Next Door Nepal: Delhi’s course cor­rec­tion

People's Review - - COMMENTARY -

BY YUBARAJ GHIMIRE Nepal and In­dia need to en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity and bring the two sides closer, in­clud­ing the minds of peo­ple, Prime Min­is­ter Sher Ba­hadur Deuba told Sushma Swaraj, In­dia's ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter, dur­ing their 20-minute group meet­ing on Wed­nes­day, which was fol­lowed by a one-on-one that lasted 10 min­utes. That one sen­tence re­flects the cur­rent state of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, a le­gacy of civil­i­sa­tion, cul­ture, his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy both sides have ac­tively un­der­mined in the past decade. Swaraj, who was in Kath­mandu to at­tend the BIMSTEC min­is­te­rial-level meet­ing, spent a sub­stan­tial part of her two­day visit with Nepali ac­tors in­clud­ing Deuba. The mes­sage she tried to con­vey was In­dia wanted a con­struc­tive en­gage­ment with Nepal and erase the image of an “ex­ter­nal mi­cro-man­ager”. Swaraj told Deuba that Prime Min­is­ter Modi was ea­ger to wel­come him in In­dia. Her ad­vice to the Mad­hesi lead­ers, all of them from the Ras­triya Janata Party, which is now un­happy with both Delhi and Kath­mandu, was to par­tic­i­pate in the lo­cal bod­ies poll that is to be fol­lowed by elec­tions to the provinces and the fed­eral par­lia­ment be­tween mid-Septem­ber and late Jan­uary next year. Deuba said these elec­tions will be cru­cial mile­stones — proof of the ex­e­cu­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion that In­dia of­fi­cially has only “taken note of” and not wel­comed. The par­tic­i­pa­tion of the RJP in the elec­tion at In­dia's be­hest marks a re­ver­sal of its ear­lier pol­icy of poll boy­cott, which too was backed by Delhi. Delhi's change of course on the Mad­hesi stance could be a tac­ti­cal de­ci­sion and not a com­plete re­jec­tion of its pre­vi­ous stand. It may have been in­flu­enced by the stand-off with China and the re­al­i­sa­tion in Delhi that the un­prece­dented level of anti-In­dia feel­ing in Nepal could be­come counter pro­duc­tive. The In­dian stance on the con­sti­tu­tion and the eco­nomic block­ade that fol­lowed the Mad­hesi protests af­ter Septem­ber 2015 are the two is­sues that cre­ated the anti-In­dia feel­ing in Nepal. The cri­sis also al­lowed key Nepali ac­tors to push through the hastily pre­pared con­sti­tu­tion with­out fol­low­ing due process. Less than 20 months af­ter the statute was pro­mul­gated, the CPN (Maoist Cen­tre), the sec­ond largest party in the rul­ing coali­tion and the third largest group in par­lia­ment, fears that the Nepali Congress headed by Deuba and the main Op­po­si­tion, the CPN-Uni­fied Marx­ist Lenin­ist, may gang up to re­store the monar­chy and Nepal's Hindu na­tion sta­tus. “If they get a chance, they will bring monar­chy back. But they will first de­clare Nepal a Hindu coun­try again,” CPN (Maoist Cen­tre) head and for­mer PM, Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal said re­cently. The de­vel­op­ment in­di­cates the grow­ing dis­trust among the rul­ing coali­tion part­ners, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. Da­hal's ap­pre­hen­sions may also have to do with Deuba's In­dia visit next week and Delhi's vis­i­ble roll­back of its sup­port to the rad­i­cal agenda of forces like the Maoists. Dur­ing their vis­its to Delhi prior to the pro­mul­ga­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion, both Da­hal and Deuba were ad­vised by se­nior BJP lead­ers and au­thor­i­ties in the gov­ern­ment to at least avoid men­tion­ing Nepal as a “sec­u­lar coun­try” if restor­ing the “Hindu sta­tus” was not im­me­di­ately pos­si­ble. The CPN (Maoist Cen­tre) had ve­toed such a move. But with rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their agenda los­ing pub­lic sup­port, and In­dia re­luc­tant to pa­tro­n­ise them, Nepal's pol­i­tics and con­sti­tu­tion may be in for big changes. The Nepali peo­ple were de­nied a role in “de­cid­ing” cru­cial is­sues, in­clud­ing whether the coun­try should stay with the monar­chy or opt for re­pub­li­can­ism, adopt fed­er­al­ism or a de­cen­tralised uni­tary sys­tem of gov­er­nance, turn sec­u­lar or con­tinue as a Hindu state. This is the sin­gu­lar rea­son for the peo­ple's lack of own­er­ship in the cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion. Much of the rad­i­cal agenda orig­i­nally be­longed to the Maoists, but was adopted by the lead­er­ships of the Nepali Congress and the Mad­hesi groups when all three out­fits got to share power af­ter 2006. The pe­riod af­ter the adop­tion of the rad­i­cal agenda saw Nepali po­lit­i­cal ac­tors and In­dian babus mi­cro-man­ag­ing Nepal's pol­i­tics. This phase desta­bilised Nepal and cost In­dia the good­will it used to com­mand. Swaraj also met Mad­hav Nepal, for­mer PM and leader of UML, a party per­ceived to have pushed Nepal into China's lap when its chief K.P. Oli was the PM. Both lead­ers agreed that there was a great need to dis­pel the “mis­un­der­stand­ings” that cloud the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. For that to hap­pen, In­dia will have to per­suade the top Nepali po­lit­i­cal ac­tors — the Nepali Congress, Maoists, UML and Mad­hesi groups — to re­view the rad­i­cal agenda they adopted un­der In­dia's mediation in Novem­ber 2005, and in­volve peo­ple di­rectly in set­tling the is­sues once and for all. If In­dia asks for a larger role for Nepali peo­ple in shap­ing the po­lit­i­cal course and the con­sti­tu­tion, not only will the po­lit­i­cal process and the statute gain in cred­i­bil­ity but a fair amount of the neg­a­tive feel­ings to­wards In­dia will also be dis­pelled. If Swaraj's out­reach is the sign of a new begin­ning, Nepal-In­dia re­la­tions can hope to be on the right track in the near fu­ture. (yubaraj.ghimire@ex­pressin­dia.com)

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