The four-day India visit by Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, his first to a foreign nation in his second tenure, was aimed at essentially minimising the trust deficit between the two neighbours. At the end of the visit, while India agreed to rebuild the infrastructure in Nepal which was badly affected by the recent earthquake and speed up the hydel projects in a viable time frame, it was also assured that Nepal will accommodate interests of all in the Constitution.
In his second avatar, Prachanda showed less of revolutionary fire and zeal. The PM of Nepal candidly agreed in a television show that he proposed to work this time with a more pragmatic approach.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the statement released after the talks said, “India hoped Nepal will be successful in implementing the Constitution through inclusive dialogue, accommodating aspirations of all sections of diverse society”. The Indian stand remained firm to include all sections of society. India is very worried about stability on its borders, and for that, the Madhesi issue needs to be resolved.
The Madhesi issue is about the security of the open border between India and Nepal. Instability in the Tarai area will spill over to India which will create law and order problem. The Tamil issue of Sri Lanka is a case in point. India suffered the death of 1200 soldiers and 2200 injured before the ethnic clashes ended. The Madhesi issue, if it spills out of control due to Nepal’s hill-centric party’s domination, will again put India in a similar avoidable situation.
The China card also worries India. Prachanda’s visit was closely followed by the Chinese media. The Chinese feel that with Prachanda in the driver’s seat, India–Nepal ties will only get better with the last visit clearly making up for the trust deficit.
China has apparently shown its displeasure by postponing President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal. On the other hand, the tough stand taken by Modi government on Baluchistan, which has ramification of denying the Chinese the port of Gwadar, clearly shows that the Indian PM has a strategic plan, which addresses both, China and Pakistan in the long run. The first visible signs of India’s new appeasement-free foreign policy became visible when the Madhesi agitation took place in Nepal.
While visiting the state of Uttarakhand, the Nepalese PM spoke on the deep cultural and religious ties between these two time-tested neighbors. He wanted a Patanjali food and herbal park to be set up in Nepal and work started by November this year. The PM of Nepal said that the food park would be a strong link between the two countries aside from being a major source of employment for the youth of Nepal.
The priorities of Nepal’s government remain the key issue. Closer home, Prachanda has many problems which he has to resolve. Nepal is in a transition phase and in 18 months, Prachanda has to solve the Constitutional crisis arising out of the federal structure, with the Madhesi and Janajati groups. Three tier elections are due, the new Constitution has to be implemented, and reconstruction in earthquake-ravaged Nepal has to be speeded up.
All this has to be done in a viable time frame so as to beat anti-incumbency. He also has to manage the amendment of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act to get amnesty for crimes committed during insurgency, which his political opponents are unwilling to oblige. He also has to do a fine balancing act between China and India, as he leads the third largest party. Such tasks would be difficult even for a leader with a brute majority. Thus, how he manages or mismanages will set Nepal on the path in future.
There are also serious graft charges on Prachanda. The anti-graft watchdog has ordered a probe into the disbursement of six billion Rupees that were meant for rehabilitating former Maoists. The Commission of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has decided to launch an investigation into this matter. The Maoist leaders, on the other hand, view this as a political vendetta and state that the person heading the probe, M R Karki was the Chief Secretary under the royal regime and the inferences are obvious.
India and Nepal have time tested people-to-people relationship which acts as a strong anchor whenever the political storm rocks the environment. Currently, there is a trend of personality-driven politics, one regime is anti-India another pro-India. This is a serious impediment and it is the people-centric ties that got the matters back on tracks. In order to cement these, there needs to be better institutional support. There are some tangible and some intangible institutions and the two nations need to build on these institutions.
Trade is a big unifier and India must ensure that it builds up on this. Hydropower could be another force multiplier for friendship between India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Construction of roads and hospitals again need to be done in a time-bound manner.
Two other points - the open border and Gorkha society - need some deliberation. The open border is time-tested and for that to work, stability is required on both sides of the border. Even then there are law and order and smuggling problems. The Gorkha regiment is another great institution and should continue to be nourished by both sides. The Gorkha society in India has an Indian identity and should be used for track-two diplomacy.
Prachanda has left his imprint on Nepal’s politics, which till now has been essentially uncompromising. We need to see if he can walk his conciliatory talk.
(The writer is a retired Brigadier. Views expressed are strictly personal).