Dis­sect­ing Delhi’s Diplo­macy

People's Review - - LEADER - BY P. KHAREL

More than a fort­night af­ter In­dian Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj's 25-hour visit “with­out agenda” and “with­out in­vi­ta­tion” to Kathmandu, peo­ple con­tinue to dis­cuss it as “un­timely”, con­sid­er­ing that the Sher Ba­hadur Deuba-led coali­tion cabi­net was on its way out and the KP Oli-headed CPN (UML)-Maoist Cen­tre team was im­pa­tiently wait­ing for gov­ern­ing from Singh Dur­bar. The pot­pourri tag of the visit in­cluded the el­e­ment of Swaraj's visit not as “a min­is­ter” but as In­dia's rul­ing group, Bharatiya Janata Party. And no for­mal in­vi­ta­tion was sent. For long the “in­ap­pro­pri­ate visit” is likely to be a ref­er­ence point for those im­put­ing In­dian gov­ern­ment's mo­tive in send­ing its min­is­ter to Kathmandu with­out any sense of tim­ing. Hav­ing felt the pulse of Nepali lead­ers reg­u­larly, New Delhi con­sid­ered it worth­while to go ahead in meet­ing the Nepali lead­ers at the ear­li­est. RPP Pres­i­dent and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Ka­mal Thapa termed the visit's pa­pher­na­lia ex­hib­ited servi­tude on Nepal's for­mer prime min­is­ters' part by troop­ing to the vis­i­tor's place of so­journ shed­ding all diplo­matic norms. Although his own party pres­i­dent and im­me­di­ate past Prime Min­is­ter Pushpa Ka­mal Da­hal was among those who paid a call-on Swaraj, Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha de­scribed the visit as “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” at a time when a de­feated gov­ern­ment was wind­ing up its busi­ness and an­other group was all set to take over. He dis­missed the ex­is­tence of any “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” be­tween Nepal and In­dia, terming such ties only com­pro­mised Nepal's sov­er­eign right to make its own de­ci­sions with­out hav­ing to re­fer them to the ap­proval of an­other coun­try. Ex­perts pa­tro­n­ised by state-sup­ported foun­da­tions and re­tired of­fi­cers in In­dia have been lament­ing since the past few years, es­pe­cially af­ter the In­dian trade block­ade in 2018, that In­dia had lost “con­sid­er­able ground to China in the re­cent times”. The con­clu­sion is cor­rect. Nepalis have re­alised with greater de­ter­mi­na­tion that al­ter­na­tives are al­ways re­as­sur­ing in preparations of po­ten­tial rainy days too. For a land­locked, agra­nian econ­omy, lack of vi­able al­ter­na­tives can be crip­pling to the daily life of an av­er­age cit­i­zen. The Madesh clo­sure two years ago, spear­headed at Delhi's be­hest, jolted most Nepalis into re­assess­ing the “friendly” neigh­bour's in­tent and pur­pose. Nepalis sur­vived the bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence as they did sim­i­lar block­ades at least twice in the 1960s and 1989-90.

NA­TIONAL FEEL­ING: The pos­i­tive side of block­ade was a surge in na­tional feel­ings. Groups that pre­ferred to re­main silent on the is­sue that ad­versely af­fected all Nepalis were ac­corded low opin­ion. Among the large par­ties, Nepali Congress had to pay the price of hav­ing kept si­lence dur­ing the In­dian block­ade. It suf­fered its worst ever de­feat in the 2017 lo­cal, pro­vin­cial and par­lia­men­tary polls. On the other hand, CPN (UML) and Maoist Cen­tre, which had com­bined as coali­tion part­ners dur­ing the test­ing times, gained the most. They emerged as the ma­jor­ity com­bi­na­tion in the new par­lia­ment. Ras­triya Pra­jatantra Party was re­duced to a lone seat in par­lia­ment and found it­self pa­thet­i­cally marginalised in lo­cal bod­ies as well, sharly con­trast­ing with its sta­tus as the king-mak­ing group­ing in the pre­vi­ous house. Hence the Swaraj visit did not win many ad­mir­ers nor did it fail to con­vey the mes­sage that it was los­ing ground in Nepal and hence the need for a cor­rec­tive course. This will be re­it­er­ated if In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi does be­come the first for­eign head of gov­ern­ment to pay a trip to Nepal af­ter the new gov­ern­ment un­der a new Con­sti­tu­tion has been formed. This would also be ahead of the long-awaited visit to Kathmandu by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping's. Nepalis have more than ad­e­quate ref­er­ence points as rea­sons for be­ing ex­tra cau­tious with the ges­tures from their south­ern neigh­bour. As the late King Biren­dra once told a for­eign news me­dia, Nepalis feel “cheated” when it came to re­la­tions with In­dia. If Modi does make a visit to this coun­try in the next few weeks, it should not be re­jected as an­other ploy to med­dle in the af­fairs well within Nepal's sov­er­eign rights. REF­ER­ENCE RE­BUFF: Such visit can be wel­comed as a pos­i­tive mea­sure in diplo­macy on New Delhi's party, aimed at re­gain­ing the lost level of good­will and trust from Nepalis. The ca­sual treat­ment meted out to Nepal was tellingly in­di­cated by the fact Modi's pre­de­ces­sor Man­mo­han Singh, dur­ing his ten-year ten­ure in of­fice, paid of­fi­cial vis­its to more than 90 coun­tries on all con­ti­nents and re­gions, but he skipped Nepal. Nepal's for­mer am­bas­sador to South Ko­rea and reg­u­lar scribe Ka­mal Koirala wrote in Sanghu weekly not long ago: “Not­ing the un­bear­able in­ter­fer­ence by In­dian am­bas­sador(s) in Nepal's in­ter­nal af­fairs, BP [Bise­shor Prasad Koirala] shed the il­lu­sion [of in­ten­tions of New Delhi]…Un­able to counter Nepalis' deep feel­ings of na­tional in­de­pen­dence, free­dom and na­tional in­tegrity, they tried to in­tro­duce a new phrase, ‘Ma­hen­dra-na­tion­al­ism'. Af­ter the 2005-6 move­ment, the na­far­i­ous ac­tiv­ity of a cam­paign to ‘flush out hill peo­ple' from terai was un­leashed.” Such as­sess­ments might have led Nepalis to be­gin re­assert­ing for ini­tia­tives aimed at not be­ing held hostage to a suf­fo­cat­ing sin­gle sup­plier of ba­sic items such as food and fuel while, at the same time, re­ori­ent­ing the coun­try's for­eign pol­icy slowly but surely.

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