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Press Briefing by Foreign Secretary Shri Shyam Saran on Nepal

April 22, 2006

DIRECTOR (XP) (SHRI DINESH BHATIA): Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We have amongst us the Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran. May I request him to please begin.

FOREIGN SECRETARY (SHRI SHYAM SARAN): Good evening to all of you. I thought it might be useful for me to just share with you our current assessment of the developments taking place in Nepal.

As you know, the situation has been evolving at a rather rapid rate. We would like to clarify for you how we look at the situation and also what has been our engagement with Nepal concerning these recent developments. Let me begin by drawing your attention to the fact that India has all along supported the restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal and we have consistently supported the democratic forces.

You will recall that when on February 1, 2005, a state of emergency was declared and the then civilian Government was dismissed by His Majesty the King, we had condemned that action. You would recall that we had also taken the step of suspending arms supplies to Nepal. This was an expression of our support for the restoration of democracy. Since then, all these last several months, we have been very consistent in our support and the arms suspension has remained in force. Our consistent approach has been to try and persuade the constitutional forces in Nepal to work together in order to restore democracy, in order to bring about political stability as well as economic recovery in the country.

We have always felt that political power should be exercised by the representatives of the people, and it is for them to really decide what the future of Nepal is going to be. But we as a close neighbour of Nepal, as a country which has very very intimate cultural and ethnic links with this country, it has always been our wish to seek peace and prosperity in Nepal because stability in Nepal is in the best interests of India. We have also believed that democracy in Nepal is the best guarantee of such stability.

It is in pursuit of this approach that when the situation in recent weeks started deteriorating, the Prime Minister decided to send a Special Envoy, a very experienced political personage Dr. Karan Singh to Nepal. I was present with Dr. Karan Singh in Kathmandu a couple of days ago. We had meetings with the political party leaders. We conveyed to them our continuing support to the democratic aspirations of the people of Nepal. We also conveyed our admiration for the fact that the Seven Party Alliance had stood together united. We also expressed our appreciation and our admiration for the manner in which they had led the political movement for the restoration of democracy in Nepal. Our message when Dr. Karan Singh met His Majesty the King was to share with him our assessment of the situation, the groundswell of public opinion, groundswell of popular emotion in favour of the restoration of democracy. We asked His Majesty the King to take stock of the seriousness of the situation and take appropriate measures, make the appropriate gestures in order to ensure the restoration of multiparty democracy and to respond to the sentiments of the people.

In that context, I would like to mention that yesterday you would have seen the press statement which was made by our Spokesman on the proclamation made by His Majesty the King. The one aspect which we thought was very important was the aspect of the intention of His Majesty the King to transfer all executive authority to a Government which would be formed by the Seven Party Alliance under a leader of its own choosing. Having said that we of course realize that it is really up to the people of Nepal to decide in what manner this is to be brought about. We do not wish to be in a position to prescribe for Nepal, and to prescribe for the people of Nepal in what manner they would go about realizing their democratic aspirations.

We have stood by the people of Nepal in their movement for realizing their democratic aspirations. Yesterday you would have seen in our press release that we also stated that the people of Nepal deserve our respect and admiration for the manner in which through peaceful demonstrations they have given expression to their desire for multiparty democracy. That admiration is very much an expression also of the very close affinity that we feel for the people of Nepal. We have also pointed out in the statement that we are very conscious of the great hardship that the people of Nepal have been facing as a result of prolonged economic and political turmoil. We have also expressed our intention that in the task of restoring political stability and economic recovery, India would stand ready as always to extend all possible assistance and support to Nepal.

I would like draw attention to the fact that this morning there have been some reports that there was some dissatisfaction in certain quarters about India's stand and I think there was a misrepresentation of India's stand by some elements who are perhaps hostile to the very close and friendly relations between India and Nepal. I would like to state here that these kind of sentiments which are being spread amongst people have absolutely no basis. There is no doubt of India's commitment to democracy in Nepal and to our support for the democratic forces in Nepal. I think this message should go very loud and clear to the people of Nepal.

