Trying to rebuild bridges burnt earlier

Before embarking on his India visit last week, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the largest outfit in Nepal’s dissolved Constituent Assembly, reiterated one statement over and over again.

The former prime minister who now heads the high-level political mechanism entrusted with conducting the next election maintained that the main purpose of his visit was to seek India’s help for Nepal’s development and to conduct the polls effectively.

He also issued a ‘threat’ that if New Delhi fails to meet Kathmandu’s demand for aid, Nepal would not be supportive to India’s security concerns like the influx of terrorists, arms, drugs and fake Indian currency notes through the open 1800 km long border between the neighbours.

Having recently returned from a China trip, Prachanda also didn’t forget to mention that he would push for a tripartite cooperation pact involving Nepal and its two bigger neighbours India and China to fast track development in the Himalayan nation.

Wary of the Maoist leader’s closeness to China at India’s expense, New Delhi has given a thumb down to the idea.

Try as he might, the Maoist leader couldn’t convince many here that his India trip after a five year gap had much to do with seeking aid – more so when he represents just another political party and not the current interim government headed by the country’s chief justice.

The main objective behind the trip was to regain the confidence and trust of the political leadership in New Delhi that he had lost following his resignation from the PM’s post in 2009.

A cartoon in a local newspaper got it right when it showed Prachanda carrying a big can of massage oil as he is about to board a New Delhi bound flight. Another reported how he launched a “charm offensive” once he landed there.

It is worth recalling that Prachanda had launched an all-out attack against India, accusing it of interfering in the country’s internal affairs – something that rubbed New Delhi the wrong way.

The tirade continued for some months before he finally realised that it’s far more prudent to be on the good books of the mandarins of South Block. The change of heart was also at the prodding of his friends in Beijing who advised him to mend fences with New Delhi.

Soon, he started pronouncing his love for India and tried hard to make a trip and meet the “masters” he had once targeted. But given his tendency to change stances at the drop of a hat, neither New Delhi nor its embassy in Kathmandu paid any attention to his desire.

In 2011, another Maoist-led government headed by Baburam Bhattarai (considered by some as pro-India) came to power. The rise of his vice-chairman to the top post caused much heartburn and Prachanda became more eager than ever to make amends.

But his dream of a Delhi visit remained just that. Last year his party removed the ‘enemy number one’ tag it had given to the southern neighbour and reiterated commitment to multiparty democracy and progressive nationalism. Things started changing after that.

Happy at finally making the trip, Prachanda tried to convince all and sundry in New Delhi that he and his party are not against India. In fact he declared that his party wants Nepal-India relations to become the best example of bilateral ties anywhere.

It’s easier to build bridges burnt earlier than to fix a trust deficit. It will remain to be seen whether New Delhi believes him or waits for results of the next election to make its views a bit more transparent than it usually does in its Nepal dealings.

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