New Delhi - The imperial centre of South Asia is warming up as it prepares to welcome SAARC heads of state and government. India's disturbed neighbourhood keeps its foreign ministry babus perpetually on their toes.
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers have become even more audacious, directly attacking air force bases. Bangladesh has a technocratic government under the guardianship of defence forces. In Pakistan, over two-thirds of practicing lawyers don't recognise the appointment of an acting chief justice on the grounds that the previous head of the judiciary has been unlawfully made inactive.
Nepal's peace process is the success story Indian diplomats have been citing to gain American approval for their hegemony in the subcontinent. As the process threatens to unravel, New Delhi's official circles are increasingly worried.
Unofficial Nepal 'experts', however, are sanguine. Conventional wisdom among those former diplomats, ambassador wannabes, and journalists who frequent the India International Centre is that the madhes uprising has saved Nepal from falling into the hands of the Maoists. According to this interpretation, the seven-party alliance had completely surrendered to Pushpa Kamal Dahal's bullying tactics. Upendra Yadav saved them by directly challenging the Maoists. "The MJF has prevented Maoists from taking over the state from the backdoor of Baluwatar," said one such busybody.
In civil society circles, Nepal's people power is still being celebrated. There is little worry here that there are high chances of a rightist backlash should the peace process falter. Some influential donors would no doubt love to have a technocratic government-obviously under the thumb of the army-conducting make-believe constituent assembly elections to legitimise the status quo. The Indians seem to realise the futility of such an exercise in a volatile country, though. That is perhaps why they don't seem to be too worried about the June deadline. Prime Minister Koirala will probably be told to prioritise peace over elections.
But no matter what Nepal's friends, neighbours, and overlords say, the choices that the seven-party alliance makes will continue to be more important than what the Maoist or MJF leaders say or do. Koirala has a lot more freedom than other leaders in South Asia for a simple reason-so far his hunches have proved to be more correct than all the learned analyses sponsored by donor agencies.
It's almost a year since the April Uprising put Nepal's three important players in their proper places. People poured out in the streets to push King Gyanendra to the margin. They told mainstream parties to stop bickering at least until elections to the constituent assembly were over. The lesson for the Maoists was even more unambiguous: they were told to commit themselves unequivocally to peaceful politics.
But somebody somewhere forgot to draft a missive from the people of Nepal to the government of India, the often unseen but important player of power politics in Nepal. When Koirala comes visiting next week, he must tell his hosts as politely as possible: "Please, keep your hands off the madhes for a while and allow us to sort out our own mess. Yes, taking madhesis for granted was a major blunder, but only we can correct that." The prime minister will require the mandate of his alliance partners and the Maoists to take such a stand in the Indian capital. New Delhi itself might have stayed out of the trouble in the tarai, but it hasn't been able to impress upon Patna and Lucknow the importance of doing likewise. Koirala needs to use his personal good offices to do that.
However despondent a turn attitudes might be taking in Kathmandu, to Indian eyes the popular uprising still has legitimacy. But it's fast depleting. One thing is clear here and at home: the interim government needs to be formed soon, and its main agenda must remain making haste slowly for the constituent assembly election.