Kamal Nayak (KATHMANDU, 4 Janauary 2017) – Maoist Chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda’s election as the Prime Minister of Nepal on 3rd August 2016 made Indian political establishment feel happier than Prachanda himself. The reasons for this euphoria in Delhi were understandable. It was important for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have this development and sell it to his home audience as a mark of success of his foreign policy. More importantly, there was sufficient evidence backing the perception of Indian plot in getting Prachanda to the seat of Nepal’s Prime Minister. (Read: Tracing India’s role in Installing Prachanda as Nepal prime minister).
Once elected to the post he so coveted, Prachanda had his task clearly outlined.
On the foreign policy front, he was required to block or at least delay Nepal’s engagements with China, which were initiated under his predecessor KP Sharma Oli’s premiership, causing discomfitures in India. Prachanda partly successfully did it with the help of India. He was able to unmake the preparations of the Kathmandu visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last October. Had Oli remained in Power until October as he wished, the Chinese Supremo would have definitely visited Kathmandu to kick off several of the Infrastructure agreements he and Mr. Oli had concluded in Beijing in March 2016.
The durability of this policy, however, was unsustainable given China’s growing power and determination to expand foothold in South Asia. China knows there is no better gateway to the Region than from Nepal. Sensing this, India further acted to deepen Nepal-China misunderstandings. Nepal’s Prime Minister-in-Waiting Sher Bahadur Deuba was invited to a questionable BJP program in Goa in November, where he met Dalai Lama’s Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay and discussed Tibetan refugee issues, a deliberate move designed to irk China. Deuba, tempted to get India’s support to become the Next Prime Minister of Nepal in April-May 2017, agreed to fall into the trap, but returned to “One-China Policy” as soon as he landed back in Nepal.
Taking an openly Pro-Tibet posture is not only untenable for Nepali leaders; any hush-hush step would also prove counterproductive for Nepal’s geopolitical sensibilities, so carefully cultivated for centuries. Flouting the China-element of Nepali state, a guarantor of Nepal’s sovereign security, cannot go very long as proven by the first ever Nepal-China joint military exercise proposed to kick start on February 10, even under Kathmandu’s India-crafted political dispensation.
This exercise is symbolic in nature, but the fact that its announcement first came from China shows the dragon beginning to assert itself. Let alone Prachanda, it is beyond Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s capacity to underestimate China, as seen recently how China, in response to a slightest hint of Indian provocation, drove Russia into supporting China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, catching India by a total surprise. Modi is clueless as to handling this issue, and therefore, is planning to talk to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Rogozin, who visits India to participate in Vibrant Gujrat Summit next month. Here also, Modi invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Medvedev, but Putin deputed Rogozin. Muscular diplomacy is not in India’s favor anywhere; not in Russia, not in China or USA or Pakistan; definitely not in Nepal.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda is increasingly finding it hard to keep doing India’s bidding at the expense of China. He will soon hit the stumbling block, from where he cannot move any further and he will fall.
In the domestic front, Prachanda’s major task was to amend the constitution to address seven issues that were raised by India in 2015, just before the unceremonious economic blockade Nepal faced. In the frontline, there were Madhesi political parties of Nepal to claim responsibility of the blockade and demand for constitutional amendments, which in reality was India’s doing. Presence of these Political parties helped India brush aside the issue as Nepal’s internal matter, and claim higher moral ground in the global stage. This is a tactic under Doval Doctrine, which seeks to ram through Indian agendas in “difficult bottlenecks” in the ruse of local contradictions. This is currently at full play in Kashmir and Nepal. It works where pawns are ready to play the ball; it backfires elsewhere.
The promised amendment proposal was finally registered in Nepal’s parliament on 29th November. Having been a witness of India’s involvement in preparing the proposal and Indian activism in favor of the proposal, main opposition CPN-UML blocked parliamentary deliberations. But a Supreme Court ruling on 3rd January opened way for parliament to “exercise its wisdom” over the amendment bill. Its fate hangs in balance now. Given Nepal’s fractious internal politics, it is more likely to be failed than passed.
Soon after the amendment was registered in Nepal’s parliament, India welcomed the development. Mind you, India has not welcomed Nepal’s new constitution yet, although it has termed the first amendment in early 2016 as a positive development.
Informed circles in New Delhi believe that the actual desire of Prime Minister Modi and his team is to see Nepal as a Hindu State, which it used to be until 2007. However, saying this in the open is not possible since India itself is a constitutionally secular state. Saying this openly would also globally undermine Modi’s carefully crafted image of Vikas Purush for the Western consumption.
Pronouncement of Hindutva from Modi would reduce him to the Gujarat-riot-era Hindu right winger, yielding a disaster for western investment and import of technology in India. So, BJP is under an obligation to wrap the Hindu State idea for Nepal in the cloak of oppressed peoples’ rights, including those of Janajatis and Muslims, who essentially are the biggest opponents of the Hindutva ideology. May be an open advice would work better in Nepal. But no, Modi would want it at any cost, but not at the cost of his re-designed image. Look at the paradox here!!
Then all the dirty work has been left for India’s ambassador to Nepal. Likely to retire in two months, India’s very able ambassador to Kathmandu Ranajit Rae is clearly overworked. His schedule is packed 24/7. On a single day, if he is seen opening a school in the corner of Kanchanpur district of far west Nepal in the morning, he should be hosting a lunch back in Kathmandu in the afternoon. And later in the evening, he should be meeting several political leaders at their homes, involving exhausting trips and tough homework. And he is so much under media scrutiny. Lainchour, the address for India House in Kathmandu, is nowadays synonymously referred to as a place of all intrigues and anti-Nepal conspiracies.
Modi government needs to realize that the policies screwed up by New Delhi cannot be corrected by an ambassador in Kathmandu, how much able the person may be. India now knows economic blockade against Nepal last year was unsuccessfully designed for BJP’s gains in Bihar elections. Nepalese and Indian people with some wisdom should just pray and hope the upcoming UP elections would not push Modi to further debilitate the grief of Nepali citizenry. The wounds left last year in bilateral relations are already too deep to heal.