Alarmed India to send top diplomat to Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Alarmed at the inability of the new Nepal government to get its act together and the growing Maoist opposition, India is sending its Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Kathmandu Saturday to express its concern and push forward the halted peace process.

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Menon is arriving on a two-day whirlwind visit Saturday, a Nepali foreign ministry official told IANS Monday.

While he will be meeting the beleaguered new Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, his request for meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhadar and home and defence ministers have yet not been answered.

Gachhadar currently remains roiled in a battle of will with the Nepal government, seeking strong ministries for his Madhesi Janadhikar Forum party and two other regional parties, failing which, he has threatened to pull out of the government.

He is also engaged in a duel with his own party man, former foreign minister Upendra Yadav, with both claiming they have the support of the majority of party lawmakers.

Due to fierce infighting among his allies, Prime Minister Nepal has not been able to expand his 11-member cabinet even three weeks after being sworn in.

New Delhi apparently had been hoping the altercations would be resolved before Menon’s visit and had placed requests for meetings with the home and defence ministers.

However, currently there is no home minister as except four, the other ministers are yet to be officially allocated their portfolios.

Though Nepal’s party member Vidya Bhandari is the current defence minister, with recent talks about her ministry being reshuffled, her office is yet to give its answer to New Delhi.

Menon is also expected to meet the leaders of the major political parties.

This is Menon’s second visit in four months. And like last time, he will also be offering a prayer at the famed Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

There has been a rush of foreign envoys in Nepal.

Earlier this month, the UN sent its director of political affairs for the Asia-Pacific region Tamrat Samuel to Nepal while the US sent its Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake.

Menon’s visit comes at a time when there are growing anti-India feelings in Nepal.

The Maoists, the media and Nepal’s parliamentarians are accusing the southern neighbour of encroachment on Nepali territory.

A denial of the allegations by the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has failed to stem the tide.