'Game of Thrones' be­gins; re­sults awaited

People's Review - - OP-ED - mr­josse@gmail.com BY M.R. JOSSE

KATH­MANDU: A ' Game of Thrones' of sorts has been in­au­gu­rated with the in­stal­la­tion of the Prachanda-led coali­tion, born amidst the de­bris of the K.P. Sharma Oli-headed ad­min­is­tra­tion - in­deli­bly as­so­ci­ated in the pub­lic mind with a ro­bust de­fence of the na­tional in­ter­est and far-reach­ing strate­gic innovations vis-à-vis Nepal-China re­la­tions. Prachanda's in­duc­tion as Oli's suc­ces­sor - hailed by the In­dian me­dia in one voice - was con­joined with the per­cep­tion that the new gov­ern­ment would re­flex­ively tilt to­wards New Delhi, which had made its dis­plea­sure over Oli's 'na­tion­al­ist' stance am­ply clear.

BAL­ANCE: AN IL­LU­SION

I shall now fo­cus on the broad geopo­lit­i­cal as­pects of the In­dia-China 'Game of Thrones', as re­flected in re­cent de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing Prachanda's gim­micky idea of dis­patch­ing his two se­nior DPMs to In­dia and China, as spe­cial en­voys, to ' prove' he be­lieves Nepal must fol­low a bal­anced for­eign pol­icy vis-a-vis In­dia and China -a re­jec­tion of South Block's the­ol­ogy that Nepal-In­dia re­la­tions are 'spe­cial'. How far Prachanda suc­ceeds in host­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping this year re­mains to be seen, although from his speedy dis­patch of Fi­nance Min­is­ter Kr­ishna Ba­hadur Ma­hara to Bei­jing it might ap­pear to ex­pe­dite it. Af­ter all, did not the pres­i­dent of a pres­ti­gious Bei­jing-based think tank pub­licly state in Kath­mandu the other day that a visit by Xi "de­pends on Nepal's readi­ness"? (vide, Kath­mandu Post, 11 Au­gust) All is not as lu­cid as ap­pears in Singha Dur­bar's hall of mir­rors. Thus, while Home Min­is­ter Bi­mal­en­dra Nidhi's 'ya­tra' to Delhi os­ten­si­bly seems to bal­ance Ma­hara's sor­tie to Bei­jing, in fact the ' game' is loaded in In­dia's favour. Go­ing by a Kath­mandu Post front-page story on 12 Au­gust, one of Nidhi's 'tasks' would be to se­cure the visit of In­dian Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee not only much be­fore the an­tic­i­pated visit to Xi (in Oc­to­ber?) but tim­ing Mukher­jee's call with the first an­niver­sary of Con­sti­tu­tion Day on 25 Septem­ber. A Hi­malayan Times news item adds an­other re­veal­ing di­men­sion: "Nepal wants to host Mukher­jee as chief guest on the first an­niver­sary of the pro­mul­ga­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion" - as if to ac­knowl­edge In­dia's spe­cial 'role' in shaping a doc­u­ment that she has, how­ever, roundly tra­duced for its pur­port­edly anti-Madeshi bias! Be that as it may, that Nidhi has been awarded the added re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­sur­ing an of­fi­cial visit to In­dia by Prime Min­is­ter Prachanda in Septem­ber - and reschedul­ing the ear­lier-can­celled visit to In­dia by Pres­i­dent Vidya Bhandari - ex­poses the sleigh of hand in Prachanda's os­ten­si­bly bal­anced for­eign pol­icy gam­bits. The Hi­malayan Times' head­line - "Ef­forts on to en­sure In­dian pres­i­dent's visit be­fore China's" - ef­fec­tively, if per­haps in­ad­ver­tently, lets the cat out of the bag. There is one an­gu­lar­ity that hasn't ap­par­ently been con­sid­ered by Prachanda and his spin meis­ters: the dif­fer­en­tial in the po­lit­i­cal clout of Pres­i­dents Xi and Mukher­jee. Thus, while Mukher­jee is only a cer­e­mo­nial head of state, Xi holds the reigns of state, party and mil­i­tary power in China. The sig­nif­i­cance of their vis­its can­not be equated. Deb Mukher­jee, a for­mer In­dian am­bas­sador, in an ar­ti­cle in the In­dian Ex­press, sug­gests Prachanda "would need to cap­i­talise and build on Oli's open­ings to China for the ben­e­fit of Nepal, with­out need­lessly ag­gra­vat­ing In­dia. Xi Jin­ping's visit to Nepal in Oc­to­ber should be in­dica­tive of how se­ri­ously the Chi­nese wish to pur­sue pro­pos­als mooted dur­ing Oli's visit, which ap­peared at the time to re­flect Nepal's wish list." Trans­lat­ing Mukher­jee's diplo­matese into work-a-day English, Mukher­jee warns that Prachanda should not "need­lessly ag­gra­vate In­dia" - leav­ing it to the Maoist boss to un­ravel its true ram­i­fi­ca­tions, if Nepal "were to cap­i­talise and build on Oli's open­ings to China." On the other hand, it hints - oh, so del­i­cately - that Xi, for his part, should not pur­sue too vig­or­ously "pro­pos­als made dur­ing the Oli visit."

IN­DIA, CHINA: UN­EQUAL

I wish to draw at­ten­tion to In­dian strate­gic thinker C. Raja Mo­han's writeup in the In­dian Ex­press where he states: "In­dia might think of it­self equal to China, but the re­al­ists point to the power shift that has be­gun to ex­press it­self in Bei­jing's ties with Delhi" - while re­mind­ing that China's GDP is "nearly five times big­ger than In­dia's"; that its de­fence ex­pen­di­ture is "four times larger." Though he in­forms that some ar­gue that In­dia should "get used to it", he goes on to ar­gue that his­tor­i­cally weaker states "look for al­liances against the strong... If Delhi con­vinces it­self that Bei­jing is un­likely to ac­com­mo­date In­dia's core con­cerns it will have no op­tion but to find ways to bal­ance Chi­nese power." If that were to hap­pen, it would rep­re­sent a ma­jor de­par­ture in In­dia's ap­proach to China, he avers. Writ­ing days be­fore the visit to Delhi of Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi, Mo­han more than makes plain that In­dia could, in such an even­tu­al­ity, seek al­liances with other pow­ers. It does not re­quire the brains of a Ein­stein to fig­ure that the prime can­di­date would be the United States with whom In­dia is al­ready locked in an in­cip­i­ent al­liance. One does not have to delve very much into the past to 'prove' that such a move against China would not rep­re­sent a de­par­ture from past pat­tern; it would rather con­form to a fa­mil­iar pro­to­type. Al­low me to trans­port you to Oc­to­ber 1962, in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the Sino-In­dian border con­flict. Then, as Neville Maxwell in his densely doc­u­mented, 'In­dia's China War', re­minds: "The United States, Bri­tain, and other Western pow­ers...had been seen to step for­ward staunchly in the hour of In­dia's need, de­nounc­ing China, of­fer­ing In­dia weapons and other as­sis­tance... "On re­ceipt of Nehru's call for help Pres­i­dent Kennedy had dis­patched Averell Har­ri­man to In­dia with a team of high-level State Depart­ment and Pen­tagon ad­vis­ers and Gen­eral Paul Adams, com­man­der of the mo­bile strike force which the United States kept for emer­gency ground ac­tion." And so on. To re­turn to where we be­gun, a fierce 'Game of Thrones' com­pe­ti­tion over Nepal has thus be­gun. Let's await its re­sults.

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