Nepali Times
Schizophrenic Nepal policy



I wish I could make out India's policy on its neighbours. At best, it is a reaction to what they do or do not do. We should cultivate them. But there is nothing called generosity when we come to deal with them.

Where we have exposed ourselves the most is in Nepal. It is the worst case of our prevarication. Do we want the king or not? We can't make up our mind. We want monarchy but no kingship but that's only playing with words. What it means is that we would like the king to be a constitutional head like our president. Thank God, our constitution does not provide for president's rule at the centre. Jawaharlal Nehru once explained that he did not want a dictator in India. Therefore, the writ of our presidents (we had a couple of ambitious ones) doesn't run beyond the precincts of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

In Nepal, the king has himself become the constitution. We are unhappy because he does not listen to us. Our request to the king to take popular leaders into confidence has not been heeded. Yes, we have our ambassador at Kathmandu, always going back and forth for consultations with New Delhi. But he must be exasperated, helpless and even embarrassed because he has made no progress with the king. We want the ambassador to ride two boats at the same time: put pressure on the king to restore democracy and convince the opposition that India will eventually get them back their popular rule.

The fact is that we resumed the supply of weapons on his promise to restore democracy before long. The king duped us because there is nothing to suggest that he wants to dismount the tiger he has chosen to ride. Why doesn't a powerful country like India do something? This is the question that the Nepalis ask. One of the reasons hawked about is that if we were to jettison the king, he would go to Pakistan to get arms. I wish he would do that. Presuming Pakistan wants to embarrass India, it can ill-afford to take on the people with yet another unpopular step.

Even China will think twice before displeasing India when the two are already joining hands in South Asia for peace and development. All these years, Beijing has kept away from Kathmandu knowing well that New Delhi is oversensitive to foreign interference in Nepal's affairs. After all, India accepted the suzerainty of China over Tibet in no time.

The problem is with New Delhi. It does not want to displease the king on the one hand and does not like his methods of dealing with political parties on the other. India would wish to devise a formula which could please the king and the opposition at the same time.

In fact, it has been vainly trying for that.

Initially, New Delhi was not unhappy over the king's takeover because it saw in it a strong action against the Maoists who had links with the Naxalites in India. Washington was in tandem with New Delhi's approach. The assumption was that the king would come around soon. But it has been a futile exercise. In fact, the king has consolidated himself. India has been keeping its eyes shut.

The Nepalis generally do not like the Maoists who have introduced violence to their peaceful life. True, the Maoists are today on the side of the opposition but their methodology is considered undemocratic and their ways authoritarian. People are disappointed with the king because he has suppressed their democratic functioning. But they are not pleased with the Maoists either. They want a bit of both: the king providing an overall umbrella and the Maoists bringing in egalitarianism in the still-poor caste-ridden society.

True, New Delhi cannot march its forces into Nepal. But it can at least criticise the king's rule and give some public evidence of support to the democratic forces. The king should get a message that India would prefer a republic to monarchy if he did not restore democracy.
I think he has already forfeited the right to rule. If he were to realise that New Delhi could go to the extent of putting its weight behind the demand for his deposition, he might mend his ways.

Kuldip Nayar is a former member of the Rajya Sabha in India, a veteran journalist and author of 11 books. He starts this fortnightly column for Nepali Times from this issue.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)