I would like to mention that we have seen the press release issued by the alliance of the seven political parties today. They have had a high-level meeting of the alliance in the afternoon today. The press release has reiterated the agenda of the Seven Party Alliance. We, of course, support the view of the Alliance that restoration of peace and multiparty democracy in Nepal is the need of the hour. The Alliance of course has been in the forefront, as I said, of the peaceful movement for the restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal. They have given expression to the aspirations of the people of Nepal for democratic values and freedom and we believe that the sentiments of the people of Nepal need to be respected.

We are very concerned about the situation in Nepal and we believe that there should be a constant review of the manner in which these developments continue in the coming days because we also believe that the economic situation in the country is deteriorating very rapidly. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that for the last several days there has been a long line of cargo vehicles and tankers which have been backed up on the Indian side of the border. It is our effort to see that as soon as conditions permit we would try and facilitate as much as possible the movement of cargo of essential commodities from the Indian side into Nepal because the shortages that are now beginning to appear in places like Kathmandu or in Pokhra, this would only increase the economic hardship that the people of Nepal are suffering. And it is always going to be our endeavour that our brothers and sisters in Nepal do not suffer because of the possible disruption of the supply of essential goods. So, even though because of the conditions in Nepal the cargo vehicles have been lined up on the Indian side we are trying our very best to see how we can facilitate the movement of essential goods so that the situation is not further exacerbated.

I think I will stop here. I would be very happy to take any questions from you.

QUESTION: Kal jo Raja ne kaha, kuchh dinon pehle bhi unhone kuchh aise hi ailan kiye the jab kaha gaya tha … Saaf taur par farq kya nazar aaya? Unhone basically jo pehle kaha tha usiko ek naye bottle mein pesh karne ki koshish ki. Kuchh to saaf nahin kaha … chunav kab kiye jane hain. Doosra sawal, Narayanhiti palace se kya sanket mile hain? Kya unhone Bharat ke kadamon ki sarahna ki hai ya ise hastakshep ke taur par dekha hai?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Dekhiye, jo Raja ka ailan jo tha uske baare mein kal hamne tippani ki thi. Usmein jo ek mudda jo tha ki jo executive authority jo hai voh Seven Party Alliance ke sarkar ko milni chahiye. Aur unko khud yeh adhikar hai apna leader chunne ka, Prime Minister chunne ka. To yeh jo baat unhone kahi voh pehle se ek thoda badlav to zaroor tha, lekin jaise hamne kaha ki yeh kis tarah isko aage badhana hai, yeh jo Seven Party political Alliance hai aur Nepal ki jo janta hai, uske haath mein hai kaise isko aage badhana hai. Yeh Hindustan ki jagah nahin hai batane ke liye ki isko kis tarah laagu kiya jaye. To hamari jo tippani thi voh is siddhant pe thi ki jo full executive authority hai voh Raja ke haath mein nahin rahni chahiye, voh janta ke haath mein rahni chahiye. Us siddhant pe hamne voh tippani ki thi. Aur, is siddhant ko kis tarah se laagu kiya jaye yeh to ek mechanism hai jispe janta khud vichar karegi aur usko laagu karegi.

Jahan tak ki Bharat ka jo yogdaan hai, ya role hai Nepal mein, jaisa hamne kaha ki koi ismein hastakshep ki baat nahin hai. Nepal hamara ek bahut hi kareebi padosi desh hai. Nepal mein jo kuch bhi hoga Bharat ke upar bhi uska parinaam laagu hoga.

QUESTION: Nepal naresh bhi aisa hi maan rahen hain ki … hastakshep nahin hain?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Dekhiye, hamne iske bare mein to baat nahin ki unse ki Bharat ka hastakshep ho raha hai ya nahin. Hamare jo Special Envoy the, unhone Bharat ki or se ek friendly neighbour ke naate se unko ek assessment diya ki kis tarah se ham dekh rahein hai, jo ek vahan pe mahaul badal raha hai, bahut tezi se badal raha hai, uska unko hamne ek assessment diya. Aur yeh bhi kaha ki agar is mamle mein kadam jaldi nahin uthaye jayenge, to ho sakta hai ki yeh jo sthiti hai Nepal mein aur bhi bigad sakti hai. Aur yeh bhi kaha ki jo democracy ka jo siddhant hai, democratic values hain, aur jo Nepal ki janta democracy ki jo maang kar rahi hai, usko respect karna, usko respond karna bahut hi anivarya hai. Yeh to main nahin sochta hun ki usko hastkshep ke roop mein liya ja sakta hai.

