Why USA needs to keep Modi in check in Nepal 

KATHMANDU (Nepal Foreign Affairs, June 1) – It was music to the ears of Nepalese when United States Ambassador to Nepal Alaina B. Teplitz, on May 26, in her address to Tribhuvan University’s Department of International Relations, announced that her country would not let India or any country dictate its Nepal policy.


This is the first time any US ambassador to Nepal had to make such a declaration.


It has reasons. Nepal’s informed circle holds a view, as did the ambassador rightly point out, since 2005, after then US ambassador James Moriarty’s failed bid to isolate Nepal’s  Maoists, the USA has almost outsourced its Nepal policy to India. During the time, India wanted the Maoists and democratic forces to unite to overthrow the monarchy in Nepal. The USA believed that the Maoists were undemocratic and untrustworthy so a unity between the King and democratic forces was more desirable.


The USA lost out in this battle of narratives and action. India, by effecting the 12-point agreement between Maoists and democratic forces, had already pre-empted US counter moves, if there were any.


USA at that time had clearly faiiled to internalize the fact that Nepal’s Maoists were armed and nurtured by India to abolish Nepal’s monarchy.


India’s game was risky. Thank God Nepal did not become a communist state. Political instability rules but, of course, Nepal today, like before, remains the most open society in South Asia. Nepal’s democracy is more progressive; Nepal has better press freedom, a vibrant civil society exists and notwithstanding the last two decades of socio-political upheavals, Nepal has made significant progress in reducing poverty, improving child and maternal health and school education.
At this moment, Nepal is probably the only country in the world where the Head of the State is a woman, the Head of the Parliament is a woman and the Head of the Judiciary is a woman. This achievement was made leaving behind the decade-long Maoist conflict, a massacre in the Royal Palace, advent of Republic, two elections for a Constituent Assembly.  All this in the span of ten years!!


Despite all this, there are countries which enjoy lecturing Nepal’s politicians about how a democracy should look like and all that. It should have embarrassed them in the first place but it does not seem so. Nepal has a constitution which mandates 33% reservation for women in all sectors, 40% in the local governments. Nepal’s constitution follows principles of social inclusion like no other countries of the world. If found, please send us one for a comparison!!


All this has to be written here particularly in the context of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s travel to the United States for a two-day visit beginning June 7 during which he is scheduled to address a Joint Meeting of the US Congress and hold talks with President Barack Obama.


In March this year, when Indian Prime Minister Modi visited European Union, the two sides, in their joint statement,  made an uninformed reference about Nepal’s constitution and political process. It is true that the politics of Nepal is undergoing some problems. But which country has problem-free politics? Which country does not have debates as to what kind of politics is better than the other?  Such debates actually enrich democratic space of a country. Any third and unrelated country, jumping to support one or other side of the political debate is not only unacceptable, but also highly deplorable. That amounts to the intervention in the internal affairs of a country.


It is in this spirit that Nepal has to be allowed to resolve her problems herself. It is foolish for India, US or any other country for that matter to seek an overnight solution of the political problems which have plagued Nepal for centuries.


A solution has to be found, but it is always going to take time and, above all, it has to be found by Nepali political leadership for which encouragement is needed from a democracy like the USA.


India, despite its claims of being the largest democracy of the world, has its own problems at home. Most remarkably, India is home to the largest number of slave population, 18.4 million, in the modern world.


India’s celebrated religious freedom under Modi’s Hindu right wing regime is terribly under threat. Actually, one of the reasons why India has problem with Nepal’s new constitution is that the document embraces secularism as a cornerstone of Nepali state.


India’s recent human rights records, freedom of speech and press freedom have to be scrutinized; its denial of rights to the people of Kashmir and Gorkhaland has to be closely examined. Culprits of recent racist attacks against African students in India must be held into account.


It is positive that the US Senate recently discussed these issues.


If India rejects discussing any of these issues, the USA must refute all impromptu proposals of the Indian bureaucrats on Nepali politics and constitution in any planned joint statement.
Modi’s visit to the United States this time is not only the test of the statement Ambassador Teplitz has made with regards to Nepal, but also an opportunity to send a message of an independent US policy towards South Asia. In an effort to pivot to India, USA should not leave smaller countries like Nepal at the mercy of a belligerent and abrasive India.


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