Binoj Basnyat (3 August, 2021) – Nepal and India’s people-to-people relationship need not be examined nor does the strong bond between cultures and traditions need to be questioned. While reading some opinions on diplomacy and Indian policies towards Nepal in the past month, we can see two important subjects pointing to the future of the bilateral relationship that stand out. The first is India’s eye on China’s growing influence in Nepal, which is believed to be well supported by the communist parties of both Nepal and China as well as a widening affinity and growing relationship between various political forces and stakeholders. Second, is the important example of the people-to-people relationship, cultural and traditional practices that form the foundation of the special Nepal-India bond. Also visible is the effects of the new geopolitical realities on the current relationship between India and Nepal.
There is also a strong indication that past policy orchestrators in India and Nepal are responsible for aggravating instability. Democracy is not at stake in Nepal, but senior political leaders, political parties, and the system of governance lie open to risk due to irresponsible statements and attacks. People love rightful democracy and would back a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Picking up on these points, it is important to look into the loopholes that can be used to further worsen Nepal-India ties, not only at a political level but also at a people-to-people level. While the aspiration for functional democracy in Nepal lives to thrive, the opportunity to resolve and rebuild strong Nepal-India ties is visible but policymakers need to act now.
It is important to look into the loopholes that can be used to further worsen Nepal-India ties, not only at a political level but also at a people-to-people level
Nepal and India have always stood by each other in their political journey from the Independence of India in 1947 to Nepal’s declaration of the Republic in 2008. India’s interests, time and again, have swung towards South Asia with the “Neighbourhood First” policy. But, the 12-point agreement and Nepal’s political, administrative, and social alteration are being questioned.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in India supported by the Indian Communist Party in 2006 initiated the 12-point agreement between the Nepal Communist Party Maoists (NCPM) and the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), which later signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) on 21 November 2006 between His majesty’s Government of Nepal and the NCPM. NCPM got closer to the democratic forces with the UPA government’s backup. NCPM apprehended that military victory was not feasible in opposition to the Royal Nepali Army. SPA was displeased by King Gyanendra heading the Executive after the coup in 2002. It was contemplated to be an exploitation of the democratic values and misappropriation of the democratic constitution. All the three stakeholders met at one common platform, with a common agenda of ending the power struggle between the ruling monarchy and the political parties—and was supported by India.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India was not content with the 2015 Constitution; an envoy of PM Modi was sent to Kathmandu to apprise the political parties, mainly the Nepali Congress and the United Marxist Leninist, of the concern about accommodating all sections of society and their fundamental constitutional rights. The Madhesi, Janajatis, Tharus as well as Rastriya Prajatantra Party—a pro-monarchy force—did not acknowledge the constitution that was promulgated on 20 September 2015.
It was contemplated to be an exploitation of the democratic values and misappropriation of the democratic constitution
King Gyanendra’s take-over as the head of the Executive can be perceived as a failure of the Nepali Congress (NC)-led government to examine and deal with the Maoists conflict on two counts. One, bringing the Maoists into the democratic framework, which had happened before with the Maoists’ participation in two constituent assembly elections. On the other hand, it should have defeated the Maoists using military force, which was not the case.
The role of the monarchy
The fundamental reason for the transformation can be argued to be that the monarchy turned to China and has swayed the anti-India rhetoric. In the domestic political front, the monarchy had created obstructions by centralising political authority in the hands of a few.
It is arguable that the UNCPM-led people’s war was a strategic miscalculation and did not prefigure justly for South Asian security. Geopolitical sensitivities and the evolving risk in Nepal’s national security gave rise to the Maoists people’s war, while the Maoists insist that the war was to overthrow the monarchy.
Inconsistent Indian policies are paving the way for governments in power to engage or intervene in their own philosophical theory and downgrade the Nepal-India rapport from time-to-time. This is not to say that the Nepali policymakers are truthful and flawless, but the Nepal-India special friendship has reached its lowest point in more than half a century with various acknowledged factors contributing to it. It cannot be repudiated that Nepal is occupied with conspiracy theories that places India to be the root cause of all in-house problems, especially at a time when it needs to further expand on its valuable relationship with New Delhi.
