Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Looking at Nepal from New Delhi


NEW DELHI-In the sunwashed daytime on the crowded streets of India's capital, the problems of a small mountain kingdom seem a world away. It's a short flight to Kathmandu but the aircraft might as well be circumnavigating the globe.

India, in short, is hardly aware that Nepal exists anymore.

The New Delhi newspapers brim with the aggressive confidence of the new urbanites that are increasingly shaping the destiny of this country. Style overwhelms substance, if it can find any space among the ads for mobile phones and apartment complexes. The news stories are the usual fare: Pakistani perfidy in Kashmir, political infighting and oddities from the mohfussil. But the subtext, as one billboard for The Times of India has it, states firmly that 'India is going Places'.

It's easy enough to be cynical about all this and to remind Indians about endemic poverty, caste problems and above all, environmental overload from rapid urbanisation.

But these seem quibbles alongside the tremendous conviction of the local middle class that theirs is the society of the future. And I can't help but believe that these people have the ability to make it so, despite their problems.

So where does this leave Nepal, a land where entropy seems written on stone in the tablets of history. I compare those selfsame aspirational middle classes and come up gloomy, despite the occasional gloss of new media and new buildings in Kathmandu. The king, the king, the king, what will he do next? The question on everyone's lips is hardly modern and forward looking. And as night descends, fear of the Maoists or the security forces or both settles over a countryside where development is actually unravelling, where the achievements of democracy and aid are eclipsed by violence.

India's newspaper stories about Nepal, most of them written by stringers in Kathmandu, are mere accounting. So many dead, so much rumour, so little hope. Nowhere does one find analysis or forethought, some attempt to comprehend a neighbour's woes. It's a frightful contrast to the attitude at so many Nepali dinner tables, that India is just waiting to take over and create itself another state. On the contrary, those Indians who know anything about Nepal are mostly sad that the hope of the 1990s seems to have been dashed north and east of the border.

India, it seems to me, has never really coveted Nepali territory or its occupants. This is a canard fostered by extremist forces in the kingdom, right and left, to account for their own excesses and incompetence. The Indians would like nothing better than a Nepal that is prosperous, happy and at peace. Of course there would be disputes galore, mostly driven by the rapacious border mafias in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, whose greed and corruption is legendary and who wield more than a little political clout. There might also be misguided Hindu nationalism in New Delhi that sees a Hindu Rastriya in the Himalaya, and wants one for itself.

But more and more, Nepal needs India to be its friend. And yes, even the occasional mentor. No more than that mind but Kathmandu and Delhi need to work together on establishing democracy and development that the kingdom so badly needs. That doesn't mean any loss of sovereignty at all. Of what use is freedom to those who know only poverty, fear and decline? This then is an urgent call for the diplomats, politicians, leaders, kings, commoners, business types, journalists and development specialists on both sides of this troubled border to start collaborating.

India can be far, far more generous and spacious with Nepal. The kingdom can stop mistrusting its giant neighbour and work alongside all South Asian nations for regional prosperity and peace. It's the only way forward.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)