Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
The view from India


NEW DELHI-There has always been a difference between stated and unstated positions in diplomacy. This is particularly true when reporting on the labyrinth that is the Indian establishment and its Nepal approach.

The official stand is that Delhi respects Nepal's rights to build relations with other countries, including China, and it is only natural to do so. In fact, on Saturday evening, Shyam Saran told a select gathering that Nepal is located in a unique position with two booming economies both north and south and it must exploit this advantage.

The very next day, senior officials told us they do not like the growing Chinese role. "It is all adding up, high level visits, military ties, backing the PLA, business interests, developing a dry port," said one.

A few emphasise the booming Sino-India trade ties with Beijing and see it as an opportunity. Most others focus on the conflictual nature of the relationship, highlighting the security aspect and China's 'encirclement' of South Asia.

Or it could be a result of mistrust for Maoists. Apart from Baburam Bhattarai, no other Maoist has a real sense of how Nepal can accrue economic advantages by advancing ties with both countries. All other leaders see China's role as increasing their political leverage vis-a-vis India. It is then natural there will be a backlash from the security wallahs here, who also hint at a possible Maoist involvement in fueling unrest in Darjeeling and propping up Maoists in Bhutan.

On the bilateral front, the stated position is that joint mechanisms have been revived post September and there is progress. But the mood of frustration is clearly apparent.

"Prachanda comes and talks about 10,000MW, Pancheshwor, Saptakosi and Sunkosi projects. As soon as we broach it with the Nepali bureaucrats, they say they do not have the mandate to move ahead on these issues. Why doesn't the PM deliver on what he says?" questions a diplomat.

The Indians have mixed feelings about the peace process. It is their baby and they want it to succeed, a position they have reiterated often. But they do not want it to become an excuse for the Maoists to push their agenda and expand control over what they see as the only possible institution that can provide resistance: the Nepal Army.

What this translates into is a nod for integration, but preferably in other security organs, at only low levels in the army, scattered across regions and battalions, without any space in the command structure. This may not be acceptable to the Maoists.

But Indian officials feel the Maoists are isolated on this issue. "There is no political support from other quarters. And while it appeals to their cadre, the issue does not have a widespread public resonance. So they cannot play the victim card either," one official said, adding that Maoist insistence on this raises doubts about their gameplan.

If they want to be a normal party, why would they want to shove soldiers in the army? Shouldn't they want to use them in normal politics?"

The undercurrent in all these issues is growing doubts about Maoist intentions. The former rebels are seen to be backtracking on democratic commitments ("There is no progress on property return or YCL dismantling.They want maximum control."),

fueling anti-Indian nationalism ("They are playing the same old game.") offending security sensitivities, and not delivering on economic promises.

This also has something to do with the fact that Delhi's heart is still with the Nepali Congress. There is uncanny similarity between what one hears from NC leaders worried about Maoist "totalitarian ambitions" and the position of Indian officials. When NC-Maoist ties approach freezing in a few months India-Maoist ties catch a chill. This may be why the Maoists have been making an effort to reach out to the NC.

But everyone here recognises that NC is a sinking ship, and are frustrated with Girija Koirala for neither doing enough to revive the party nor giving others a chance. Add to this the key policy lesson Indians learnt from the elections: if you strengthen the Madhesi parties, the NC will get weaker. Then you are left only with Maoists if you want a centre that can hold.

The root of all our crises, and possible solutions, however will have to be found domestically. Despite all the concerns, India still wants this process to succeed. It is up to Nepal's political class to make the most of that.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)