It would have taken a brave bet to predict a frozen Indo-Nepal ties a year ago, when the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, made a famous state visit to Nepal which was seen as a renewal of strengthening relations between the two culturally close South Asian nations.
This warmth of relations, however, seems to be dissipating. In a testimony of how foreign relations can change overnight, the connection of strained Nepal-India ties with the new constitution of Nepal is unfortunate. The myth has always been that Nepal-India ties stand on shared understanding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rock-star reception in Kathmandu was the case in point.
Relations between Nepal and India date back to centuries and are based on common goals and agendas. Both countries share social sentiment that binds religiously close citizens of both Nepal and India.
The myth is Nepal conforms to the Indian view. It would be difficult to find an official evidence on that but the political reality inside Nepal has changed over the past decade. The successful peace process, bringing an end to the Maoist insurgency, and the institutionalization of secular republic, in the erstwhile Kingdom of Nepal, are among many examples. The fact is that the diplomatic rhetoric used by India in relation to Nepal does not hold ground anymore. It would be an error to assume Nepal’s consent to the generally and historically held Indian view while Nepal was engulfed with its internal problems. Nepal was not ready then. It is now.
It is important to note the differences between good bilateral relations and aid shows. While the latter would not be possible without the former; excellent relations would normally guarantee a firm show of support and assurance to help a nation achieve success in the diplomatic platform. Questioning Nepal’s successful settlement of conflict-era cases in the United Nations Human Rights Council is not a sign of good foreign relations. Unfortunately, it is a sign of intent. It raises questions on the intentions of the Indian government towards Nepal. A self-proclaimed good neighbor would avoid such blunder. If the power centers in Kathmandu still think India is on a rare anger show; it is living with a myth. India is exercising a modern method of containment- “economic offensive”. Nepal can try but cannot find answers from its incompatible, worn-out foreign policy of maintaining maximum restraint and neutrality.
Nepal’s new constitution evidently guarantees equal rights and is arguably one of the most progressive constitutions of the present time. It is myth, created by India, that the constitution is discriminatory. But a large section of the population in the southern plains of Nepal is dissatisfied with it is a reality. The solution lies in the responsibility of the constitution makers in Kathmandu. A rising power’s inability to transport fuel to a landlocked nation among the violent protests in Nepal is not a myth. But the Nepali government’s reiteration to take responsibility for the security of people transporting fuel is also a reality, for which it is capable of. Also, the entire population facing fuel scarcity for daily needs is a reality. Schools are getting shut, medical needs are soon to be used up and businesses are closing down. These are not myths.
It would be foolish to expect the aggressor to come up with a solution. If it were to do so, it would never impose aggression. The Indian authority have repeatedly stressed their unwillingness to interfere in the “constitution crisis”, Nepal will have to change its course and act. Apart from considering a structural investment on its hydropower energy, time calls Nepal to restructure its foreign policy and learn to assert its values in times of complex problems that nation states have to deal with. Moreover, Nepal faces an internal challenge to persuade its own group of citizens into a constitutional consensus. The Nepali authorities face a bitter reality of having to act immediately. Whether it created its own problems or received a bitter favor from its close friend might qualify as a myth but is inconsequential. Nepal has significant problems to “resolve” itself.
(Author is pursuing Masters in Democracy and Global Transformations at the University of Helsinki, Finland)