Maoists deny anti-India activities, raise counter-charges (Lead)

April 22nd, 2011 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 22 (IANS) Nepal’s Maoists have rejected Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s view that they are involved in anti-India attacks, and have instead raised concerns at “obstructions” to them as Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda met the Indian minister Friday.

The meeting Friday was probably the most crucial during Krishna’s three-day visit to Nepal, with the minister raising the issue of Maoist attacks on Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood as well as on Indian investments in Nepal.

After the nearly one-hour-long talks at Kathmandu’s celebrated heritage hotel Dwarika’s, Prachanda told the media that his party - the largest in Nepal - was keen to consolidate ties with India based on a new foundation.

Replying to Indian concerns that his party was opposing Indian joint ventures in Nepal and attacking the Indian envoy, Prachanda said the Maoists too had growing concerns of their own.

During the nearly two years of his government, he said the repeated clashes he faced with the then chief of the army, General Rookmangud Katawal - who persistently refused to allow the Maoist fighters into the army despite a peace agreement - raised fears that there were attempts to obstruct the Maoist government.

“Even during the prime ministerial election, we felt attempts were being made to obstruct (the Maoists from coming back to power),” he said.

Prachanda was referring to the unprecedented 17 rounds of election Nepal underwent to elect a new prime minister after his successor Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in June 2010.

Prachanda’s chances of winning the tri-cornered election were nixed after a mysterious audio tape surfaced, recording a phone conversation between the Maoist party’s foreign affairs in-charge - and current information and communications minister - Krishna Bahadur Mahara and an unidentified middleman. Mahara was recorded as asking for money from a businessman “well-wisher” in China to buy MPs’ votes for Prachanda during the prime ministerial poll.

The Maoists allege India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing engineered the tape after tapping Mahara’s phone.

Though, Krishna reiterated New Delhi’s position that it has not interfered in Nepal’s internal matters, both the Indian and Maoist denials have rung hollow at times.

Despite the documented attacks on Indian ventures in Nepal, Prachanda said his party was not anti-India. However, he said attempts were being made to weaken his party.

The Maoists say India should realise they became Nepal’s largest party after the elections in 2008, winning the people’s trust. India should, therefore, not try to control them like it did the other parties but treat them as equals.

Indian diplomats, however, point out that while accusing India of interference, Prachanda himself urged New Delhi to send an envoy when his party became embroiled in a battle with the army chief.

New Delhi, however, declined to do so.

Krishna also asked about the Maoist stand on the peace process and the new constitution, that has to be promulgated by May 28.

The Maoist chief, who was earlier calling for a new “People’s Revolt”, dramatically changed his stand this week, urging his party instead to focus on the peace process and the new constitution.

On Thursday, he said that it was possible to ready the new constitution within a week.

However, New Delhi realises that the constitution may not be ready by May 28 and is urging all the parties to put their heads together and come up with an alternative to prevent a crisis after the deadline elapses.

After the meeting with Prachanda, Krishna flew to Birgunj city on the Indo-Nepal border to lay the foundation for the integrated check post being built with Indian assistance worth nearly Rs.87 crore.

The Birgunj-Raxaul check post is the main route for Indo-Nepal trade, accounting for almost 75 percent of it.

He will also lay the foundation for PRN120, the highway that is part of the network of roads to be built in the southern terai plains, for which India has pledged assistance worth Rs.805 crore.

“These projects aim at strengthening the cross-border connectivity between India and Nepal to facilitate better people-to-people contacts and economic opportunities for the people of Nepal,” Krishna said.

The fallout of Krishna’s visit will be manifest only after the Maoist central committee winds up its meeting, called Friday.

If the central committee endorses Prachanda’s call for peace and the constitution, India can look forward to better ties with the former guerrillas.

However, Prachanda’s position is likely to be challenged by his hawkish deputy Mohan Baidya, who is advocating revolt and resuming hostilities against India.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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