Friday, May 28, 2010

A Missing Piece of Nepal’s Jigsaw: India

Politics in Nepal is often a lot more about India than about Nepal itself.

Many Nepalese political parties sustain themselves on a steady diet of scaremongering about the neighbor to the East, West and South.

The geography of a landlocked country dependent on its big neighbor for almost all of its imports and most of its exports has also shaped the national psyche. After all, as John Whelpton, author of a history of Nepal, puts it, to many in Nepal their being a Nepali comes directly from strong sense of not being an Indian.

So as Nepal stands on the brink of a constitutional crisis because of the political parties’ failure to meet tonight’s deadline to write a new constitution, what has India been doing?

Not too much. And that’s the news.

In the past, every time Nepal faced a crisis, India stepped in one way or the other. And, to be sure, India’s current ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, was in news in Kathmandu Thursday for his meeting with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

In an interview with India Real Time, Mr. Sood said “ It is not for India or any other country to play a role” in ending the current political deadlock over extending the life of the Constituent Assembly in Nepal. Though,he added,“ Anything that will happen has to be driven by consensus among the parties so that it enjoys the political legitimacy.”

AFP/Getty Images
An Indian patrol along the Indo-Nepal border.

But Nepal observers say India’s role in Nepal has changed since the popular uprising of April 2006. Back then, India sent high-profile Congress party member Karan Singh as its special envoy to talk to then-King Gyanendra Shah as protestors stormed into the streets of Kathmandu in a bid to bring down the monarchy.

The king succumbed to the protestors following Mr. Singh’s visit (Kathmandu still ponders over the mystery of what Mr. Singh told Mr. Shah to convince him to give power back to the political parties), paving the way for the revival of parliament and the elected government the king himself had dissolved.

Since then, India has abandoned its long-held “twin-pillar” theory of supporting the co-existence of a constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. As India’s former ambassador to Nepal, Deb Mukharji, told the Wall Street Journal in May 2008, India’s only pillar is now “the will of the people of Nepal.”

On Friday, as he observed the developments in Nepal from his residence in New Delhi, Mr. Mukharji said reduced Indian interventions in Nepal were because “it’s in India’s interest to go by what people in Nepal decide.”

K.V. Rajan, another former Indian ambassador to Nepal, told India Real Time: “India has been watching latest situations in Nepal with concern,” but is refraining from “playing an augmented role.”

The political parties in Nepal, especially the Maoists, have entrenched suspicions against India and its role in their country. One popular piece of rhetoric from Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is that the ruling parties in Nepal right now are the “puppets of India.”

He raised eyebrows in Kathmandu for an audacious speech to a gathering of his supporters in December in which he said his party would no longer hold talks with the ruling parties, but would now talk directly to their “masters” — a reference to the political establishment in New Delhi.

Even if India remains at a distance diplomatically, there is a need for trust as the basis of the relationship, says Mr. Mukharji. “Geography has put us together, our past history has put us together. Nepal and India cannot be suspicious of each other,” he says.

76 die as Maoist sabotage derails train in West Bengal

(IANS) At least 76 people were killed and about 200 injured Friday after the engine and 13 coaches of a Mumbai-bound train derailed and rolled over following Maoist sabotage and were hit by a freight train in West Bengal's West Midnapore district.

As many of the wounded battled for life in hospitals, officials and doctors warned that the death toll will rise in the accident that occurred at 1.30 a.m. in an area where security forces have cracked down on Maoists.

More than 16 hours after the tragedy, soldiers from a nearby cantonment and railway officials were still frantically trying to take bodies out of two coaches that got badly mangled after being smashed by the goods train. Rescuers used gas cutters to rip apart the coaches.

The Howrah-Kurla Gyaneshwari Super Deluxe Express went off the tracks after suspected Maoists removed 1.5 feet of rail track, rudely shaking the hundreds of sleeping passengers. Five coaches fell on a parallel track.

As ill luck would have it, even before the trapped passengers could realize what had happened, a speeding goods train coming from the opposite direction rammed into the coaches, crushing some of them.

It was the third worst train accident this year blamed on Maoist guerrillas and the worst bout of killings blamed on the rebels since they massacred 76 security personnel in Chhattisgarh April 6.

'It's an act of sabotage,' West Bengal Home Secretary Samar Ghosh said in Kolkata, 155 km from the disaster site. 'There are enough indications of that.' Speaking in the evening, Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen put the death toll at 76.

