India to host Nepal leaders

By Charu Sudan Kasturi, The Telegraph (New Delhi, July 13) –  India will host a series of top Nepal leaders across party lines over the next month, starting tomorrow, in a bid to ensure its concerns are reflected in the final Constitution the strategically critical Himalayan nation is expected to soon finalise.

Former President and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal – better known as Prachanda – lands here tomorrow for a five-day trip during which he will meet foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior officials said.

Prachanda will be followed soon by Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) and Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress, the officials confirmed.

K.P. Sharma Oli, chairman of the CPN(UML), is expected to visit New Delhi this week.

The visits are politically risky because of deep-seated fears in Nepal over Indian “influence” on its Constitution-drafting process, and are being couched officially as personal visits by the leaders, not mediated by the Nepal embassy here.

But officials familiar with the planning for the visits confirmed that the trips would involve discussions on the final stages of Constitution-drafting after a decade of false starts following the end of the Kathmandu monarchy in 2006.

“India wants a stable, constitutional Nepal,” Satish Kumar, a Nepal expert at the Central University of Jharkhand, told The Telegraph over the phone. “It is strategically very important, and if anything goes wrong in the Constitution on key issues that are important for India, it has deep implications.”

Successive Indian governments have limited their public comments on Nepal’s Constitution-drafting to gentle prods to complete the process soon and through a process of consensus. Modi repeated these nudges on his two visits to Nepal as Prime Minister – in August and November last year.

But with leaders of some of Nepal’s main parties indicating that they are willing to ram through a Constitution by August on the basis of a majority opinion as opposed to a full consensus, India is concerned that its key interests may not get adequately reflected in the statute.

Although small in electoral numbers and limited by geography in their influence, parties of Nepal’s plains or the terai have long insisted on identity-based federalism as a cornerstone of the Constitution that would guarantee those ruling these regions a degree of autonomy.

New Delhi wants to avoid political instability in these regions, which border India, at any “any cost,” an official said.

India is also keeping a close eye on the powers of the President, Prime Minister and other executive posts carved out by the Constitution, officials said.

“We will invite allegations of interference – we always have,” Kumar said. “But we don’t have an option but to stay abreast of what is happening in Nepal.”



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