4-10 October 2013 #676

Failed experiment

New Delhi’s overt and covert efforts to influence Nepali politics haven’t been in India’s own national interest
Anurag Acharya
There is a popular story in Panchatantra, the collection of animal fables in Sanskrit passed down as oral tradition in the subcontinent for generations. Two cats fighting over a morsel of food are unable to decide for themselves and turn to a monkey watching from the top of the tree who of course gobbles up the food himself.

Sudheer Sharma’s new book Prayogshala (Laboratory) is a blow-by-blow account of how our political actors handed over the stick to outsiders after they failed to manage things on their own. Not that Sharma breaks any new ground, but he weaves a gripping tale of what is only whispered in hush-hush tones in Kathmandu’s cocktail circuit and the corridors of Singha Darbar.

If there were no dates, time, and protagonists behind the events, Sharma’s book could well be the best political fiction of the year. But after you have flipped through 390 pages, you realise that in Nepal’s hyper-reality we live in a make-believe world. What the realists call hard-ball politics in international relations is played out in the surreal world of subterranean Kathmandu and Delhi.

Prayogshala does not have much analysis, it simply chronicles major events of our recent history based on Sharma’s copious interviews: the horrific years of the conflict, the royal massacre, Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006, the People’s Movement and Madhes Uprising, elections and the dissolution of the CA, and the years of endless transition.

But while recounting the events, Sharma fills in off-the-record information, inaccessible to most, to expose the dirty tricks and back-stabbing behind the ‘grand design’ and ‘hidden hand’. 

The most controversial chapters in the book are about the royal massacre of 2001 when 10 members of Nepal’s royal family were murdered and the tragedy was blamed on Crown Prince Dipendra running amok. Through reference of sourced information and personal testimony, the author makes a compelling argument that the killings may well have been a fit of rage, but there was more to it. Did Birendra send a distress call to KV Rajan, then Indian ambassador?

But most of the book revolves around the role of India’s secretive intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in orchestrating a 'safe-landing' for Maoists in Nepali politics and their growing interference since. Sharma quotes former RAW chief who tries to explain New Delhi’s strategic interest in allowing Nepali Maoists to operate freely from India even as it was battling its own Maoists in several states along Indo-Nepal border.

Sharma details the coercive engagement RAW and the Indian government had with different political players in the country to forge the ceasefire agreement, to their role in stand-off between the Maoists and the Nepal Army, making and breaking of the governments, and brokering various political agreements.

New Delhi’s main intention all along, it seems, was stability in the region by containing Maoist conflict from spilling over into its own territory and countering growing Chinese interest by consolidating its own influence in Nepali politics. The idea of top level political engagement with disguised diplomacy was working well, but as Sharma notes, national and international developments distracted the Indian political establishment and exasperated with the Maoist tantrums they handed over the stick to South Block which made a complete mess of it.

So, what did New Delhi gain out of this protracted experiment? It could not weaken the Maoists even after the party went through a vertical split. In fact, the Baidya faction has become more anarchic. Despite their efforts, Madhesi parties remain a loose coalition of differing political actors who may be close to New Delhi, but remain independent and driven by political mood on the ground.

Traditional ties with the Nepali Congress that went sour after 2008 CA elections are still cold and frequent incidents of Indian soldiers bullying Nepalis in border towns have stoked anti-Indian sentiments among ordinary Nepalis.

Reading Prayogshala one comes to the sobering realisation that India did what all strong nations do to weaker neighbours: use its vulnerable politics to influence actors and consolidate its own interest. What is appalling though, is our own greedy leaders continued their cat fight, salivating at the idea of the monkey sitting atop to drop the bread right into their mouth.

By now, every major political actor of this country, be it the ex-king or the president, the Maoists, Madhesis, NC, UML, and other institutional players including those in Nepal Army and the judiciary must have realised how it feels to be used and abused, discredited and humiliated in front of their own people.

The last CA was dissolved not because of foreign conspiracy or big ideological differences. It was dissolved because the leaders refused to negotiate sincerely, instead seeking help from the ‘hidden hand’.

The second CA elections is an opportunity for our netas to reclaim their pride and get their own house in order by finalising the statute drafted by the people and for the people in a true spirit of democracy. It is also an opportunity for India to salvage its image and support the political process in Nepal. The best way to do it, is to do nothing.

Read also:

Scoops about spooks, AJAZ ASHRAF

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