NEW DELHI-In winter, the Indian capital wakes up to foggy mornings, struggles through windy days and goes home fighting the evening haze. In journalese, a newspaper calls it Delhi's 'winter hell'.
That may be why the royal itinerary has been carefully worked out to take in Dehradun, Lucknow, Patna and Calcutta as well. Even though the official agenda is yet to be announced, sources insist that except for Sikkim, a state so far free of the Maoist scourge, King Gyanendra will be visiting every Indian state that borders Nepal.
For once, the palace has got it right. Instead of a pilgrimage to sundry shrines in South India and bowing to controversial godmen, it makes much more sense for Nepali rulers to keep the minders in India's neighbouring state capitals in good humour.
State governments have more say than ever before in the formulation of Indian foreign policy towards neighbouring countries. Courting royal relatives like Karan Singh and Vasundhara Raje Scindia is still important but the attention is slowly shifting away from them to regional satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Buddha Dev Bhattacharya.
The Indian side seems to have decided to let King Gyanendra see the exasperating state governments New Delhi has to battle on a day-to-day basis. We have our own rogue's gallery in the Kathmandu political scene but in comparison to India's cow-belt politicos, ours are saints. New Delhi's subtle message to King Gyanendra is that however frustrating, one has to learn to live with politicians. Democracy may be the worst form of government as Winston Churchill said, but it is still better than everything else we have tried.
While the Raj Parishad was meeting back home and the dates of the royal visit hung in the balance, busybodies in New Delhi held a seminar on the importance of the institution of monarchy in Nepal. Come to think of it, if Pugwash can hold a Kashmir conference in Kathmandu there is no reason why Nepal's monarchy can't be discussed in New Delhi. But the hosts must prepare themselves for an intellectual boomerang effect. The Indian intelligentsia doesn't have much patience for monarchy anymore. The same, however, can't be said of Indian officialdom which still seems to have more faith in the monarchy than either the Maoists or the mainstream political parties.
For public consumption, Indian officials still insist that constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy are "two pillars of stability in Nepal". But in informal chats, they seem to prefer putting all their eggs in one basket. Nepalis have failed (not that we tried very hard) to convince the Indians that only a democratic set up in Kathmandu can guarantee peace and usher long-term development in the upper reaches of the Ganga tributaries.
Another challenge is to grab the attention of Indian opinion makers and hold it long enough to make them think seriously about Nepal. In Kathmandu, we tend to think that South Block has nothing to do but conspire against Nepal's interests on a nine-to-five basis. But news from Nepal is still relegated to the inside pages-positioned somewhere between Falluja and the benefits of Atkins diet. Headlines here are hogged by Manipur, Nagas, Shankaracharya, Uma Bharati and the sibling rivalry of the Ambani brothers. Radio and tv give even less attention to Nepal. Apart from a few raised eyebrows from New Delhi's paparazzi who see an opportunity for a royal photo-op there isn't much interest. The palace, we hear, is trying to raise the profile of the visit by arranging a slew of one-on-one interviews for Indian television.
King Gyanendra can expect a cool and formal reception in New Delhi. The mood towards Nepal is somewhat frigid. But this may turn out to be an advantage for King Gyanendra who is believed to be business-like and is said to have sought to deal with South Block on a one-on-one basis without the interference of 'middlemen' politicians.
But in asymmetrical relationships between neighbours, such temptations need to be resisted. The king needs all the cushion he can get between himself and the New Delhi babus watching Nepal drown in its own juice. If they give a hand to the monarchy at such a moment of crisis, the price to pay for this munificence may be too high. The royal entourage will be well advised to feel the pulse of the people in provincial capitals rather than in New Delhi.