Is India losing its lead?

Chinese Ambassador Yang Houlan said recently that China is taking the initiative for peace and stability in Nepal, and that he is in constant dialogue with his Indian counterpart Jayant Prasad. It was generally taken as a neighbour's natural concern. The unspoken message was louder: gone are the days of India's lead role, which the international community either accepted or kept quiet about, and China is no longer the smaller player in Nepal, often called a buffer state between Indian and China.

A week later, Deputy PM Narayankaji Shrestha, also in charge of foreign affairs, went public about President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's "secret meetings" with the Indian ambassador. Shrestha, a vice chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), is a favourite of party chairman Prachanda. He has of late been urging that diplomats not transgress their limits. His ministry called a US embassy official and warned that visiting high-level US officials should stop the practice of meeting Nepal's army chief without concurrence from the government. He also turned down an EU request for a meeting with the president to lobby for an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission with powers at par with similar international bodies.

"Will you apply the same standard or restriction should Indian diplomats be wanting to visit the president?" was a Western diplomat's query. Shrestha's outburst and his protest followed shortly. The movements and visibility of diplomats increased in proportion to the failure of Nepal's political actors. On December 7, President Yadav extended the deadline by another six days for a consensus PM. While Bhattarai continues as caretaker PM without being able to hold elections, others have failed to strike a deal on his successor. The UCPN-M insists Bhattarai will not go until there is "unanimity" on the fundamental components of the future constitution which others say should be left to the new legislature-cum-constituent assembly.

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