India can no longer pursue its strategic and economic interests on the basis of its old colonial mindset and bureaucratised traditional tools of diplomacy.
The official state visit of Prachanda as the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Nepal marks the beginning of India’s engagement with a new Nepal. To make this engagement constructive and mutually advantageous, India has to grasp the degree and depth of the radical transformation that Nepal has gone through in the last couple of years. The former Kingdom has witnessed the spread of political consciousness at the grass roots, upsurge of socio-economic aspi rations and the unprecedented rise of people’s power. Its 240-year-old Monarchy has been pushed into the dustbin of history and the hitherto marginalised and oppressed social groups have entered the mainstream political dynamics as major stakeholders.
In a certain specific way, and howsoever reluctantly, India was a constructive participant in this transformation. But if it had really understood the nature of change, it would not have sent a peace mission headed by a former Maharaja to bail out the discredited Nepalese Monarchy nor would the policy pundits in MEA falter on assessing the outcome of the April 2008 elections for the Constituent Assembly.
India can no longer pursue its vital strategic and economic interests in this radically transformed Nepal on the basis of its old colonial policy mindset and bureaucratised traditional tools of diplomacy. It can no longer play the King against the Ranas; political parties against the King; one set of Koiralas against the other; and one political party against the other. The old chess-board politics of cultivating coteries and promoting cronies or pitting feudal, corporate and sectarian vested interests against one another would be grotesque and counter-productive.
No doubt, new Nepal is not free from political cleavages and fault lines like the ‘Madhesh’ versus the ‘Paharis;’ the Janjatis versus the dominant castes and the prosperous versus the paupers. There are also disgruntled feudal and discarded political interest groups that would like to sabotage the new and emerging Nepal. The traditional strategic mindset in South Block and ‘operations experts’ in the security agencies may want these new fault lines to be exploited to promote India’s short-term interests. But following such leads will harm India more than help it. Conflict and instability in Nepal have a spill-over cost for India as well.
Therefore, policy initiatives from New Delhi towards Nepal have to go beyond the chess-board politics and address the emerging aspirations of the Nepalese people, by constructively engaging with the political forces and the leadership that represent these aspirations. Surely, for the present, the Maoists occupy that slot. The agenda of a new Nepal, of its Republican, secular and inclusive democracy and, of a dynamic growing economy, is primarily and essentially a Maoists’ agenda. They pushed this agenda through the force of violence during the ten-year-old insurgency, but realised subsequently that the people of Nepal and the international community while endorsing the agenda rejected the path of violence and disruption. They also realised that violence was counter-productive not only to a constructive transformation and nation-building but also for them to seize and retain power. The Maoists still have their militant cadres as a part of the unfinished peace process but that may be more for political bargaining in the course of unfolding transition than to create, sustain and translate the vision of new Nepal into concrete reality. Tactical ploy
The Nepali Congress and the Communist party of Nepal (UML) joined the agenda of new Nepal basically as a tactical ploy for political survival against an obstinate and arrogant Monarch. Otherwise, many of the senior Nepali Congress and UML leaders in close companies fondly swear by the old politics and cozy alliance with the feudal vested interests. These leaders had the chance to initiate and lead the agenda of a new Nepal for 15 long years (1990-2005) after the first Jan Andolan, if they had any sincere commitment to it. The argument of these leaders and their parties that the Maoists did not win the people’s confidence as they failed to secure an absolute majority in the Constituent Assembly elections is a retrograde one for it overlooks the hard fact that the electoral strength of these two ‘national’ and ‘mainstream’ parties put together is less than that of the Maoists.
The Maoist leadership is far from those Nepalis who joined India’s struggle for independence. Nor does this leadership have material stakes, like many other Nepalese (the Ranas and the Royals), in India. They have grown up with the heavy doses of anti-Indian Nepali nationalism evolved and perpetrated by the monarchy for its own political survival.
But this leadership is self-confident, pragmatic and resilient. The leaders are intelligent enough to understand and acknowledge that in the interest of their own political consolidation and delivery of promised development to the Nepali people, India’s goodwill and help is indispensable. They sought India’s recognition and respect even during the insurgency years, particularly since 2002, and loudly acknowledged India’s support in the Jan Andolan-II. It was India’s confused and contradictory responses during the two post-Jan Andolan-II transition phases in Nepal, from Constitutional Monarchy to the Republic and from CA elections to the formation of an elected government, that alienated some of them. New Delhi would grossly err in drawing long-term policy conclusions from Mr. Prachanda’s recent China visit. Wasn’t it grossly undiplomatic on New Delhi’s part to patronise and embolden the political ambitions of an outgoing Prime Minister during and after the Colombo SAARC summit?
It may not be very difficult for India to respond positively to the issues that Mr. Prachanda may put on the table during his visit. The question of review and revision of treaties (Kosi and the 1950 Treaty) is not a big deal. It is for the Maoists to precisely identify the areas where they want revisions as India has already shown its readiness to engage on this issue. Once the Maoists’ proposals are formulated and backed by a national consensus in Nepal, their acceptability or otherwise may be sorted out through diplomatic channels.
On Kosi and its devastating potential, India has its own story to tell, which was narrated to Mr. Prachanda by Bihar leader Sharad Yadav on the very first day of his becoming Prime Minister. The Maoists would perhaps do well to recognise that they do not need to flash the ‘nationalist’ card like the King for their political survival. It is the developmental engagement with India that will bring them rich dividends.
The Maoists would like to have India’s creative responses to the four areas of their principal concerns namely; political stability of the coalition regime, culmination of the peace process through security sector reforms, timely conclusion of the Constitution drafting and implementing the vision of “economic revolution” in a decade. The policy document released this week in Kathmandu highlights all these concerns. In these areas, India has no basic conflict of interests. Peace and political stability in Nepal are in India’s genuine interests and Indian diplomacy and security agencies must be seen to be convincingly distanced from the discordant voices raised within Nepal questioning the stability of the Maoist-led government. Security sector reforms
For security sector reforms, India could consider exercising its goodwill with the Nepal Army to smoothen the process. The Maoists are not insisting on a wholesale induction of their PLA cadres into the army ranks and their preference for a smaller army may, in fact, be conducive to the long-term viability of democratic evolution. Purges and reorganisations of armed forces are not an entirely new phenomenon in South Asia.
The new Nepal may draw on India’s experience and expertise in drafting an inclusive constitution. India has always provided generous assistance to Nepal for economic development. A Rs100-crore package offered in the immediate post-Jan Andolan-II phase has not been fully utilised. The Maoist promise of 10,000 MW of hydropower generation in a decade is a win-win proposal for India as well. A vibrant Nepali economy will reduce the outflow of migrant labour into India.
The vast convergence of interests between India and the new Nepal has always been obvious. What is needed on both sides is a creative political approach towards each other, free from ideological obsessions and past prejudices. India can easily afford to go more than half way to assure the Maoist leadership that it wishes new Nepal well.
(The writer is Senior Visiting Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore. email@example.com)
6 months ago