QUESTION: You referred to the groundswell and the reality there. How come there was a mismatch between India's assessment and what the parties involved in the movement have said because all of them have rejected the King's proposal yesterday?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think you should be careful not to take India's statement yesterday as an acceptance of this or rejection of that proposal. As I said, what we tried to put across in the statement yesterday was that the principle that power should be handed over by the monarchy to the people of Nepal, that particular principle the King in his statement, in his proclamation, appears to have conceded. How that is to be taken forward in terms of the actual formation of a Government with all the full executive authority, how the process of democratization would be carried forward, this is really for the people of Nepal to decide. In this regard we will respect the decisions of the people of Nepal.

QUESTION: The way India responded to King's announcement, the people of Nepal are raising anti-India slogans. They are not accepting it in a general manner.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I do not think that it is the people of Nepal who have rejected or responded negatively to what India has said. I think there have been certain sections or certain elements who have deliberately distorted the implication of what India has said. We have been and continue to be firmly on the side of democratic forces in Nepal. There should be no ambiguity about that.

Our reaction to His Majesty's statement yesterday was to welcome the principle that full executive authority would be handed over to where it belongs, that is, to the people of Nepal. If you look at the rest of the statement which was made yesterday I think it would be very clear. We have expressed our deep admiration for the people of Nepal for the manner in which they have upheld their faith in democracy, their faith in the realization of their own democratic rights. So, there should not be any room for any ambiguity about India's stand. After all, as I mentioned to you, right from February 1, 2005, India has taken a very clear-cut stand with regard to the restoration of democracy. How can there be any question about India's stand? We were the first to stop the supply of arms to Nepal. We persuaded our other international partners to join us in the same action. So, it is we who have in fact gathered together the international community also to work together with us for the restoration of democracy in Nepal. How can there be any doubts about India's credentials in this regard?

QUESTION: As the demonstrations are going on in Nepal, if in a situation they throw out the King and if the King asks for political asylum from the Indian Government, will the Indian Government provide the political asylum to the King or not?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think you are asking a hypothetical question to which I do not think a response is necessary at this point of time.

QUESTION: Sir, aap ne kaha ki India interfere nahin karega vahan. Aap ek tarah se Seven Party Alliance ko yeh kah rahe hain ki King ne jo ailan kiya hai use voh accept kar lein. Aur doosra yeh ki jab Seven Party Alliance ne is offer ko reject kar diya hai, toh ham constitutional monarchy ko kis limit tak support karenge?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Hamara yeh maanna hai ki Nepal ka jo bhavishya hai, Nepal ki janta uspe nirnay legi. Yeh hamara haq nahin banta hai kisi ko kahna ki kis tarah ki sarkar aap banaiye, ya is tarah ki pranaali honi chahiye Nepal mein, Hindustan ke liye ye jagah nahin banti hai. Lekin yeh zaroor hamari jagah banti hai ki ham ek kareebi padosi hone ke naate Nepal mein jo ek bahut hi pratikool sthiti bani hui hai jiska parinaam hamaare upar bhi pad sakta hai, iske upar hamko ek review to hamesha karna padega. Aur doosri cheez hai, Nepal mein democracy ke liye jo hamara support raha hai voh consistent support raha hai, usko ham kisi tarah ka hastakshep nahin maante hain.

Teesri jo aapne baat kahi ki Seven Party Alliance ne jo Raja ne unko offer kiya tha usko reject kiya hai. Jahan tak main dekh raha hun, unhone kaha hai ki Seven Party Alliance ki unki jo yeh sarkar banegi, voh chahte hain ki yeh ek restoration of Parliament hai, uske maarfat banni chahiye. Aur unka ek apna roadmap hai. Jo yeh adhikarik sarkar hai voh kis tarah banayi jayegi, kis madhyam se banegi, yeh to Nepal ki janta uske upar apna nirnay degi. Hamara to yeh kahna hai ki jo ek siddhant hamara bhi siddhant tha, jo political parties ka bhi siddhant tha, jo Nepali janta ka siddhant tha, ki jo political power hai voh Raja ke haath se janta ke haath mein aani chahiye. Ye siddhant jo hai, na to hamare beech mein, parties ke beech mein, Nepali janta ke beech mein, is vichar mein koi farq hai. Kis tarah se yeh aadhikarik sarkar banayi jayegi aur uska kya roadmap hoga, kya roadmap hona chahiye, ham uspe to nirnay nahin le sakte hain. To yeh sandesh ham log dena chahte hain Nepali janta ko ki yeh aapke haath mein hain. Kis tarah se aap apna bhavishya banana chahte hain, democracy ko laagu phir se karna chahte hain, yeh aapke haath mein hai.
And India will respect the wishes of the people of Nepal.

