Nepali Times Asian Paints
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Heading south again


NAVIN SINGH KHADKA


The palace is keeping the itinerary and purpose of King Gyanendra's on-again-off-again trip to New Delhi a closely guarded secret.

But enough of it has leaked out for analysts to wonder about the timing, agenda and schedule of the 10-day royal visit. This will be the king's third visit to India in as many years, a period during which neither the Indian president nor the prime minister has reciprocated bilaterally.

The visit comes amidst growing angst in India about Nepal's Maoist insurgency spiralling out of control and indications here that the monarch may be contemplating an authoritarian adventure. The visit has been penciled in and postponed several times since September and although officials explained it was because compatible dates could not be found there are indications that New Delhi had misgivings.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba beat the king to it in September and it would have looked odd for King Gyanendra to go so soon after. Also, since New Delhi's line is support for constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy in Nepal it can't be seen to be discussing nitty-gritties with the king.

Preparations for the 23 December-2 January visit have been carried out in secret by the palace with very little participation of the foreign ministry. "There is no specific agenda set for the visit," a palace official told us, "but His Majesty will take up whatever issues are raised."

In September, Deuba had discussed the Maoist insurgency and got Indian officials to admit for the first time that the Maoists were a "common threat" to both Nepal and India. Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, who had accompanied Deuba in that visit, told us: "We are still discussing the agenda with the palace. A constitutional monarch will certainly talk along the same lines as the government."

However, sources close to King Gyanendra believe he will go beyond Deuba's talking points. "The Maoists have made it clear they will only talk to the king and we all know rebels use Indian soil, so that changes things and the talks may advance on these issues," ex-army chief and Raj Parishad member Satchit SJB Rana, told us.

Unlike previous trips, there are no pilgrimage detours this time and King Gyanendra will visit New Delhi and travel on to capitals of states bordering Nepal: Dehradun, Lucknow, Patna and Calcutta. Says Rana: "The king may be briefed there about Maoist activities along the border and move to counter them." The request reportedly came from the king himself and involves states where Nepali and Indian Maoists are active. The composition of the royal entourage has not been made public but it appears to be heavy on royals and ex-army brass.

One India-watcher here predicts that King Gyanendra's conversation with his Indian interlocutors will centre on just three issues: his own role, the counter-insurgency war and hydropower. He adds: "The three are actually interlinked."


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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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