Deafening Indian silence on Nepal’s new president

July 23rd, 2008 - 2:49 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 23 (IANS) Eyebrows are being raised in Nepal about India’s silence on the first presidential election in the Himalayan republic that saw a seasoned politician with Indian roots become the nation’s first president. As the jubilant country readied Wednesday for the swearing-in of Ram Baran Yadav Wednesday as head of state - he replaces deposed king Gyanendra - there was no congratulatory message from New Delhi, which had otherwise shown intense interest in the election.

In sharp contrast, two months ago, when Nepal’s newly elected constituent assembly formally proclaimed the Hindu kingdom a secular, federal republic, abolishing its 239-year-old monarchy, India was the first to send its congratulations.

The historic first sitting of the assembly May 28 started with acting chairman K.B. Gurung reading out the congratulatory message sent by his counterpart, India’s parliament speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

However, while the EU, UN, US and even Nepal’s northern neighbour China have sent public messages of congratulations on the successful first presidential election, India still lags behind.

The silence comes after growing allegations by Nepal’s political parties that New Delhi had tried to dictate who would be the first president of the new republic.

Maoist chief Prachanda, who relinquished his bid to lead the new government after his party’s candidate lost the presidential election, said New Delhi had “pressured” the major political parties to nominate Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala as the first president.

At a press conference called in the party’s parliamentary office Tuesday to announce that the Maoists would now not form the government but sit in opposition, Prachanda said his party could not accept the Indian “recommendation”.

“The Nepali people indicated through the constituent assembly election that they wanted a change,” the Maoist chief said, alluding to the humiliating defeat suffered by Koirala’s ruling Nepali Congress, which could win only 113 seats in the 601-member constituent assembly.

The April election saw the nation vote unanimously against Koirala, whose cousin, daughter, nephew and other close aides barring one lost decisively.

Prior to the election, India’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan had said that New Delhi was supporting Koirala and his party, a remark that triggered anger among the Maoists and Communists in Nepal.

Prachanda also alleged that the growing political crisis in Nepal was stoked by foreign powers. He said Indian fundamentalists and the US had fuelled unrest in Nepal’s Terai plains.

After Nepal’s presidential election Saturday resulted in a fiasco with none of the contestants able to garner simple majority, there were reports in a section of the Nepali press that the Maoists had pitched a 73-year-old former revolutionary under Indian pressure. Prachanda rejected the reports as “utterly false”.

There were also media allegations that a controversial former Indian ambassador to Nepal, K.V. Rajan, was camping in Kathmandu in a bid to sway Nepal’s political developments. Rajan met Koirala Wednesday, fuelling the reports.

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