QUESTION: Foreign Secretary, you are saying that you support the views of Seven Party Alliance in restoring democracy yet you do not want to get involved in the mechanism. If the Seven Party Alliance says that it wants not only the executive power, state power, will you support any mechanism that the Alliance will put forward? What is your view on that the King is actually playing games by offering the post of Prime Minister to the Seven Party Alliance because they would not be able to name one?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think what you should really be looking at is the response from the parties that what the King has said is not enough. So, more needs to be done. But in terms of that particular principle that power should go from the monarchy to the people, I do not think there is any difference of opinion as far as India is concerned, as far as the international community is concerned - you have seen the statements by several friendly countries – or as far as the political parties are concerned. So, we have very consciously avoided getting involved in details of what needs to be done and what need not be done in terms of measures. We have always stood by a certain principle and that principle is the restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal. If there is a sense amongst the political parties that the King perhaps cannot be trusted, or that he needs to do more in order to display his good faith, that is the viewpoint of the political parties. As I said, we will confine ourselves to continuing to offer our full support for the restoration of democracy in Nepal and let the people of Nepal decide how they want to go about it.

QUESTION: What if protests continue, violence continues and things snowball?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: This is why we have been so concerned because if the demonstrations continue, if the agitation continues we are also concerned about the possibility of violence. If there is violence, there is disruption of life not only in the valley but in the other parts of the country. I just mentioned to you the tremendous economic hardship which is appearing because of the disruption of supplies. All these things are matters of major worry for us. So, certainly our desire is to see that there should be an early restoration of political stability and economic recovery in the country. It is in the best interests of Nepal and it just so happens to be in the best interest of India as well.

QUESTION: I am a Nepali. I know very well what is happening in Nepal. I would like to know if you would resume the military assistance to Nepal in this period?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: We are not looking at this sort of question at this point of time. At this point of time the first order of business is for political stability and economic recovery to be established in Nepal. We would also hope, we have always said this, that with regard to the armed conflict in Nepal, there is no purely military solution. We have to find a political solution. Therefore, if there are negotiations through which the Maoists can be brought into the political mainstream, but on the basis of the principles of multiparty democracy and on the clear abandonment of violence as a political tool, I think this is something that should be welcomed.

QUESTION: Has the Government of India been in touch with any of the SPA leaders today or with the Palace today?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: We have been in touch with a very wide section of people in Nepal since quite some time and today as well.

QUESTION: And with the Palace?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Yes.

QUESTION: Sir, SPA ke jo neta hain voh constituent assembly ki baat karte hain, parallel Government banane ki baat karte hain. Par unki jo pratikriya aayi hai,the manner in which they have reacted and the manner in which India appears to have reacted to this, would you say that in terms of the principle regarding the transfer of political power, that condition has been met? The people there on the ground, the SPA leaders, do not seem to believe that this by itself is enough for them to give up their protest. That is the core issue.Isko kaise address kiya jaye? Aapko lagta hai the Nepal King has to do something more than what he has already done and that could be necessary for the SPA to accept it and then the consequent restoration of normalcy in Nepal? Do you buy this argument?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Jahan tak ki constituent assembly ka sawal hai, jo SPA ki aaj baithak hui thi, jismein unhone ek press release kiya tha, usmein agar aap dekhiye to unhone jo roadmap apna diya hai, us roadmap mein unhone kaha hai – "The joint movement of the Seven Party Alliance is being conducted for restoration of Parliament and constituting an all-party Government and on the basis of its decisions, dialogue with the Maoists, and on the basis of the agreement arrived through that dialogue, elections to the constituent assembly…” To unhone jo constituent assembly ki jo baat ki hai,it is part and parcel of a certain roadmap. And the constituent assembly, as far as I could understand from the statement, is something that will emerge through peace negotiations with the Maoists. So, this is their roadmap. I have no comment on this.
So, as I mentioned to you, we are not going to start prescribing the manner in which they should go about with the further evolution of the political process. Now, as far as whether or not the concessions made by His Majesty the King are enough, really the situation is evolving very rapidly. There is no doubt that at the end of the day the sentiments of the people of Nepal and their desire for the early restoration of democracy and democratic values is something that everyone will have to respect - the political parties will have to respect; I think the institution of monarchy will have to respect; and we who are the friends of Nepal would have to respect that.

