Indo-Nepal ties are in danger of being downgraded to that of
satrap and supplicant. New Delhi must not ignore this, writes Kanak Mani Dixit.
Nepal was sheltered for decades because of the friendship between its democrats
and India’s political class, struck during the days of Indian Independence.
BP Koirala enjoyed a wide range of contacts with national and regional leaders,
including Jawaharlal Nehru, JP Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and LN Mishra.
Today, Nepal is reduced to the level of Maoist leaders
Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Baburam Bhattarai who seem content in their
contact with Indian desk officers and handlers. The most vibrant bilateral
relationship in the subcontinent, unique with its historical open border, is in
danger of being downgraded to that of satrap and supplicant.
The bilateral realpolitik that has privileged the
UCPN-Maoist is the result of Indian politicians having tuned off. Exasperated
by the continuous chaos in Kathmandu, they have left Nepal policy in the hands
of the mandarins and apparatchiks. Unable to demand answers from accountable
New Delhi politicos, Kathmandu’s observers are at a loss as to who’s taking the
decisions and why.
This minds-off policy is a mistake because the two countries
can only gain as mutually respectful democracies. While the bureaucrat will
look for technical fixes, it requires an engaged statesperson to understand
that the stability India desires in Nepal cannot happen in the absence of an
open, self-correcting democracy.
Having worked with permutations from absolute monarchy to
parliamentary anarchy, the Indian State seems to be on the lookout for whoever
will ‘deliver the goods’, viz hydropower; stored water for irrigation,
navigation and urban use; security across the frontier; and shared economic
growth with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in particular. However, the stability to
make this happen cannot be had by coddling non-democratic combines that reject
pluralism and human rights.
The pusillanimous attitude of Kathmandu’s politicians needs
no defence — they tend to be slavishly pro-India in power and vehemently
anti-India in opposition. The Maoists have polished this proclivity to an art,
secretly beseeching New Delhi while stoking the ultra-nationalist inferno at
home. Kathmandu’s apologists of the radical left, kneejerk in their
anti-Indianism, are today neutralised by their proximity to the Maoists.
However, they may get their second wind now that the Maoist party has split.
Like the ‘useful idiots’ in Kathmandu, a vocal coterie in
India thinks it is chic to ridicule Nepal’s parliamentary parties as retrograde
conservatives. Forgetting that the Maoists are comfortably part of the national
establishment like nowhere else in the world, they disparage the very
democratic forces that reached out for peace in 2005 (with New Delhi’s
facilitation), at great peril to themselves. No one is explaining why liberal
democracy is the ideal everywhere else but should be regarded as passé for
As a rule, Kathmandu’s intelligentsia maintains an
exaggerated sense of New Delhi’s ability to influence national politics, but
things have changed lately. Having given up on the parliamentary parties as
feckless forces, New Delhi seems to have decided to wade in further than it
ever had, seeking to define the neighbour’s trajectory in the peace process,
government formation and even constitution-writing. It helped cobble together
the Bhattarai-led Maoist-Madhesbadi coalition in August 2011 and got involved
in the federalism debate.
Hard to believe, but India was lobbying for one or two
Tarai-based provinces, which made little sense from the perspective of
devolution of power, regional stability, or dignity and economic well-being of
the plains people of Nepal. Amidst the murk of deniability, it is unclear
whether this proactive energy had to do with geopolitical fears of China, the
dangers of militant infiltration across the open border, the language politics
of the Ganga plain vis-à-vis Hindi, Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi, or something
A former JNU professor has just written in a book of
facilitating contact with the Nepali rebels as far back as June 2002, when Dahal-Bhattarai
promised in a letter to the Indian government not to harm India’s “critical
interests” — this even while they conducted war in Nepal (Nepal in Transition,
2012). Thereafter, he writes, it became easier for the Nepali Maoists to move
about within India.
Such bombshell revelations fuel misgivings about the Maoist
insurgency vis-à-vis India. By his own account, chairman Dahal spent eight
years during the decade of insurgency outside Nepal. How much did New Delhi
know? If this was a case of one hand being unaware of the other, it is time to
share information and review procedures.
The extended political transition has been deadly for
Nepal’s State institutions and political process. The Maoist cheated on peace
over four years, the Constituent Assembly collapsed and political polarisation
has deepened. The social democratic forces are weakened, while the radical left
and the royalist, Hindutva-led right have struck root. Ex-king Gyanendra Shah
has been buoyed enough to come out openly for a revival of the monarchy.
All of South Asia benefits from peace and democratic
stability in Nepal, one that rejects religious fundamentalism, violent politics
and communal exclusivity. While the mess in the country is primarily the doing
of Kathmandu’s political class, New Delhi should be careful that its acts and
omissions do not rock the Nepali boat.
Kanak Mani Dixit is editor of Himal Southasian and author of
Peace Politics of Nepal. The views expressed by the author are personal.