Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press

The Indian decision to stop and then resume military aid to Nepal and the factors behind this 'flip-flop' will be important for geopolitical analysts and Nepal's decision-makers to examine. This ability to bring about an Indian turnaround was a major diplomatic victory for Naryanhiti and the resumption of Indian military assistance to Nepal was determined by the interplay of four Indian power centres:

SOUTH BLOCK: The bureaucrats in the Ministry of External Affairs have traditionally determined Indian policy towards Nepal and since the 1 February move it has stuck to its 'Twin Pillar' policy of supporting constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. Indian policy is now the responsibility of Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, former ambassador in Kathmandu and well versed in Nepal affairs. Saran and his Nepal-desk colleague Ranjit Rae were in Bhutan when news of the Jakarta meeting came and it is learnt that they, as well as the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, were taken aback with the news to resume military aid. It was a sign that Naryanhiti had been successful in pulling the Indian prime minister closer to its position.

INDIAN ARMY: Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been muted in his reaction to the royal move. Indian defence ministers traditionally have tended to hold views close to that of the security forces, especially the army. Besides his senior cabinet colleague, Manmohan Singh must also have been influenced by the need expressed by the Indian Army officer to support a 'brother army'. The Indian Army has always been sensitive about the Gorkha troops in its ranks, and its officers would be worried about retired soldiers not being able to collect pensions in the hills of Nepal. The present Commander-in-Chief JJ Singh is said to feel that cutting military aid would hurt the feeling of the Nepali side as well as affect the morale of serving Gorkha troops and pensioners. According to sources, Singh and Saran actually sparred at a high-level cabinet security meeting over this issue. The fact is that Indian hardware may enhance the fighting capability of the army by a bit but it will not bolster its dignity and sense of self-worth at the current juncture. More than support the Royal Nepali Army, the Indian decision to resume arms supplies has bolstered the king's political position.

POLICE/INTELLIGENCE: The suspicion with which Indian police and intelligence involved in fighting armed rebels in Bihar, Jharkhand, Telgangana and other regions regard the Nepali Maoists is understandable. Although various central and state police and intelligence bodies compete for influence, their common concerns are represented at the Prime Minister's Office in New Delhi by the former head of the Intelligence Bureau, MK Narayanan. More than a political resolution in Nepal he would be keen to see the Maoists of Nepal brought to the ground and journalists in New Delhi say his position has been to argue in favour of the resumption of military aid.

INDIAN ROYALTY: A key source of Naryanhiti's influence in the Delhi Darbar has been through India's former rajas and princelings, and some New Delhi analysts say this category has had a major role in the reversal of policy on military aid. Indian Foreign Minister K Natwar Singh comes from Rajasthan's Jat royalty and is said to be naturally sympathetic towards the Nepali royal family. Nepal's Princess Himani is also a descendant of the royal clan of Sikar, also in Rajasthan.

It is clear that the change in Indian policy in Jakarta last month was the result of clash and accommodation between these four forces. But there may have been other factors. Indian Hindutva organisations have been close to the Nepali monarchy, and several conservative columnists and commentators also affected Indian policy-making. This time, the palace won. But the Jakarta about-turn has left such a bitter taste among policy-makers in New Delhi that it may actually have an opposite effect in the long-term. Jakarta indicated how much the Nepali state has become dependent upon New Delhi's goodwill.

The royal regime has derived diplomatic dividend from this change in Indian policy but the future course will be determined by whether or not it sticks to the king's commitment made in Jakarta to a democracy roadmap, whether political prisoners are released, whether the press will be free. There is also a school of thought in New Delhi that India should abandon its 'Twin Pillar' doctrine for a 'One Pillar' policy solely focussing on the parliamentary system of representative government. Said one senior policy-maker: "If we are asked to choose between the king and the Nepali people we will choose the people."

Instead of wasting time debating what an outside power does or does not do as the days go by vis-a-vis Nepal policy, it will be more important for political figures and analysts to start creating facts on the ground.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)