Talking straight in the shadows
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.