QUESTION: Do we still stand by the policy of multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy? Have we changed or shifted from this stand or do we still stand by this? Another question, you were talking about anti-India elements. Can you identify these elements?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: As far as the first point that you have mentioned, when we said India stands for multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy, we were reflecting nothing more than what the people of Nepal themselves and the political parties themselves had committed to. So, you should not take this as something that was prescribed by the Government of India. With respect to what will be the future political arrangement, as I said, this is really a matter for the people of Nepal to decide, not for India to decide. With regard to who the anti-India elements would be, frankly I do not know. But there have always been some elements in Nepal who have been hostile to friendly relations between India and Nepal. Perhaps those are the elements who have tried to give this a distorted twist. But I do not think I have any information with regard to any specific people or specific persons who have been involved in this. But I think it is important for us in India to nail this kind of lie because it is really distorting the position of India which quite unambiguously has stood by the democratic forces in Nepal right through this very difficult period. And we intend to stand by them.

QUESTION: Seven Party Alliance ne constituent assembly ki demand ki hai. Kya aap use support karenge?

FOREIGN SECRETARY: Dekhiye hamne kaha ki ham prescription nahin karenge. Hamara haq nahin banta hai yeh kahna ki constituent assembly honi chahiye ya parliament honi chahiye ya abhi election hone chahiyen ya baad me election hone chahiyen. Hamara jo stand raha hai voh ek siddhant ka stand raha hai. Aur voh siddhant yeh raha hai ki jo sovereignty hai voh people mein reside karti hai. Aur jo political power hai voh janta ke haath mein jaani chahiye. Nepal mein democracy honi chahiye isliye kyonki Nepal ki janta democracy chahti hai aur us se ham sahanubhooti rakhte hain.

QUESTION: Just to clarify on the answer you gave a second ago, are we effectively saying the end of the twin pillars policy? Just that the twin pillars policy applied to a moment in time when …(Inaudible)… multiparty Nepal …(Inaudible)… and the Nepali people and is not something which is fixed. Are you effectively saying that India has moved away from that?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: As I mentioned, it is not really for India to decide what are the kind of political arrangements that the people of Nepal eventually wish to see established in Nepal. We have supported the restoration of democracy in Nepal. When we have been saying the twin pillars of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy, we have been reflecting only what the people of Nepal and the political parties in Nepal have wanted. If today or tomorrow the people of Nepal wish to see a different future for themselves, different kind of political arrangements for themselves, that is for the people of Nepal to decide, not for India to decide.

QUESTION: As you have told that we are in touch with all sections of the Nepali society as well as the political parties. Does it mean the Maoists too? If we do have, do not you think that Maoists have emerged as major stakeholders in Nepal's politics? What is your assessment about their inclusion in the future dispensation?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I have said that we are in touch with the political parties and we have been in touch with the Palace as well essentially to try and play as constructive a role as we can to defuse the situation. We have not been in touch with the Maoists. But we have also said that in the conflict that Nepal is undergoing, a purely military solution is not possible. You need to have a political solution. Since we are wedded to the concept of democracy, we believe that if the Maoists have to come into the political mainstream, coming into that political mainstream must be based on the principles of multiparty democracy. It should be based on the principle of renunciation of violence because if there is no renunciation of violence, then how can you make democracy succeed. So, yes, certainly there is a need for them to be brought into the political mainstream but it has to be on the basis of the principle of multiparty democracy and the renunciation of violence. I think it is fairly clear.

Thank you very much.

{The text in italics is transliterated from Hindi.}

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