Nepal PM seeks to meet Manmohan on SAARC sidelines

July 31st, 2008 - 3:48 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 31 (IANS) Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who is scheduled to attend the 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo this week amid uproar among the political parties, is seeking a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the regional meet. The meeting between the two premiers is likely to trigger another controversy in Nepal with the Maoists regarding the wily politician, considered New Delhi’s favourite, with wariness.

A chastened Koirala was forced to pare his jumbo 35-member delegation, which would have cost the cash-strapped nation dependent on foreign aid Nepali Rs.7.3 million, to only 10 members after an uproar Wednesday among the major parties as well as in the caretaker parliament.

However, the team still includes his daughter, minister without portfolio Sujata Koirala, whose inclusion was opposed by the Maoists on the ground that she lost the April election. Koirala’s personal physician, secretary and adviser on foreign affairs are also in the entourage.

Though officially Nepal wants to discuss enhanced investment and hydropower issues with India, the Maoists feel Koirala would also try to gauge the extent of Indian support for him and his Nepali Congress (NC) party.

The bilateral meeting between Koirala and Singh is likely to have a crucial effect on Nepal’s future politics.

On the eve of the April election, India’s national security adviser M.K. Narayanan had indicated that New Delhi was hoping for an NC victory since the Maoists were still an unknown element. This month, when Nepal held its first presidential election, New Delhi is said to have recommended Koirala.

By the time Koirala returns from his SAARC visit, a new Maoist-headed government could be in place.

The former guerrillas have said they would try to prove their majority in the house and announce a new government within seven days.

However, even after coming to power, the Maoists would remain tense since a new constitution amendment allows the opposition to topple the government if the latter can prove a simple majority in the house.

With Koirala’s NC likely to sit in the opposition, a Maoist-led government will remain under the threat of a no-trust vote in the house pushed by Koirala’s party men.

If India indicates it is opposed to any move to oust a Maoist-led government, Koirala is likely to wait and watch for now.

However, if New Delhi sends out a message of support, the NC could try to block the Maoist attempt at government formation and come up with a coalition of its own.

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