India welcomes Nepal’s first president, finally

July 23rd, 2008 - 8:02 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 23 (IANS) A straggling India finally welcomed Nepal’s first president Dr Ram Baran Yadav, congratulating the new head of state 48 hours after his election, lagging behind the EU, US, UN, China and the British queen. As eyebrows were being raised in Nepal about the deafening silence by New Delhi on the first presidential election in the Himalayan republic despite alleged lobbying by South Block to put its favourite politician in the country’s highest post, Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil finally sent a congratulatory letter to Yadav, saying his election represented “a new chapter in Nepal’s historic democratic transition”.

The Indian president said as a close friend and neighbour, India remained “steadfast in its commitment to support Nepal” and attached the highest priority to further developing its “close and multi-faceted relationship with Nepal”.

Vice-President of India M. Hamid Ansari also congratulated Nepal’s first Vice-President Parmanand Jha.

Ansari said the electoral process remained a vital component in Nepal’s transition to a federal, democratic republic and would enable the Himalayan nation draft its new constitution.

“India will continue to support and assist the transition to a democratic, inclusive, stable and prosperous Nepal,” Ansari said in his congratulatory message.

The letters from Nepal’s southern neighbour came after the EU, US, UN and China hailed the presidential election.

Even British Queen Elizabeth II’s felicitation arrived prior to the Indian reaction.

“I send you my congratulations on your election as president of the Republic of Nepal,” the queen’s message said. “My Government and I look forward to continuing co-operation and excellent relations between our two countries.”

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 on May 28 started with acting chairman K.B. Gurung reading out the congratulatory message sent by his counterpart, India’s parliament speaker Somnath Chatterjee.

There were 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 party that 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 the Indian government was supporting Koirala and his party, which 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 pressure from India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The reports said RAW chief Aloke Joshi had been present in Kathmandu on the eve of the election and had been seen in the Maoist party office.

However, 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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