Nepal Stymies India
NOIDA: Nepal has cancelled an upcoming visit of its President, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, to India. Sources say the decision to cancel the visit was taken by Nepal’s cabinet on the behest of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who sees India’s hand in a bid to topple the new Nepalese government.
With this move, yet again, India has had to swallow a diplomatic defeat in Nepal. This is its third consecutive defeat since Nepal promulgated its constitution against India’s wish. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) should now seriously review its foreign policy, particularly with India’s immediate neighborhood. If the UPA government was criticized for neglecting its backyard and appeasing the West, the current government can be squarely blamed for destroying the relationship with India’s neighbours altogether.
In 2014, when NDA took over from UPA II, the then Prime Minister elect Narendra Modi, in his trademark pomp and show, announced that unlike his predecessors, the core of his government’s foreign policy would be to build a strong relationship with the neighbouring countries. He called the initiative “Neighbor First.” The invitation to the heads of the SAARC countries on his oath taking gave a glimmer of hope for many well wishers of South Asia. However, just after a few months, the facade started to crumble and like everything else, India’s foreign policy too was back in its traditional track.
In 2013, in an interaction programme in New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, former Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar spoke about how India’s foreign policy, by and large, is driven by its exaggerated security concerns. He narrated how in his own career he was often ‘briefed’ as to what he ought to do not by politicians but by officials of security agencies.
Fast forward to Nepal now and things don’t look different from the time when Bhadrakumar was serving. In last the two years, the ‘foreign’ policy advisors of Narendra Modi have made sure that the government doesn’t deviate from its long taken course without caring how awkward this could be for a man who has set great expectations for himself. Typically, India’s operation in Nepal shows that its foreign policy is and will be dominated by the logic disseminated from the ‘secret’ cables from its missions abroad.
It is now an open secret that since September last year, defying all logic, India has been trying hard to bring down the KP Sharma Oli led government in Nepal. India fears that the current government is threatening its own interest in Nepal. India’s assumptions are not based on hard facts but on feedback from its friends in the Nepali Congress and other parties as well as security analysts. To topple the government, it first tried to put pressure with the pretext of the Madhesi movement. The tactics boomeranged. Now, it is trying to forge an alliance between Nepali Congress and United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to topple the government. The development in Nepal suggests, it is snubbed yet again.
The government, had it depended more on its political advisors than some paranoid National Security advisors, it would have learned that the communists in Nepal are no different than reds of China or of West Bengal or Kerala. They too have turned ‘pragmatic’ long ago. It could have also learned that the Nepali communists are competing not to create a feared ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ but to woo India, to win its confidence. Since Nepal became a democratic nation, the sole aim of Nepalese communists has been to end Nepali Congress’s monopoly as a trusted friend of India. This understanding would have given India an insight into Nepali politics and also a new wisdom to deal with it.
India must also appreciate the fact that Nepal is now a democratic republic where politicians have to win people’s confidence to survive. It must also consider the fact that not allowing Nepali politicians to do so is tantamount to finishing off their careers. Nepali politicians certainly need breathing space and India could do better not by strangulating but rather, by helping in the creation of that space.
As Nepal was set to promulgate its constitution, India rushed its advisors to stop the process which ironically it had itself initiated in 2006. The long drawn drafting process had fatigued the people and they badly wanted it to end. Against this popular mood, India made its first blunder. It hastily tried to stop the promulgation of the constitution. Sometimes it seems that NDA is yet to learn to distinguish between a party and a country’s politics. A nation’s diplomacy is often different from the ideology of the party which is ruling it. It is strange that this time likes of SD Muni and other couldn’t guide India on the right path although earlier they played a very important role in ‘bringing the Maoists down from the hills’.
After it failed to stop the declaration, India, instead of welcoming it, tried hard to ‘impose’ its will on the already accepted constitution. No doubt there were and are some reasonable shortcomings in the constitution and a larger part of Nepal’s population remains unsatisfied with its provisions, but that isn’t enough of an excuse to visibly interfere in a foreign country’s politics. The ‘blockade’ was rather a shortsighted move which embolden Nepali leadership to take on India. The result: India lost its monopoly over Nepal’s fuel and other supplies, at least on paper.
And just at the time, when the harm done to the long standing relationship was on the path of recovery, India again shot itself in the foot. It looks as if India has made it an ego issue to remove Oli from the top seat. Otherwise, where is the logic in India wanting to replace a set of communists for another? India should know that only a miracle could bring the Nepali Congress to power before the next election. Both the UML and the Maoist are trying to form a united front in the upcoming election and they are in no mood to hurt each other. Prachanda will replace Oli only if Oli himself gives a go ahead. Hence, the strategy to play one against the other is full of risk.
So the best possible thing India could do in Nepal now is to stop doing anything at all. It should let this government complete its term and wait for the election result. Also, India could do better if it internalizes the fact that Nepal is now a democracy and there are certain obligations to it which, if not fulfilled, can cause more harm than good.
(Vishnu Sharma is a freelance journalist)