Personal agenda to dominate Nepal Prime Minister Dahal’s India visit  

Kamal Nayak  (14 September, 2016) – The buzz over Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s official India trip, beginning from 30th September as a three-day affair, is one of “feel-good” in Delhi.

Having painted Dahal as India’s new Best Man in Nepal, a lot of damage control has been done in favour of BJP, which otherwise had been severely criticized for losing out Nepal to China, a wrongly held perception by Delhi’s foreign policy mandarins. This school of thinking traditionally holds a view that India’s neighborhood is the place of its privilege; there should be no space for others to peep; and the non-pliant neighbors must be made to pay. It is a wrongly-held feisty diplomacy, advocated and practised by BJP, on part of India. In reality, while Nepal is within full rights to promote its historical relations with China, even the not-so-pro-Indian class of Kathmandu likes espousing a foreign policy that comes at the expense of India. They know Nepal cannot afford this. BJP also understands, but refuses to accept.

Apparently, Dahal’s Delhi sojourn, a second official one by a Nepali Prime Minister in seven months, appears to be a mere ritual as New Delhi has run out of new things to offer to Nepal and its neighbours just because visits are so often and commitments have already been so high.
In a visit which is expected to focus on development projects, what is said to be in the agenda is Pancheswar Multi-purpose Project, Hulaki Sadak, and financial agreement for the USD 1 billion  assistance to Nepal’s earthquake victims.

Among them, Pancheswar agreement was signed 25 years ago. India has failed to expedite it. Its revival would now be a welcome development.  Hulaki Sadak is the Terai border project first agreed during 1960s with BP Koirala as Nepal’s Prime Minister, and the assistance to quake victims was pledged two years ago in the post-quake donor conference in Kathmandu by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Surprisingly, Indian government this year has reduced the budget earmarked for projects in the neighbouring countries, among them, to Nepali projects by almost 40 percent. New outlays are yet to come.

As goodwill gesture to Dahal, India will commit only one new project: a technical school in Dahal’s home district near Pokhara. Besides this, Dahal has his more vital personal agenda in the visit, which he is carrying behind the illuminations. He seems to be realizing more and more that his stay in Nepal’s political amphitheatre would very much depend on Delhi’s blessings because the sun seems to be setting fast on his Maoist party.

With an outsized organization at the top and with his erstwhile comrade Dr Baburam Bhattarai giving him competition from Naya Shakti party, going is getting tougher for Dahal every day. So, in Delhi, Dahal is definitely, one more time, in person, making confession of his past errors, implying that he made mistakes by propagating anti-India movements, but now he wants to remain Delhi’s yes-man forever. He is also seeking Delhi’s good offices in concluding the transitional justice process, both by mediation with the West, and by remaining supportive to ensure safe closure of cases in Nepal.

The most important theme, however, would be his beseech to New Delhi in getting Nepal’s constitutional problem resolved. He has started on a wrong foot on this. First, he unnecessarily announced that he would register a proposal of constitution amendment in Nepal’s parliament before his India visit. He couldn’t achieve that. Second, India’s handling of Madhesi issue has exacerbated it so much that it doesn’t seem resolvable in the near future. Add to this the hidden agenda of Sangh Pariwar and RSS to reverse Nepal’s secularism and federalism.

When Nepal’s Foreign Minister Prakash Mahat was in Delhi a couple of days ago, language and subject of the joint statement have almost been finalized. In diplomacy, such thing is always a work in progress until it is actually done. Like in February during KP Oli’s visit, Nepal has asked India to welcome Nepal’s new constitution, which India has refused again. Five different BJP leaders in the know, on condition of strict anonymity, were uniform on one thing, Minister Mahat and NC leader Deep Kumar Upadhyaya have conveyed to New Delhi that the amendments as demanded by Madhesi parties would be tabled and passed before President Pranav Mukharji’s Kathmandu visit, likely to take place early November. Prime Minister Dahal will reaffirm this with Prime Minister Modi. Kathmandu will measure Dahal’s success in his ability in getting India welcome the new constitution.

One BJP leader, closely following developments in Nepal, went ahead saying aap ne likh diya toh hum maare jaayenge, abhi ktini muskil se sambhala hai, lekin ek baat to taya hai ki kathmando mein sambidhan kriyanwayan hona mushkil hai.(If you quote, it will be difficult for us because you see it is with such difficulty things have been managed, but one thing is clear that implementing constitution in Kathmandu is tough).

How to explain this? May be BJP is not talking about the constitution anymore knowing that it will die its premature death, or may be the government will adopt a softer approach towards Kathmandu, which it thinks is friendly to India.

In this, Modi’s own personal agenda is attached. He wants to focus on Pakistan, NSG membership and rivalry with China. He wants to be perceived as a big-stage player because next two years of his tenure will determine whether he can muster another majority government in Delhi.

Countries like Nepal offer strategic value but they also have an uncanny ability to drag an Indian Prime Minister in hot soup as seen during the six-month border-blockade of Nepal last year. Indian media and government kept lying all the time that the blockade was due to Nepal’s internal problems, but in every summit world leaders with some relationship with Nepal kept asking Modi to resolve the issue faster. This, for Modi, was a distraction at best from his focus.

So, this time, careful perception management in India has been achieved. Right since Dahal prepared to take over reins, media wrote how India had toppled an unfriendly regime in Kathmandu. It didn’t care how much damage was done to Dahal himself in this glorification of Modi-diplomacy. With Modi’s personal agenda on the table, Dahal’s will hold only a consolation value, or even less.

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