Injured passengers screamed in pain even as they struggled to scramble out of the toppled coaches. Many, shaken and bleeding, searched for family members in the darkness. The incident took place in a rural area, between two small railway stations near Jhargram town.

As it happens in most train accidents, the first to come to the rescue of the victims were villagers who pulled out the first of the wounded men and women from the coaches.

'We heard a loud, screeching noise of the train braking and the coaches derailing,' said a male passenger who survived the ordeal.

'They are all dead,' a middle-aged man kept moaning. He had boarded the train with his family just hours before the tragedy.

'Mera bachche ka inteqal ho gaya (my child is no more),' wailed a young mother, sitting on a platform at the Sardiha station nearby.

Once rescue efforts began in real earnest, the Indian Air Force pressed helicopters to circle overhead.

West Bengal officials said the Criminal Investigation Department would probe 'all aspects of the incident'. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said at the site that 'it is a bomb blast case'.

Initial reports did say that a loud blast had preceded the derailment. But police did not find any explosives on the tracks.

West Bengal Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh said a portion of the track as well as fish plates were found removed.

He said police found two posters put out by the Maoist-backed People's Committee Against Police Atrocities at the site, claiming responsibility for the sabotage.

The injured have been admitted to two hospitals in Kharagpur and one in Midnapore town.

This is the ninth major strike attributed to the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) this year.

'It appears to be a case of sabotage where a portion of the railway track was removed. Whether explosives were used is not yet clear,' Home Minister P. Chidambaram said earlier in a statement.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Rs.200,000 as compensation for those killed and Rs.50,000 for the seriously injured. Banerjee declared Rs.500,000 to each family of the killed and a job for a family member.

The accident took place despite the railways sounding a red alert in five states -- Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal -- in the wake of a 'black week' being observed by Maoists since Thursday midnight against a joint crackdown by central and state security forces.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Strong communication to tackle Maoists: DG

Deccan Chronicle

Rajahmundry, May 26: The state director general of police, Mr R.R. Girish Kumar, stated that roads and communication network would be strengthened in the Maoist infested in the state in a bid to keep check on the Maoists.
Speaking to newsmen here on Wednesday, the DGP said that they were expecting sanction of huge funds from the Centre for development of basic amenities and infrastructure like roads and communication network in Naxal-affected areas in the state and added that the Centre had already sanctioned Rs 100 crore for construction of roads and setting up communication networks and taking up developmental works in Khammam district.
He said that they will initiate similar works at Andhra-Orissa border, Srikakulam and Vizianagarm districts and added that they appealed the Centre to allocate more funds for initiating developmental works in the Maoist-affected areas in East Godavari, Visakhapatnam Rural, Warangal, Karimnagar and Adilabad districts.
The DGP said that lack of proper road network and communication facilities in interiors of Chhattisgarh was resulting in Maoists involving in a spree of violence. He said that they were initiating measures to strengthen the police force by providing training. He said of the total amount of Rs 400 crore requested, the Centre had sanctioned Rs 100 crore for the purpose.
Mr Girish Kumar assured steps to control the illegal trafficking of the girls for flesh trade and said that they were also making efforts to provide relief rehabilitation to the rescued girls.
He said that instructions would be issued for closure of lodges and hotels for a period of one year in case they allow prostitution in their premises.
Proposals for setting up new marine police stations were also under consideration, he added.
The DGP said that repairs would be carried out to the police quarters in dilapidated condition by availing Hudco loans worth Rs 35 crore in the state and added that a proposal for enhancing the wages for the home guards to Rs 175 per day each was sent to the state government and assured efforts to provide welfare to them.

Maoist posters found from Burdwan University

Burdwan (WB), May 27 (PTI) Four posters from suspected Maoists threatening local SFI leader and a college professor were today found from the Burdwan University, sparking off tension in the campus, police said.

The posters were spotted on the walls of canteens of humanities and law department.

The posters said SFI's district secretary Arindam Chakraborty and professor Jayanto Saha's fate will be decided in the people's court.

Police, however, brushed off the incident by saying the ultras are not active in the area and the incident seems to be a handiwork of the local Trinamool Congress leaders.

SFI leader Chakraborty said, "We are not giving any importance to this. Trinamool Congress leaders have done this to spread fear among the students".