In a few days, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal will be in India on an official trip. This is perhaps the most significant visit by a Nepali Prime Minister to India in the past six decades.
There have been visits by eminent prime ministers in the past, but they represented an established order in Nepal and some had been well known to their Indian counterparts and others, at times even from before India's independence.
Mr Dahal, on the other hand, led an insurgency for a decade, decided eventually to trust the judgement of the people and was rewarded with an unexpected plurality both in votes received and seats won in the Constituent Assembly.
What lends great significance to the visit is that it could provide the markers for India's relations with what has been described as the 'new' Nepal. These relations are a rich and closely woven skein and have survived the ups and downs of political relations. At the same time, it is mutual confidence at the political level that provides the stimulus for meaningful cooperation.
The Maoists' 40-point demands of 1996, their recent election manifesto and statements by senior members of the party reflect reservations towards India. These have been occasionally counterbalanced by positive and constructive statements by the prime minister and others.
It would help to clarify thoughts in India if the visit could provide firm and unequivocal clarity on how political Nepal views future relations with India. No less important would be signs that Indo-Nepal relations have risen from the trough of personalised politics to a reflection of the actual interests of the people.
The proposition of India as a threat to Nepal's integrity and sovereignty, first elaborated by the palace in the early sixties to justify its absolute rule, was later to be used by all mainstream political parties to a greater or lesser degree. The Maoists are no exception. But a continuation of the same approach, justified at times as reflective of the views of the people, does not lead to constructive engagement. Besides, a democratic framework in India and a vigilant press do tend to ask uncomfortable questions on such issues.
Prime Minister Dahal's visit to Beijing for the Olympics raised quite unnecessary dust, perhaps more in Kathmandu than in Delhi, and is reflective of the sensitivities that sometimes accompany Indo-Nepal relations. It is, however, true that the description of Nepal's relations with India and China as one of 'equidistance' or 'equiproximity' has been confusing even to the most committed of Nepal's friends in India.
Relations are what they are and adjectives do not add or subtract from them. India herself followed some such policy in the days of non-alignment. But given the current regional context, such an approach?not in a global abstract but with specific regard to Nepal's two neighbours?arouses questions among sections in India with regard to future prospects of cooperation. This, perhaps, is an area the prime minister may wish to address during his visit.
The question of the 1950 Treaty, or other treaties about which Nepal has reservations, deserve the most serious and urgent attention. India has long made clear that it was prepared for continuation, abrogation or a new treaty to replace the 1950 one. A timetable for future action should be drawn up with regard to reviewing all agreements.
There is, however, a problem in dealing with these purely at a political level. Political compulsions and commitments, and the frequently high-decibel count of democratic discourse, do not always permit cool assessment. While the final decisions would be political, it would be worthwhile considering first allowing Nepali civil society and experts to look into the details of all agreements to take a view on the balance of Nepal's interests. All revisions must necessarily take into account the interests and views of the other party?in this case India, and the consequences of abrogation.
Unfortunately, it is likely that elements in Nepali politics as well as in India would look for signs of a cooling in Nepal-India relations during the prime minister's visit. One would hope that his openness and ability to face with candour the responsibilities of office would silence critics.
Above all, the visit of Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' is also a celebration of Nepal's wisdom in accommodation and a remarkable transition from despair to hope for millions of his long-deprived citizens.
Deb Mukharji was India's ambassador to Nepal from 2000 to 2002.
Mr Dahal goes to Delhi - FROM ISSUE #417 (12 SEPT 2008 - 18 SEPT 2008)
Fix Nepal first - FROM ISSUE #417 (12 SEPT 2008 - 18 SEPT 2008)
Eye to eye - FROM ISSUE #417 (12 SEPT 2008 - 18 SEPT 2008)