NEW DELHI. Speaking at a welcome function organised by the Nepal Democracy Solidarity Committee on Monday evening, President Ram Baran Yadav hit all the right notes.
He emphasised the unique nature of India-Nepal ties, expressed his hope that Nepali political forces would be able to resolve all their problems, brought in a personal touch about his memories and political socialisation in Calcutta and Chandigarh, hailed India as a model for liberal democracy, and asked for Indian support for the 'conclusion of the peace process, writing of a democratic constitution, and the holding of new elections under the new constitution.' The Indian side reciprocated in kind, with leading politicians from across the spectrum hailing the change in Nepal, and expressing support for a 'democratic, republican, stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal'.
Even though it was a public event, the president's message set the tenor for the rest of his visit and was a fair indication of the kind of conversations he had. During high-level official visits, especially at the level of a head of state who does not wield executive authority, there is little of immediate operational significance that is discussed. Clichťs are repeated; everyone pretends to be best friends; and politics is dealt with in generalities. It is through the small gestures, the nuanced line during a conversation, and the questions asked that intentions and thought processes are understood and messages conveyed.
The Indian side laid out the red carpet for the president for the second time in a year. The rituals, pomp and ceremony may be the same for the visit of any head of state. But the message, both directly and through the paraphernalia, was to convey India's full recognition and support for the institution of the presidency as a pillar of the Nepali state in these fragile times. It was as much a message to all those who, in the Indian perception, either wish to reverse the 2006 republican transformation or go beyond it. The warm reception was also intended to reaffirm their respect for
Dr Yadav personally, who India believes played a key role in 'preserving the architecture of democracy in Nepal' in May 2009.
When asked about the current political impasse on government formation, the president briefed his Indian interlocutors about the change in election rules and his hope that there would be a result this time. Even though the Indian leadership is too mature and sophisticated to make its preferences known at that level, the president, for good measure, added he would work with anyone that the process threw up.
There was concern about the peace process, with even the Indian PM asking about the status of former Maoist combatants. While expressing optimism about recent developments in the peace process such as the handover of the PLA to the special committee, the president said he had faith in the judgment of Nepali political parties. He also emphasised that all the political forces, including the Maoists, were still in the process, and the process itself would lead to an outcome. Significantly, without mentioning the word sequencing, the president added that conclusion of the peace process would enhance trust levels and pave the way for smoother constitution-writing.
There was no loose talk of presidential rule post 28 May. But the president was subtly asked what the implications would be if the constitution is not drafted on time, and whether there could be a vacuum.
Well prepared by his advisers, the president had a position that was at once clear, yet left room for interpretation. He emphasised that Nepali institutions were functional; there was no constitutional crisis; and the impasse was a result of political differences. Nepal's interim constitution would remain in force as long as there was no new constitution, and in his capacity as the president, he would remain committed to protecting the constitution. But Dr Yadav was cautious, and reiterated the importance of the political process, political consultations, and how that would lead to a solution.
Concern about a major political crisis was lurking in the background in all the major conversations. But the Indian side was careful not to push, and not be seen as pushing, any message Ė it was more interested in hearing out the president's assessment and how he saw his role. The president too was careful not to commit to any course of action; did not speak critically of the Maoists in official engagements or lobby with India; and placed the onus on the judgment of Nepali politicians. The visit helped both sides build on a warm equation, and size each other up better as the endgame approaches in Nepal.