Monday, December 31, 2012

Frindship is a two-way street

Both India and Nepal have faltered in strengthening their historical ties in recent years. But now, as Kathmandu struggles towards democracy, New Delhi must be a more understanding and supportive neighbour
As the political transition in Nepal progresses, the country’s political institutions have become a hub of sorts for intermingled ideas. These ideas are neither being shaped nor developed constructively to end the political impasse that has plagued Nepal’s journey to democracy. Consequently, key challenges such as drafting the Constitution, delineating the nature of Nepali federalism and more recently, accepting a national unity Government before general election next summer, still remain. It is against this backdrop that President Ram Baran Yadav’s recently concluded trip to India must be viewed. In fact, many were a bit surprised that Mr Yadav made this visit when his country was at such a critical juncture. After all, the President is the sole stable authority in Nepal today.

Mr Yadav’s official visit to India took him to Banaras Hindu University, where he was conferred an honorary DPhil, but his time in New Delhi was also quite hectic as he met with leaders of the ruling and Opposition parties, besides inviting his Indian counterpart to Kathmandu. At a time of receding trust in India’s role in Nepal, President Yadav’s India visit holds strategic value that can lead to greater cooperation between these formidable allies. The beginning of this new dialogue will hopefully infuse dynamism in the India-Nepal diplomatic engagement and economic partnership.

Hailing from the Madhesh region of Janakpur in Nepal, Kolkata-educated President Yadav is well-connected in India. His understanding of India-Nepal relations is better than that of the average Nepali politician. Even though President Yadav doesn’t have the charisma of someone like Girija Prasad Koirala, as a long-practicising doctor, he knows how to treat maladies well. It is an ability that is sadly lacking in many leaders who have been entrusted with handling India-Nepal affairs.

For instance, even Indian representatives and officials who are otherwise sensitive and responsive towards Nepal, try to run down their counterparts in Kathmandu during diplomatic visits. This makes India, a less dear ally. Also, Nepal has never really received the kind of attention it deserves from India’s Tier-I leadership, even though it is one of New Delhi’s important neighbours. This is an unwavering trend that has continued since the period of Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is time that India brings to its relationship with Nepal more in action, rather than friendly mannerisms alone. This is the need of the hour, especially if New Delhi wishes to keep at bay Nepal’s India-baiters. The first generation of Nepali leaders had also fought for India’s independence and they shared with their Indian counterparts a desire for democracy. Leaders like BP Koirala, MP Koirala, Manmohan Adhikari, Ganesh Man Singh and others had also dealt with the politics of two countries, and this was possible only because they had leveraged the power of people-to-people relations between India and Nepal.

In New Delhi, President Yadav’s presence at the Mahendra Malangia Natya Mahotasav (organised by the Maithili Lok Rang), which saw the participation of a number of reputed artists from India and Nepal including leading Maithili thespian Ramesh Ranjan Jha and his Mithila Natyakala Parishad, was a reminder of the golden moments that India and Nepal once shared in the cultural-political field. In fact, it is events such as these that really have the potential to boost bilateral ties.

Listening to the voices of aggrieved Nepali youth (mostly because of their ignorant biases) at a New Delhi conference, organised by the Nepal-Bharat Sahyog Manch a few weeks back, however, offered an altogether different experience. A blunt question put to one of India’s seniormost diplomats at that conference by a young Nepali continues to haunt the mind for it also represents the mindset of a reactionary section in Nepal. The youth had asked why Nepal should give priority to India, and not favour China instead.

Such wild ideas are causing the current mess in Nepal. In this case, for example, it is amply clear that China will not think twice before disrupting Nepal’s close relationship with India, but still there are talks about China taking over India’s place in Nepal.

There is, of course, no doubt that Nepal will overcome its political hurdles in its own time, especially if its leaders and its people were to exude more confidence in democratic values. Since the massacre of 2001, the royal family of Nepal first became a nefarious and later a ghostly object. Now, it is no longer in a position to offer itself as a system of alternative governance. Still, while the physical end of the monarchy was painful, the collapse of the idea of the monarchy is a healthy development for Nepal’s democratic aspiration. Still, unless the duplicity of political leaders is brought under control, change as desired will not happen.

Ideologically, the radical Maoist movement in Nepal is impure and reflects the personal cynicism of its leadership. Next to the ideological line, these leaders have been nurturing their political ambitions by pumping up a ‘sovereignty phobia’ which naturally leads to anti-India sentiment in Nepal. The Maoists are a divided entity now, and those who sit outside the power circle are trying to carve a niche for themselves. They hope that the anti-India demonstration will give them the leverage to do so.

Over the last one and a half decades, China has made various efforts to proliferate a certain version of communism inside Nepal. Sect and sub-sects of Maoist ideology have marred Nepal’s development on all fronts. Nepal has a lot to deliver with its untapped natural and human resources; here, the political leadership of Nepal has a pivotal role to play. It must decide on how it will move collectively on the bigger issues of foreign policy and trade negotiation and how it will rid Nepal of the ‘underdog’ tag that has prevented the country from embarking on a regular course of development. President Yadav too must remind the political elite in Nepal of all its unkept promises to him and the country.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer, 31 December2012)

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