Nepali Times
India, Nepal daju-bhai?


Our amazing ability to reach political compromises with foreign assistance is matched by our readiness to accept them as revolutionary. From the dawn of democracy to the restoration of multiparty democracy, Nepali politics has thrived on deals struck among major domestic players through the mediation, arbitration or facilitation of our Indian friends.

In 1951, the "New Delhi compromise" saw Shree Teen Mohan Sumshere Jang Bahadur Rana succeeding himself to become the first prime minister of democratic Nepal. Most of the power squabbles between then and 1960 were settled through the good offices of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in full public glare. The panchayat system did not have to rely too much on Indian assistance for internal conflict resolution because the power equations between our northern and southern neighbours determined much of our politics.

External realities necessitated major internal adjustments. By the last decade of partyless rule, leaders of the Nepali Congress started becoming more visible at diplomatic receptions. Consequently, the panchas allowed the Nepali Congress to carry out its tree plantations and clean-up campaigns as long as it used the prefix "banned". The political change of 1990 was another grand compromise largely facilitated by India against the backdrop of what was heralded as the democratisation of the planet. The Indian government was already supporting the Nepali people's aspirations for liberty by blocking all but two border transit points. Indian opposition leaders of all persuasions arrived in Kathmandu to address the Chaksibari convention to persuade us to rise up against the source of all our troubles. Ever since, our political permutations and combinations have firmly reflected the ancient ties subsisting between Nepal and India and our shared social and cultural heritage. During the days of the hung parliament, Nepal finally succeeded in achieving genuine national reconciliation when the ex-panchas became accepted as full partners of the system that was supposed to have swept them aside. The diplomats in Lainchour deserve full credit for this cleansing of the Nepali body politic.

Our road to perpetual compromise was not without its bumps, though. The Maobadis went underground to present themselves as advocates of total revolution. They, too, have now expressed the their willingness become part of the system they want to dismantle. Since the conference at which the Prachanda Pathists made that policy revision was said to be held in the Indian city of Gorakhpur, speculation on the external hand that might have facilitated this strategic shift is a logical extension of our political discourse.

While the role of our Indian friends in ensuring our well-being is in keeping with the true spirit of our special relations, have we reciprocated the cordiality? The government even today is struggling to prove its friendship but fumbles every time that combative cable operator wants an update on the status of his satellite uplink application. True, the main opposition CPN-UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party have been careful not to use the Supreme Court ruling against the citizenship amendment bill to increase the pressure on the prime minister to step down. However, you cannot gain the confidence of your neighbours by such half-hearted gestures.
It is time for some real thinking on giving and taking. The Indian security establishment, following the tradition of its colonial forebears, has always regarded the Himalaya as the equivalent of the Great Wall of China. From RDX hauls to the Hrithik Roshan protests, everything inevitably gets a security-perception touch. We can try to be a little more accommodating to India in the larger interest of Nepalis by having a frank exchange of ideas on the entire gamut of bilateral ties. The agenda should be flexible enough to include everything from maintaining the status quo of nominal Nepali independence, transforming the country into an autonomous region of India, to gaining full statehood of the most populous democracy on earth. Once the options are on the table, we can decide on our negotiating posture. A couple of things are clear enough. Nepalis have millions of cousins already living across the eastern, southern and western border. Most of us speak better Hindi than former Indian Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. (All India Radio would be happy to amalgamate its domestic and international units handling Nepali programming.)
But let us allow the Indians to do their own homework on what they stand to gain by absorbing an insurgency-battered country whose only natural resource flows down south anyway. What are the benefits for us? We wouldn't have to be constantly duped by the pontificating of politicians whose patriotism ends with the election campaign. We can avoid the affliction of emotional distress every time we see Indian cops raiding suspected hideouts in Baneswor. We get to maintain Nepal's geographical and linguistic identity within a larger federation, which we will understand is no mean achievement once we try locating Prussia on today's political map. We can claim federal subsidies every time we feel the local budget deficit risks spawning heavy inflationary pressures. What's more, we could even lobby with the centre to make Nepal a big export processing zone, with the captains of Indian industry and generals in charge of defence production recreating a military-industrial complex of Eisenhoweresque proportions. Many of us who castigated the BBC a few months ago for asking listeners whether they thought Nepal should come under the Indian security umbrella always knew that Kalapani had gone down the drain. The stream of denunciations was just symptomatic of our inability to break out of the nationalism-soaked mindset three decades of disorganised politics fostered. (What was interesting, though, about that rephrased BBC question was that most of the Indian respondents wanted Nepal to maintain its independence!)

If this modest proposal sounds un-Nepali, we might want to do something tangible that would make us believe that we are truly independent. How about some instant action like, say, inviting Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf on a three-day official visit to Nepal?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)