Talk­ing straight in the shad­ows

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - BY MAILA BAJE

Chalk one up for cruel can­dor, if you will. With one word put in vi­cious con­text in one in­ter­view, Prime Min­is­ter K. P. Oli has pro­voked the In­dian com­men­tariat into prob­ing his means, mo­tive and op­por­tu­nity. In his in­ter­view with the South China Morn­ing Post, Oli made wide-rang­ing ob­ser­va­tions on Nepal's re­la­tions with its two gi­ant neigh­bors. How­ever, it was his de­sire to deepen ties with China and gain more ‘lever­age' with In­dia, ex­pressed half­way through the 1200plus-word text, which drew New Delhi's al­most ex­clu­sive at­ten­tion. From the re­ac­tions em­a­nat­ing from across the south­ern bor­der, you get a feel­ing that Oli re­ally rubbed it in this time. Clearly, the au­dac­ity in­her­ent in our premier's ar­tic­u­la­tion, more than the sub­stance of the subject, has irked the In­di­ans. Some sec­tions in New Delhi seem to believe they may have gone over­board in seek­ing to woo Oli, to the point of em­bold­en­ing his al­ready pro­nounced rhetor­i­cal bold­ness. Is this what you get af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi's phone calls and Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj's per­sonal ex­er­tions? Oth­ers have sought to put on a brave face, coun­sel­ing faith­ful pa­tience in the Nepali Congress' in­evitable re­vival, tinged with in­ti­ma­tions of the avail­abil­ity of other op­tions. Keep­ing Bhutan largely within the fold amid the Dok­lam/Donglang face-off was a tri­umph for In­dia. But land­locked Nepal veer­ing in the di­rec­tion of is­lands and ar­chi­pel­ago like Sri Lanka and the Mal­dives? From that stand­point, you could even make the case that In­dia's re­ac­tion has been sub­dued. But, then, can you re­ally put too much pre­mium on what tran­spires in pub­lic, as far as Nepal and In­dia are con­cerned? The South China Morn­ing Post no doubt has been re­flect­ing Bei­jing's think­ing more closely with ev­ery pass­ing decade of Hong Kong's re­ver­sion to Chi­nese sovereignty. Yet it is not in the league of the Global Times. More­over, the In­dian by­line ac­com­pa­ny­ing the story may have served to con­fer on its con­tent a de­gree of in­de­pen­dence and cred­i­bil­ity. But the re­al­ity that it was a non-Han who in­ter­viewed Oli could equally sig­nify much more in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Oli prob­a­bly did not com­pare notes with Chi­nese rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Kath­mandu be­fore open­ing up to the SCMP re­porter. But he isn't some­one apt to shoot from the hip, ei­ther. Hav­ing hugged him hard with smooches all over, the In­di­ans could eas­ily un­der­stand Oli's des­per­a­tion to breathe free for a while. A head fake in the me­dia would give of­fi­cial New Delhi enough cover to pur­sue its real poli­cies vis-à-vis our new gov­ern­ment, while let­ting the spores of ap­pre­hen­sion ger­mi­nate fur­ther north. The Chi­nese, for their part, cer­tainly won't com­mit too much to the pre­pon­der­ance of the left here with­out prop­erly siz­ing up Oli. A key test would be the swift­ness with which our prime min­is­ter fol­lows through on some of the things he said in the in­ter­view, such as re­viv­ing the Budi Gand­kai dam pro­ject. As Bei­jing widens its gaze, the Nepali me­dia, in play­ing up US Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump's oth­er­wise rou­tine con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sage to our prime min­is­ter, may have given Bei­jing some­thing more to pon­der.

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