For all of the last week, the Government of India has been concerned that the Indian press might offend the Nepali monarchy. The government's appeal to the media is always framed in terms that seem eminently reasonable. Look, says the official doing the briefing, we are dealing with a very sensitive situation. There is a lot of anti-Indian feeling in Nepal. The government may like us but the main opposition party, the Communists, hates us. And they've grown massively in influence over the last five years. Then there's the Pakistan angle, the official will usually add. Finally, the official will conclude, our best hope is the monarchy. King Birendra was a reasonable sort of fellow but we believe that King Gyanendra is potentially anti-Indian. So, we've got to move very carefully and make sure that we do nothing to antagonise him. In the midst of all this ISI activity and Maoist political popularity, India's best hope lies in winning over and aligning with the monarchy.
I don't know enough about the current situation in Nepal to disagree with this assessment of India's options. But every time I hear about the Government of India's current position on Nepal, I'm reminded of my first visit to Kathmandu. That was in 1988 and the situation was tense. India had closed most entry points into Nepal (the papers used the term "blockade") and no food or fuel could get through. Everybody I spoke to in the Government of India, either at our embassy in Kathmandu or at South Block in Delhi, argued that this blockade was necessary. The Nepalis, I was told, had to be punished. Only a year later, it began to seem as though the officials had been right all along. The King became a mere constitutional monarch. The Indian officials I spoke to were overjoyed. We did it, they said, we brought democracy to Nepal.
Ten years ago, we were taking credit for downsizing the powers of the monarchy and patting ourselves on our backs for restoring democracy to Nepal. Today, we are deeply suspicious of (if not entirely hostile to) many of the forces that have emerged thanks to that democracy. Far from fondly recalling our role in neutering the Nepali monarchy, we are now saying the absolute opposite: India's best hope lies in the monarchy, not in the democratic system.