India under fire over Nepal presidential poll

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : After setting the country’s top political parties at one another’s throats, Nepal’s first presidential election scheduled for Saturday has now brought India under fire, with Left leaders accusing the bigger southern neighbour of pushing the candidacy of one of the three contenders.

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New Delhi is being accused of promoting 73-year-old former revolutionary Ram Raja Prasad Singh and compelling the Maoists to root for him.

C.P. Mainali, chief of the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist that has nine members in the 574-member constituent assembly, Thursday told a Nepali television channel that Singh’s nomination, sprung as a last-minute surprise by the Maoists, had been decided last month by the Indian authorities.

The communist lawmaker told Sagarmatha TV that June 12, when the royal palace was formally inaugurated as a national museum following the abolition of monarchy and the departure of dethroned king Gyanendra, the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, had indicated Singh would become Nepal’s first president.

Mainali said he was present at the ceremony, where the Indian ambassador greeted Singh and said the septuagenarian would have to carry a huge responsibility on his shoulders in the days to come.

“I am offering you my congratulations and best wishes in advance,” the Indian envoy told Singh, according to Mainali.

Over a month later, Singh is likely to become the first president of republic Nepal unless a big upset occurs.

When the presidential race began, the Maoists, who are Nepal’s largest parliamentary party, proposed Singh’s name for president on the ground that the ceremonial post should go to a non-political person who had contributed to Nepal’s struggles for democracy.

More than 20 years ago, much before the Maoists began their guerrilla war to overthrow Nepal’s ruling dynasty of Shah kings, Singh had been part of a revolutionary force that tried to overthrow the crown by staging a series of bomb attacks.

But as the race hotted up and political considerations began to gain ground, the Maoists agreed to sacrifice Singh and support the candidate propped up by their ally, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

However, on Thursday, the last day for filing nominations, the Maoists in a surprise move said they would pitch in for Singh since the UML had not heeded their plea not to field veteran Left politician Madhav Kumar Nepal for the post.

“It was unnatural and a blow to the unity among the top parties,” Mainali told IANS. “The Maoists have nominated Singh due to pressure by India and this would create strife in the country.”

He also said the Maoists were opposed to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala as president due to India’s pressure.

“Koirala had realised that India was trying to turn him into another Lhendup Dorji (the first prime minister of Sikkim who played a key role in the merger of the Himalayan nation with India),” Mainali told IANS.

“Once he began to resist New Delhi’s pressure, he was no longer acceptable to the Indian authorities.”

Mainali predicted that Singh’s election as president would increase the political turmoil in Nepal.

“The two other top parties (Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the UML) have said they would not join the Maoist-led government,” Mainali said.

“Singh’s candidacy is supported only by the Terai parties. A government formed of the Maoists and Terai parties is bound to be volatile.

“In the end, Nepal’s independence and sovereignty could come under threat.”

The Indian envoy’s reported statement has been snowballing with former UML minister Ishwor Pokhrel calling the presidential poll a game controlled by foreign powers and the BBC’s radio service in Nepali referring to it.

The communists have always been closer to China and wary of India. Now with the controversy over the presidential poll, if Nepali Congress candidate Ram Baran Yadav loses, the party once regarded as having close ties to India’s Congress party, may also become alienated.

Singh’s office confirmed that the Indian envoy had congratulated him but said there was nothing untoward in it.

“His name had been proposed from the very beginning by the civil society and senior journalists,” the presidential candidate’s office said.

“He has the image of being a non-political person with immense contribution to the cause of a republic.”