visit by Prime Minister Prachanda would further consolidate and strengthen relations between Nepal and India.
Dr. Bhattarai said the Prime Minister's visit was not meant to ask for some favors from India, and stressed on the need to put an end to such a tradition.
An effort will be made during the visit to review not only the 1950 treaty but all unequal ties with India, and the visit would be cordial, he added.

So near, yet so far

Source: Times Of India

Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' arrives in New Delhi today but it's unlikely any one would recognize him except a few Nepal-watchers and some of his well-wishers from all the years he spent hiding in India. The disinterest may say a great deal about India's attitude to its smaller neighbour, even though his first official visit to Delhi will be keenly watched as a sign of things to come.

There will be much to rivet India. Nepal's governing Maoist Party has already indicated that Prachanda's visit will not be a mere sightseeing tour. Instead, he is expected to take up serious bilateral issues, including revision of the controversial 1950 treaty of peace and friendship and the 1954 Kosi treaty.

Prachanda's stated sense of purpose ahead of his arrival, underlines the long troubled history of Indo-Nepal relations. India has often being accused of playing 'big brother' and Nepal is often over-eager to believe the worst about its bigger neighbour. For instance, when Nepal's first vice-president Parmanand Jha chose to take his oath of office in Hindi, it triggered nationwide protests, with people calling him an Indian stooge. When violence erupted in the Terai region, along the Indo-Nepal border, and Madhesis or people of Indian origin settled there started to demand their rights, it was regarded as India's handiwork.

Similarly, India continues to believe the very worst about the Nepalese who come to work and live here. To most Indians, the Nepalese are seen as good for nothing more than jobs as guards and domestic employees. Last year, a criminal complaint was filed against a radio jockey in Delhi after he allegedly made derogatory remarks about the winner of the 2007 Indian Idol contest, Prashant Tamang, who is of Nepalese origin. Add deep fear to the derision - because some Nepalese domestic employees were involved in crime in Delhi - and it makes for a poisonous cocktail of cultural stereotyping and corrosive bias.

It should not be this way. Nepal and India have had a long history of cultural exchange, political dialogue and royal matrimonial alliances. The two countries are geographically near, yet far apart in mutual understanding and appreciation.

As former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haider says, "India and Nepal have many similarities, but the core reason these have not resulted in closer ties is because of the complex nature of their relationship. The Nepalese are touchy over what they regard as big brotherly treatment by India - they feel they are not being treated on an equal footing. Over the years, this has resulted in an uneasy relationship."

A string of bilateral treaties, which Nepal continues to regard as humiliating, sowed the seeds of this mistrust. It was heightened by the 1988 blockade enforced by the Rajiv Gandhi government after Nepal imported Chinese anti-aircraft guns without India's knowledge.

Ironically, the 14-month period of absolute rule by King Gyanendra from February 2005 was the best period for Indo-Nepal relations, say experts. Though the King was furious India had stopped arms supplies, Nepal's political parties and its people felt comforted, even emboldened, by Indian support for the pro-democracy movement. Prakash Man Singh, senior leader of the opposition Nepali Congress party admits, "The 12-point agreement that the parties forged with the Maoists (to oust King Gyanendra) would have been impossible without New Delhi's support."

That said, Nepal's Left wing continues to harbour deep distrust of India. At least some of this is reflected in the talking points Prime Minister Prachanda was forecast to be bringing to Delhi. Maoist MP and foreign affairs chief of Nepal's governing party C P Gajurel has already declared, "We have asked the prime minister to take up the issue of the growing foreign intervention in Nepal's internal affairs when he visits India."

But politics does not always mix with commerce and most Nepalese businessmen remain carefully neutral. Businessman Banwari Lal Mittal, whose family was among the first to move from Marwar to set up shop in Nepal, says India has been Nepal's partner in political, social and economic activities. "I would not call India interfering. I would call it 'answering calls for help'," he says.

However, Indian pundits say the studied neutrality cannot hide the inherent problems of the bilateral relationship. They say India would have to do a great deal to undo the damage caused by its perceived 'Big Brother' image and to show it is ready to deal with Nepal on an equal footing. Professor S D Muni, an expert on Indo-Nepal relations, points out, "In the past, India's policies on Nepal had been oriented at the power structure level, that is, the king and his ministers. But, with the changes that are happening there, it is time to reorient these policies at the grassroots level - that is, towards the common man. India should show the world that it does not view Nepal as a subordinate but as an equal partner."

Shalini Wadhwa, an Indian who runs a speciality magazine publishing business in Kathmandu, agrees that differences arise mainly because of political manipulations. "I feel that there is goodwill and trust between the people in both nations. However, when issues are blown out of proportion and egos are at work, misconceptions arise," she says. Also, most Indians don't know much about Nepal, adds Wadhwa. "It's been a holiday and pilgrimage destination for many, and of course, there are historical, cultural and significant family ties through marriages - mostly in the royalty and across immediate borders. These bind the people of both countries together. With significant political changes happening in Nepal, and with news travelling fast, perceptions about the other country should change in the future."

atul.sethi@timesgroup.com

INDIA DAMNS WITH FAINT PRAISE

Trouble in Paradise

When executive Maheshwar Joshi, 25, was finalizing his honeymoon destination, a friend suggested Nepal. "Is it safe?" was Joshi's reaction. He isn't alone in seeing Nepal as an unpredictable place.

"One hears so much about the political instability there," says IT professional Ramesh Vinayak. "Also, it is cheaper to go to a South-East Asian country, where you get the added satisfaction of 'having been abroad'. You don't get such a feeling when you go to Nepal," he adds.

Gaurav Kashyap, 26, says, "Nepal is a country that still needs time to evolve and is at a very nascent stage of its development as a democracy."

Hardworking people

"The Nepalese come across as hardworking people," says Isha Parihar, 22.

Adds Kashyap, "One must not forget it is through Nepal that our country has got a tremendous blue-collar workforce." The problem, as they and many young Indians see it, is the tremendously porous border and a crying need to control the flow of Nepalese crossing over into India.

Cultural bias

Imran Naseer, 21, admits the word 'Nepal' makes him think about all those "reports about Nepalese committing crimes in India".

Student Neha Bhamri says it's an unfair bias against the Nepalese.

NEPAL RAILS AT 'BIG BROTHER'

Not a land of opportunity

Manoj BK's father, a Dalit from Nepal, came to India to work because back home, he was regarded an untouchable. But Manoj prefers to work in the Gulf. "The money is better there," says the 25-year-old, who is working as a gardener in Qatar. "In the eyes of the Sheikhs, all of us are inferiors - Nepalis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. But people in India think only Nepalis are fit to be illiterate guards and whores. Look at the Aarushi murder case. Police harassed the two boys because they were Nepalis."

Tough competition

Rudra Belbaase's father left his home in Nepal to study medicine in Kolkata because it offered affordable education, similar cuisine and language. But Rudra, 18, plans to go to the US or UK for a college degree. "I can work part-time abroad," he says, "but in India, the competition is tough and I may not get a job."

Still, There are bollywood Dreams

Aspiring model Rashmi Sapkota, 20, says, "Most Nepalese models/ actors would give an arm and a leg to gain a foothold in the Indian fashion or film industry because Hollywood is inaccessible and Bollywood seems within reach after Manisha Koirala and Indian Idol 2007, Prashant Tamang.... (That's why) pageants sponsored by Indian companies in Nepal have the highest number of applicants."