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Maoist Victory in Nepal Could Prompt New Era for Relations with India


India is expressing a willingness to work with the Maoists in Nepal, who are in line to form the new government in Kathmandu, based on election results so far. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi a Maoist victory could mean a lessening of Indian influence over its smaller neighbor to the north.

India is putting its best face forward in reacting to the Maoists lead in the balloting for Nepal's special assembly. The results will determine the fate of the world's last Hindu kingdom. A Maoist victory is expected to doom the monarchy, and may see Nepal pursuing a foreign policy more independent of New Delhi.

India's external affairs minister calls the results a "positive development" because the Maoists kept their pledge to participate in the election. India's ambassador in Kathmandu says his government will accept the mandate given by Nepal's people.

It is not just geographic ties - such as Indian rivers with sources in Nepal, and a porous border - that closely bind the two countries. Many Nepalese are ethnic Indians, and both countries have a Hindu religious majority.

India's government paid little heed to the growing clout of the Maoists as the rebels fought a decade-long civil war to rid Nepal of the monarchy. The executive director of India's Institute for Conflict Management, Ajai Sahni, says no one in New Delhi expected the Maoists to perform so well in a free election.

"Certainly this has come as a shock to the establishment here," he said. "It was the Indian intelligence establishment and the Indian diplomatic establishment which had, in a sense, mid-wifed the agreement between a completely emasculated political formation, the seven-party alliance and an extremely violent and dominant Maoist grouping, without really thinking out the consequences."

That 2006 peace pact resulted in the Maoists, which the United States still regards as a terrorist group, laying down their arms and pledging to continue their battle through the political process.

Analysts say a Maoist victory in Nepal will boost the hopes of India's Maoist rebels that they can eventually be victorious, as well.

With that in mind, India's establishment continued to ally itself with the Nepali Congress Party and the unpopular King Gyanendra, who has been stripped of power. But Congress Party politicians suffered stunning losses to the Maoists in many key districts in last Thursday's national election.

An intellectual with a history of serving as a middleman between Indian officials and Nepal's Maoists, Bishnu Pathak of the Conflict Study Center in Kathmandu, says two-way communication is currently under way.

"Maoists will not be that much offensive to this Indian government and Indian people too. Maoist and Indian diplomats are trying to have their improved relations to each other," Pathak said.

The Maoists have long called for renegotiating the 58-year-old India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty. That agreement allows nationals of both countries to freely move across the border and own property. The pact has also effectively placed Nepal under India's security umbrella and prevented Nepal from making strategic ties with China, its other giant neighbor.