Nepali Times
Guest Column
A yam between two stones (and a huge boulder)


In January, India's former ambassador to Nepal, K V Rajan argued that New Delhi was not "comfortable" about the growing US-UK influence in Nepal ( He also predicted "substantial dilution" of Indian influence in the country in the coming years. If a senior Indian diplomat, who continues to advise the South Block on Nepali affairs, predicts such a scenario, it should be taken as a genuine concern of the Indian state.

Last month the Maoists were reportedly back in Delhi, from where they issued fresh ultimatum to the government that exactly echoed K. V. Rajan\'s concern. They demanded that the government should annul the Memorandum of Understanding on terrorism signed with the US government and "expel US security advisers currently in Nepal".

Interestingly, the Maoists did not mention India's current help to the Royal Nepali Army, but argued that the US presence in Nepal is part of its wider policy to encircle China by "keeping an eye on India". On the surface, the two statements don't appear to have any connection. However, if viewed in the wider context of India's sometimes overt, and mostly covert role, in determining Nepal's political course in the past half-a-century, it would not be difficult to discern a link.

Independent India under Nehru always appeared keen in public for the establishment of a democratic polity in Nepal. However, Nehru felt no qualms about securing the most crucial 1950 treaty with the crisis-ridden Ranas that would have longterm implications for Nepal. The Ranas probably would not have come under much pressure from India to give up power had China not moved into Tibet in October 1950.

India was worried that the Chinese were expanding southward when political instability in Nepal was growing due to the anti-Rana campaign. Convinced that political upheaval in Nepal at such a time would jeopardise India's own security, New Delhi decided to act. It was against this background that Nehru envisaged the famous power sharing 'Delhi Compromise' for Nepal, which would incorporate the Ranas, the opposition parties led by the Nepali Congress and the king.

But surprisingly, as BP Koirala stated, none of the three parties were properly consulted nor were they allowed to sit and discuss the matter. US academic Leo Rose writes in his classic work, Nepal: The Strategy for Survival, that the decisive battles in [the power] struggle had "not been fought in the hills of Nepal but in the halls of New Delhi".

It is a tragedy for Nepal that Rose's description of Nepal's predicament in the early 1950s has continued to remain largely true even today. Fifty years ago, Nepal had no policy of its own as Indian influence was all-pervasive on every aspect of the state. It was only after King Mahendra's accession to the throne that Nepal attempted to distance itself from India. When he took over the reigns of power after dismissing and arresting the democratically elected Koirala ministry in December 1960, Nehru said "it was a complete reversal of the democratic process".

However, within six months of the dismissal of the Koirala government, India had signed four aid agreements with Nepal and after the 1962 Sino-India war, when Nepal is said to have followed a carefully neutral line, Delhi ordered all anti-Panchayat Nepali exiles in India to cease their activities.

Despite India's public pronouncements in favour of democracy in Nepal, in essence, it has been least bothered about it and more concerned about extracting favourable agreements and treaties from Nepal. The 1965 'secret' arms supply agreement with Nepal was the result of the same policy. If Nepal had agreed to India's draft proposal forwarded to Kathmandu in the height of the Indo-Nepal crisis in 1989-90, it is possible that India could have remained silent on the issue of the restoration of democracy in Nepal.

However, King Birendra is said to have thought it appropriate to "give in" to the demands of pro-democracy campaigners in the country rather than "give away" sovereignty to India. India's role has remained pivotal, but despite that anti-regime, Nepali exiles in India hardly received substantial help from the Indian state. They have been used more as an option to keep Kathmandu under a constant sense of fear, and gain its subservience on issues related to India's national interest.

No wonder, then, that despite the world's knowledge of the Maoist leaders' presence in India, Delhi insists that it has no idea about their whereabouts. After Prachanda's Siliguri audience to all the top communist leaders of Nepal, CK Lal wrote in this paper "since our southern pals claim to know everything that happens inside the smallest madarasa in the tarai, it is highly unlikely that they have not been aware of the honoured guests in their strategic Chicken Neck".

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable argument. But the question is, why should Delhi acknowledge that it is aware about the their activities in India? It had become a must for Delhi to put pressure on the Maoists after 11 September. It did, and the Maoists acknowledged later that they had come to talks because of the pressure from the US, the UK and India. But the post 9/11 heat on South Asia has virtually evaporated and India can again be master of its own will in the region.

That means they can let Nepal know loud and clear that they are not happy about the growing US involvement in the country, which they have long considered as an exclusive sphere of Indian influence. And to convey that message, what could be a better medium than the roaring rebels, the nightmare of the Nepali state?

But those Nepalis who draw irrational pleasure in India-bashing should understand that Wilsonian idealism is a far cry in international politics. It is all about the advancement of national interest and if Nepal had the ability to manipulate regional geopolitics we would probably do the same.

Thus, instead of blaming others, let us blame those Nepalis who, from the 1950s to the present, have allowed themselves to be used by India in the hope of fulfilling their political ambitions in Nepal.

Mishra is a journalist with the BBC World Service in London.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)