Nepali Times
What do we want from India?


Girija Prasad Koirala leaves for a live-day visit to India next week to try to restore Nepal\'s degraded relations with the big southern neighbour, but he is not too optimistic.

Given the degree of mistrust between the two sides in the aftermath of the hijacking crisis and [he leaked India" intelligence report, he has a tough trip ahead, The most challenging part will he to begin to change Indian public perception that Nepal is a security threat to the Indian heartland.

"I do not expect much from my visit," Koirala told us in a pre-departure interview, "I am going there without much hope. I just want relations to he normal again.\'\'

In New Delhi, South Block officials privately admit that "things went a bit too far" in the hijacking aftermath. They are keen to bring bilateral relations to a mare even keel.

What remains to be seen is it that feeling can be transmitted across the mall to North Block on Raisina Hill, where the Indian Home Ministry resides. New Delhi\'s media circles believe chat it is the Home Ministry under Lal Krishna Advani, supported by hardliners in the Prime Minister\'s Office, who art calling the shots on Nepal. One Indian journalist in Delhi put it bluntly on the phone: "Look here, this has been one major media coup. Nepal used to be Himalaya, Pashupati, casinos and honeymoons. Now the Home Ministry has made Nepal synonymous with LSI and RDX."

It is now known that the infamous \'Nepal Gameplan" report was a deliberate intelligence leak to pliant Indian media. It was meant to have been publicised after the trip to Kathmandu by the Indian national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, in June but as his trip was postponed by a week the leak pre-empted the visit.

Brajesh Mishra told every Nepali official he met, rather elliptically, that the intelligence report leak "couldn\'t have happened without my knowledge, since I am security adviser". Semantics: he neither confirmed nor denied it. Koirala for his part is frustrated with the Indian obsession on security. "When Brajesh Mishra came, I asked him to pinpoint his concerns. How can I shoot In the dark? We also have our security concerns: Maoists, the Bhutanese refugees. I told him we will address your security concerns, and you should address ours,"

Handout journalism on Nepal has continued in the Indian press over the last month: reports about Nepal "stonewalling\' on a proposed extradition treaty, or a breathless item on the Nepal-India tarai region, likening it to \'Taliban territory\' for Its Muslim population.

If there is one single source that has brought India-Nepal relations to an all-lime low during the past decade of Nepali democracy, it is the prejudiced reportage in Indian .satellite television and prim media. The public in India is so negatively charged now that pilgrim traffic at Shivaratri is down, casinos are empty, and this summer\'s Indian tourist arrivals have dipped to an all-time low.

It is this public perception that Girija Babu will have to try and turn around when he visits New Delhi and Bangalore. As one of the few remaining Nepali politicians with a direct line to the senior most Indian leadership, Koirala can place Nepal\'s case directly to India\'s high and mighty.

The success will depend, therefore, on Koirala\'s personal chemistry with Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani. It will also depend on his ability to convince them that Nepal, far from pursuing an anti-India policy, will effectively tackle extraneous threats to India through Nepal.

This time. the opposition is relatively cosy with Koirala, and he has been trying to build a multi-party consensus on five points to discuss with India; the Kalapani dispute, border delineation, the Bhutanese refugee crisis, the 1950 Indo-Nepal treaty, and the immediate problem of the afflux bunds of the Laxmanpur barrage inundating part of the Nepal tarai.

But before he gets to these issues, Girija Babu will have to ask his Indian Friends: isn\'t it in India\'s security interest to have a stable and less poverty-stricken Nepal? Is Nepali public opinion nor important to New Delhi? And, above all, can someone call off the incessant scapegoating of a smaller neighbour?

This is Koirala\'s chance to turn a new page in relations with India. So, when he boards the inaugural Bangalore-Kathmandu flight of Royal Nepal Airlines on his way home on 4 August, it will be OK if Koirala will have managed to improve Indian perceptions about Nepal.

The 5-point checklist could be left for later.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)