Geopolitical sensitivities and the evolving risk in Nepal’s national security gave rise to the Maoists people’s war, while the Maoists insist that the war was to overthrow the monarchy.
Nepal’s survival is based on not looking for a new diplomatic philosophy but to continue to follow the policies of King Prithivi Narayan Shah that recognised Nepal to be a “Yam between two boulders”, i.e, India and China. Some policymakers stress that there won’t be any change in the near future. Nepal has had 20 governments in the last 30 years, of which, 12 came to power after having signed the CPA in 2006.
Mongolia could serve as an exemple for Nepal—a country that was aligned with the Soviets from 1921 to 1990 and pursued the ‘third neighbour’ policy, finding that a balanced approach was necessary to deal with Russia and China as geographic neighbours. The ‘third country’ or power for Mongolia has customarily been Japan and Korea and more recently the US to bolster development, become more independent, extend its free market, and remain non-aligned in global affairs. Mongolia-US relations gave it a global standing and the US’s Millennium Challenge Corporation is an important source of funding aimed at essential infrastructural projects and supporting the poor. The India-Mongolia relationship, based on Buddhist traditions has turned into a comprehensive partnership. India now is an important country for Mongolia in both regional and international settings particularly in the context of India’s position in encouraging a multi-polar security structure in Asia.
The way ahead
To bring about constructive headways and to wind-up instability in the Nepal-India relationship in the present geopolitical realities, four factors must be apparent. One, Indian foreign policy towards Nepal should be well spelt out; second, strengthening people-to-people relationship through cultural bonding; third, engagement in developmental efforts to provide solace to the people dwelling in the most expensive country in South Asia along with an operational foundation for strategic connectivity; and finally, to emphasise on collective strategies to address common security challenges. India’s policy in South Asia is based on“Neighbourhood First” but the Nepal-India relationship goes further, not just because of proximity, cultural, and people-to-people relationship but because the two countries have marched together in search of identity, inclusiveness, and a value-based democratic system.
With added prominence due to the China and US rivalry and the unwarranted China and India skirmishes in the Himalayan borders, Nepal’s geostrategic placement makes it liable to instability. Nepal has two possibilities to combat this—one is to find a political and diplomatic resolution, the other would be building the capability and competence of its security forces.
The possibilities strategies should be based on four pillars. Political and diplomatic abilities are supreme weapons in gaining political trust and diplomatic conviction along with international recognition to re-enter sensitively as a global participant. Second, is to identify Nepal’s national interests without playing anti-China or anti-India or China against US or vice versa, which is merely politics of convenience and conspiracy and not of patriotism or nationalism. Third, is to review the Nepal-India security relationship, one of the fundamental aspects of the bilateral relationship. Collective security measures for common challenges to complement national and regional security should become a priority as global concerns are changing, even as the Indo-Pacific Region has now taken precedence and South Asia is its pivot. Lastly, is the risk of regional polarisation, questioning the non-alignment and the firmness of foreign policy amid political chaos. The “third neighbour” policy similar to Mongolia’s could create a conducive environment to work together with contemporary multifaceted challenges and vulnerabilities.
Political and diplomatic abilities are supreme weapons in gaining political trust and diplomatic conviction along with international recognition to re-enter sensitively as a global participant.
The India-China dilemma in the Himalayas is evidence of changing geostrategic issues and it will serve the long-term interests of the Great Powers to protect and revisit Nepal’s borders, which lies on the central subregion of the Himalayan arc. The geopolitical situation is evolving and the great power rivalry is shifting to our part of the world; geopolitical compulsions are visible, and above all, Nepal is politically unstable having gone through multiple crises from the pandemic, weak governance, corruption, and economic contraction to systemic inequality and environmental degradation.
Cold War 2.0 has begun and what remains crucial is how the Nepal-India relationship will take shape and how the special relationship with the “Neighbourhood First” policy will unfold. Nepal and India are deep-rooted friends but in new geopolitical surroundings, there must be a quest of striding together to meet new geopolitical storms.
This article first appeared in New Delhi based Think Tank, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)’s website.