Nepal crisis: implications for India
by Seshadri Chari on 06 Aug 2008 0 Comment

Maoists are finally close to forming a government in Kathmandu. President Ram Baran Yadav, relying on Article 38 (1) of the interim Constitution, has called on them to explore the possibility of providing the semblance of a government. In the run up to the presidential elections, Maoists ‘betrayed’ UML candidate Madhav Kumar Nepal, but have since tendered an unconditional apology. UML general secretary Jhal Nath Khanal has indicated his party's readiness to support a Maoist-led coalition provided Maoists publicly evaluate their past “weaknesses.”


But who will evaluate the past of the entire Himalayan Kingdom is a question not even the legendary Yeti can answer. 


No two countries are as close as India and Nepal; no two countries face as many challenges to their camaraderie. India shares a 14,058-km long border with five countries (3310 km with Pakistan, 4095 km with Bangladesh, 1463 km with Myanmar, 3440 km with China and 1751 km with Nepal). The proxy war waged by Pakistan is a permanent threat. Then there is a threat perception from China and a demographic threat from Bangladesh, which also supports the insurgency in the north-east. Worse, one of the biggest causes of worry from the political and security point of view is Nepal.


Despite religious, social and cultural similarities with India, Nepal's early history shows no discernible links with the outside world. There are references to Naimisharanya in ancient Hindu texts, which led researchers to the forests and mountains in the North where momentous philosophical debates reputedly took place. Vishitadwait, the popular Vaishnav sect founded by Vedanta Desikar about ten centuries ago, reportedly originated after intense debate in Muktinath in the snow-clad mountains beyond Jhomsom, bordering Mushtang district of Tibet on the banks of Kali Gandaki, which even today is the largest repository of the sacred shaligram, worshipped by Vaishnavites as incarnation of Vishnu. The Kodandaram (Rama with bow and arrow) temple here is still controlled of the king of Nepal; himself considered an avatar of Vishnu.


From the security point of view India's boundary in the North is the Himalayas. Whatever happens in areas immediately south of the Himalayas is of vital security concern to India. In fact this is a British legacy, a reason why India kept Sikkim as a protectorate (now an Indian state) and managed the external affairs of Bhutan (till 1964).


The Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty, 1950, guides post-1947 relations between the two nations. Around the same time, China under Chairman Mao made inroads into Tibet. Mao's remark that Tibet was the palm, of which Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh were the five fingers, compelled India to warn Nepal and keep a close watch on Nepal’s northern border with Tibet. Today, Nepalese Maoists are cozying up to China and the present dispensation in New Delhi overlooks this danger.


Modern Nepal has had a tenuous relationship with democracy, but its real troubles began with the palace massacre of 1 June 2001, which wiped out the entire clan of King Birendra. As Gyanendra became King, Maoists took advantage of the turmoil and went on a violent spree in the countryside. The palace killing shattered the people, and Maoists vitiated the atmosphere to such an extent that the new King could not match the popularity of his slain brother. Political parties were mistrusted, and Maoists exploited the chaos to tighten their stranglehold on the countryside.


Prime Minister Deuba wanted to impose Emergency to contain the Maoists, but was overruled by his party president G.P. Koirala. Deuba managed to impose Emergency, but was expelled for anti-party activity! Most of the party sided with him and he proved his majority, but recommended dissolution of the House.


Elections were due on 13 November 2002, but Maoist violence was at its peak, making it impossible to hold elections. Deuba was dismissed in October 2002 and political parties lost all credibility. King appointed persons of eminence as PM on condition that such persons would not contest elections. Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa became PM, but the King again appointed Deuba as PM and again dismissed him in February 2005. The King became direct ruler.


Pressure built to restore democracy. The twin principles of constitutional monarchy and multi-party parliamentary democracy were in danger. The King reconvened Parliament he had himself dissolved. The man who brought down duly elected governments of his own party became Prime Minister. Terror groups that fought pitched battles with the Royal Nepal Army became part of government. The people and politics of Nepal are an enigma. 


Present situation


With the departure of the Indian Left from indirect control of the UPA, their say in the internal affairs of Nepal has suffered a setback. The Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of External Affairs, once mute spectators to Left shenanigans, can now correct the aberrations in our foreign policy.


Maoist goons still illegally hold large parts of rural areas and suburban Kathmandu. Some commercially important areas in Kathmandu are said to be under the control of the Young Maoist League (YML).


The Terai unrest could still prove dangerous. The people of Terai were most neglected by the monarchy as well as the political parties. Maoists used them as cannon fodder but discarded them once Terai leaders woke up to their shenanigans. The “Terai Counter Revolution” is the hardest slap on the face of the Maoist movement. India should engage in fruitful dialogue with the democratic forces in Nepal and help bring about a peaceful resolution to the demands of these estranged groups. With Terai leaders holding important posts in government, the unrest could be contained to some extent.


Nepal should not expect economic growth on freebies or aid. It should seriously harness her economic potential like water resources. India and Nepal should embark on a renewed dialogue and work out substantive amendments to existing bilateral treaties in the best interest of both countries. But recent rhetoric by Maoist leaders suggesting total discarding of old treaties will only add to confusion. Unfortunately, there are no saner elements among the infamous Maoists. Most seem to be in a hurry to grab and enjoy political power.


The current situation calls for special solutions. The dialogue process with Nepal should continue. People-to-people contacts and exchange of academics and journalists should be increased. The Indo-Nepal relationship assumes greater importance considering that Nepal under the monarchy always stood by India in SAARC. On the lines of India's engagement with African countries on e-connectivity, India should develop a similar programme for Indo-Nepal.


Identity is the core of the Maoist and Madheshi movements. The Terai movement is essentially for the development of Nepal and for a fair share in economic prosperity and resources. However, the Maoist movement seeks to cut Nepal away from the process of economic development of the region and push the country back to the days of Iron Curtain economy.


There is a need to identify and address the silent enemies of modernization and globalization in Nepal. There are many basic differences and contrasts between the Madheshi and Maoists movements. While Maoists are aiming only for political power, the Madheshi struggle is for legitimate political rights denied so far.


India's non-reciprocal concessions have benefited Nepal immensely, as indicated by a sharp increase in Nepal's exports to India. An increased role of the private sector should be encouraged. While both countries face similar challenges of poverty and lack of infrastructure development, India has had the benefit of private sector participation in her economic progress. A similar approach could help Nepal.


There are a number of areas, such as institutional linkages, integration of the two economies through currency pegging and measures like trade in services, knock down non-tariff barriers, cooperation on revitalizing public policy, research on issues of globalization and social change, assisting Nepal in capacity-building and enlightening policy makers on issues like the impact of WTO, where India can play a lead role.


India has in the past taken tremendous initiatives during critical phases in Nepal's economic transition, and can play a more transparent role in assisting Nepal become a production hub in the region. But the presence of Maoists in government, their uncooperative attitude and their outdated approach to social and economic issues, could result in slow economic recovery and lack of private participation from India. There is an element of non-compatibility in Maoists' economic policy with Nepal's bilateral, regional and global commitments.


The writer is former editor, Organiser

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