20-26 June 2014 #712

Modi-fying Indo-Nepal ties

Nepal has to move beyond subservient and sub-sovereign status
Damakant Jayshi
The buzz that followed the appointment of Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister last month is only going to get louder with the announcement that he will visit Nepal in August.

Modi was in Bhutan this week and in his address to parliament seemed to think he was already in Nepal.  Not since IK Gujral has India had a prime minister more interested in the South Asian neighbourhood.

But when it comes to Nepal, there will be intense speculation and debate on the usual issues that vex relations between Delhi and Kathmandu. The political party leaders in Nepal can be expected to behave predictably: to look for personal, party and national interest – in that order.

An official from India’s Ministry of External Affairs told a visiting Nepali journalist earlier this year that every Nepali prime minister visiting India – with the exception of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Manmohan Adhikari – bad mouthed their personal and party rivals while there. So it does look like the two Maoist prime ministers we’ve had doth complain too much about “Indian hegemony” in Nepal.

Baburam Bhattarai recently brought up the subject of Nepal’s “unequal” relations again. His exact words: “India should stop micro-managing Nepal through its intelligence agencies (RAW) and bureaucracy, and maintain relations with Nepal at the political level.” This, coming from a politician who during the height of Maoist insurgency in Nepal, was mostly in cahoots with Indian spooks from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB). It goes without saying that he offered the same reason RAW has offered through its own Nepali channels: it is “necessary to engage with all actors.”

If Bhattarai has had a change of heart about the pitfalls of engaging with Indian handlers then it is commendable. This still begs two questions: is he sincere in raising this or has he fallen out of favour of the Indian establishment?

The second question is why do our politicians need to engage with the security agencies of friendly countries at all? Isn’t that in itself a proof of an “unequal” relationship? Why can’t the leaders in Nepal gradually work towards a situation where they talk, discuss and negotiate with their political and government counterparts? India says it respects Nepal’s sovereignty and wants political stability. Is interference and micro-managing to ensure that? 

This is not just because most layers in the Indian establishment want sub-sovereign countries in  their immediate neighbourhood. A lot of it has to do with the subservience of Nepal’s politicians and those running the government. By rushing to seek India’s support on matters related to inter- and intra-party rivalries, and even petty personal requests, they open themselves up for  manipulation.

The task of engaging with the Indian political class is long overdue.  I am sure most Nepali leaders have the good of the country at heart. But there is a tendency to seek support from outside for inside struggles for power. The political leaders in Nepal need to resolve to not seek personal and party advantage at the cost of the national interest.

Working for equal status requires strength, will and self-confidence. This is easier said than done. Moreover, it could attract hostility, or at least annoyance, from some quarters in India. But the start has to be made and made soon.

In journalism, we wait for a peg to write a story that has always been there. We have that peg now – a new, decisive government in India whose prime minister acts more like an executive president and wants to leave a stamp of authority. Who knows, he might even see merit in an assertive Nepali leadership.

It may be futile, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.


Read also:

Modi-fying Indo-Nepal ties Editorial

Hindu rate of growth Editorial

Modi doubles down on the neighbourhood, Alyssa Ayres

A raw deal Anurag Acharya

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