Maoists await Shyam Saran visit with mixed feelings

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s biggest party, the Maoists, Wednesday said they were awaiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy, Shyam Saran, with mixed feelings because they regarded India as playing a negative role in the country since it officially became a secular republic in 2008.

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New Delhi decided to send Saran, former Indian foreign secretary who was also the Indian ambassador to Nepal during one of the most crucial periods in Nepal’s history, as a special envoy to Nepal ahead of a crucial prime ministerial election Friday.

The mission is reminiscent of Saran’s earlier diplomacy in Nepal as Singh’s special envoy three years ago when the country was floundering over another election.

Saran, New Delhi’s Nepal expert, was sent in 2007 to persuade the major parties into holding the constituent assembly election after it was deferred twice.

This time, his mission is related to the election of a new prime minister after Nepal’s lawmakers refused to give simple majority to any of the contestants despite three rounds of polls.

With the fourth run-off scheduled Friday, Saran will be holding talks with the major political players in the election drama – the Maoists, Nepali Congress (NC), communists and the bloc of four regional parties from the Terai plains.

The NC, which has fielded its parliamentary party chief Ram Chandra Poudel as its candidate for the prime minister’s post, is the closest to the Indian government traditionally.

However, Poudel’s chances of winning Friday’s election are slim even if backed by India since he needs the support of both the communists and the Terai bloc, a difficult task.

India has considerable influence on the Terai parties and Saran’s parleys with the Terai leaders would have an impact on whom the bloc supports in Friday’s election.

Both the communists and the Terai parties, who together have nearly 200 MPs in the 599-member parliament, have abstained from voting in all the three earlier rounds, causing the poll fiasco.

The Maoists with their 237 MPs have a definite edge over the NC and need the support of just one major party to cross the halfway mark of 300.

The former guerrillas said they had not been informed about Saran’s visit and there were no meetings scheduled between the Indian envoy and Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as of now.

“If Saran has come with good wishes for Friday’s election, we welcome his visit,” said Maoist deputy chief Narayan Kaji Shrestha Prakash.

“However, since Nepal became a republic, India’s role has not been positive towards the peace process and the drafting of a new constitution.

“We want good relations with the Indian people, parties and the government. However, we do not want Indian interference in Nepal’s internal matters.”

The Maoists, who swept the 2008 election and formed the first government of republic Nepal, fell after only eight months following a dispute over sacking the army chief.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])