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Read: In Memoir, Ex-Envoy Says Modi, Yogi May Have Supported Nepal's Return to Monarchy

'Dr Shah once bragged that the Indian establishment, under the Narendra Modi regime, had assured the King that monarchy and Hinduism represent two faces of the same coin that India would support in Nepal.'
Photos, left to right: pmindia.gov.in, Krish Dulal/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0, X/@myogiadityanath.

Below is an excerpt from Dabbling in Diplomacy – Authorised & Otherwise: Recollections of a Non-Career Diplomat by S.D. Muni.

I was also active, in different ways, in opposing the King’s move and supporting the ‘Peoples’ Movement’ led by the Maoists and the SPA [Seven Party Alliance]. I spoke at several conferences and meetings, wrote opinion pieces in Indian newspapers and appeared on various TV news channels to speak in favour of the ‘Peoples’ Movement’.

In ORF [Observer Research Foundation] we organised a meeting which was participated by M.K. Rasgotra and Professor Lok Raj Baral (who was on a short visit to India) soon after the King’s takeover in February 2005. Professor Baral was detained and harassed on his return to Nepal for his statement at the ORF meeting.

The Nepal embassy in New Delhi was also active in propagating the legitimacy of the King’s coup and securing public support for him. I participated in two conferences organised by them, one at the India International Centre (IIC) and another at the Constitution Club.

S.D. Muni Dabbling in Diplomacy Konark Publishers (February 2024)

In the IIC meeting, the King’s foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey’s son, Nishchal Nath Pandey, who was also the director of Nepal’s Foreign Service Institute, vigorously pleaded that the King would be able to finish the Maoist insurgency within six months with an enlarged and well-equipped RNA [Royal Nepal Army]. I strongly rebutted his arguments by referring to the past record of RNA in dealing with the Maoists.

In the Constitution Club meeting, I said that the best way for the King to resolve Nepal’s political crisis was not through direct rule but abdication of his throne. If he wants to be politically relevant and active in the years to come, he should form his own political party, and contest elections. I was confident that he will win popular support as many old princely rulers had done in India.

The King had detained all the major political party leaders when he took direct control of the government. Girija Babu called me from his house arrest in Kathmandu asking me to do something in Delhi to get him released. I was in Mumbai for my periodic lecture at the Naval War College. I telephoned my contacts in MEA [Ministry of External Affairs] requesting them to extend whatever help they could.

On my return from Mumbai, I was invited to a closed-door consultation meeting in MEA called by foreign minister Natwar Singh. Among other invitees were India’s former ambassadors to Nepal, M.K. Rasgotra, K.V. Rajan and Arvind Deo. Issue on the table was to continue or not the pipeline of arms supplies to the King after his takeover.

While most of the other participants were in favour of continuing the supplies, I and Arvind Deo strongly opposed it. I submitted that the King will use these arms against his own people and for suppressing democratic movement.

In support of my argument, I narrated the incident of the 1976 lunch of Mrs Gandhi for then Prince Gyanendra. I did that in the hope that Mrs Gandhi’s reference, suspecting the King’s democratic pretentions, may be found more persuasive by Natwar Singh.

The decision taken a few days later by Government of India was to stop the supplies and force the King to make-up with the mainstream political parties.

During my studies on Nepal, I had hardly any contacts with the Royal Palace. I had known Kumar Khadga Bikram Shah, the son-in-law of the royal family, in his capacity as the executive director of the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), Tribhuvan University.

I participated in the international seminar on South Asian Security organised by the Centre in 1985. I met him every time I went to Kathmandu after that in his CNAS office but never discussed Nepali politics with him.

Kumar Khadga Bikram Shah, unfortunately, got killed in the royal massacre of 2001.

Kathmandu’s Narayanhiti Palace, the former residence of Nepal’s monarchy. Photo: Antoine 49/Flickr. CC BY NC-ND-2.0.

In the pursuance of my Nepal studies, on a couple of occasions, I had interviewed the then personal secretary to King Birendra, Chiran Shumshere Thapa.

In June 2002, King Gyanendra visited India to garner support for his regime. The Nepal embassy in New Delhi organised a reception for him. I met the King in that reception and asked him if he remembered my meeting him at Mrs Gandhi’s lunch in 1976. He complained that I have not been meeting him during my Kathmandu visits. I promised to do so next time.

I did call the palace secretariat on my next visit to Kathmandu and requested for an audience with the King, giving reference to the exchange of words with His Majesty in New Delhi. The office assured me that they will get back to me, but that never happened.

On another visit to Kathmandu after the King’s direct rule, former foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey invited me for lunch at his residence. He described to me in detail how he succeeded in securing arms both from a reluctant India and a responsive China to help the King fight the Maoist insurgency. Details of his diplomatic efforts have been now recorded in his memoir, Kootniti Ra Rajniti (Diplomacy and Politics, Shangri La Books, Kathmandu, 2015).

While leaving after lunch and discussions, he asked me for a favour saying, ‘Please convey a message to foreign minister Natwar Singh that the King will happily accommodate all of India’s economic and security concerns in return for support to his domestic political actions.’ I personally conveyed this message as desired.

Also read: Will Nepal PM’s Upcoming Visit to Beijing Balance Geopolitical Interests for India and China?

One Dr Asarfi Shah used to meet me both in Kathmandu and New Delhi to seek my support for the King. Once in Kathmandu, he organised a special worship (abhishek) by me at the Lord Pashupatinath Temple. During a meeting in my IDSA [Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses] office, Dr Shah once bragged that the Indian establishment, under the Narendra Modi regime, had assured the King that monarchy and Hinduism represent two faces of the same coin that India would support in Nepal.

Questioning the need for additional support, I asked Dr Shah, ‘If that is the case, then why does the King need support from someone like me?’ It is, however, not in my DNA to support autocratic monarchy. I made this stance clear to Dr Shah on every occasion.

In 2017, a retired R&AW [Research and Analysis Wing] officer, whom I knew for many years because of our common Rajasthani origin, invited me for lunch at the Delhi Gymkhana Club. He conveyed that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath was keen to get monarchy restored in Nepal and suggested that I support these efforts.

I firmly communicated that he had approached the wrong person for a wrong cause.

S.D. Muni is Professor Emeritus at JNU and former special envoy and ambassador, the government of India. 

The above excerpt has been taken with permission from Konark Press.

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