By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: While Prime Minister Prachanda’s visit to India has led to breathless claims about its purported success in advancing Nepal-India ties to dizzy heights, its disturbing strategic underpinnings have either not been grasped, or, have been ignored.
This column attempts to illuminate the significance of key strategic factors/issues that the Prachanda visit is now indelibly associated with, but which, as already indicated, have not surfaced in the public domain – at least, not yet.
CONTEXT AND PERSPECTIVE
To do so it will be useful to provide context and perspective to that singular politico-diplomatic venture. In that endeavour, I shall quote excerpts from two previous columns – entitled “India-inspired ‘Prexit’ gambit targets China” (July 21-27 issue) and “Is a ‘Great Game’ over Nepal, a la Curzon, on the cards?” (July 28-August 3).
In the first piece, I had argued:
“Over the past several months – and particularly in the wake of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s official visit to China in March this year – there has been a steady drumbeat of inflamed rhetoric and propaganda exercised over China’s increased presence/activity in a Nepal steadily but determinedly escaping from India’s clutches, in the aftermath of the crippling five month-plus boycott it inspired/supported.
“Given Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s obsession that India be acknowledged as a Great or Leading Power, and his desperate attempts to ingratiate himself with a West increasingly uneasy with the prospect of a China emerging as a Super Power, an attempt to stymie Nepal-China relations from raising to unprecedented heights in a vital geo-strategic region that encompasses Tibet, would be much appreciated as an exquisitely timed geopolitical demarche, serving splendidly both India’s and the West’s interests.”
In the other column, I indicated:
“The latest twists and turns in Nepal’s Byzantine politics – specially, the sudden attempt by the Maoist/NC combine to topple a coalition widely perceived as China-friendly – are timed not only when India seems, once again, to be on a Forward Policy trajectory – this time vis-à-vis China/Tibet – but precisely when the movers and shakers of Hindustan are transparently determined to climb aboard a global, Western-driven anti-China bandwagon, convinced of garnering commensurate geopolitical rewards for doing so…
“In the quagmire of Nepali politics new, extraneous and even dangerous geopolitical factors and considerations have been injected. Already, Nepal suffers from an overdose of extra-regional interests, overt as well as covert. It will be extremely edifying to monitor how things develop henceforth, on the Sino-Indian relations, and the wider anti-China movement, fronts. One can only hope that Nepal will not plunge into the terrible abyss of civil strife – inviting perhaps even foreign military intervention – as Sino-Indian competition in/over a deeply polarised nation escalates into a modern version of Curzon’s ‘Great Game’, focal point being Nepal, not Afghanistan.”
Against the above backcloth, one is hardly surprised that Prachanda’s visit has revealed, and solidified, a distinct India-tilt to Nepal’s traditional foreign policy of balanced relations with her immediate neighbours – a policy that harks back to the hoary days of Prithivi Narayan Shah, after the unification of Nepal and its establishment as a modern nation-state.
Truly, the extent to which Prachanda has leaned towards India is nothing if not innately alarming. One area where such a bias is striking is in this disconcerting parallelism: for the first time in the history of the Nonaligned Movement, a Nepali delegation to a NAM summit has not been led by a head of state/head of government!
To recall, while Prachanda’s former colleague, Baburam Bhattarai, as prime minister, led the Nepali delegation to the 16th NAM summit in Teheran, this time around, it was Vice-President Nanda Bahadur Pun who performed the honours at the 17th apex NAM conclave in Venezuela’s Margarita island, 17-18 September.
If this stark down-grading of representation effectively punctures Pun’s bombastic claim about “Nepal’s unswerving faith in the fundamental principles and ideas of the (NAM) movement”, what truly sticks in the craw is that NAM’s abrupt devaluation in Prachanda’s scheme of things coincided with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s doing likewise – a first, too, in the case of India.
Even more remarkable is that Pun’s presence at the NAM summit paralleled that of the Indian leader of delegation, Vice-President Hamid Ansari! Both countries, incidentally, are founding members of the movement, formally established at the first summit in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1961.
If Modi’s deliberate snub to NAM can perhaps be explained in his transparent drive to embrace with West for India’s own strategic reasons, including the containment of a China that is now recognised as a Super Power, Prachanda’s actions in this regard clearly suggest that a Nepal that he leads will, like Bhutan, be guided in the conduct of her foreign policy by New Delhi!
With the above in mind, how should one interpret Article 11 of the joint statement that claims that both countries hold similar views on major international issues? Is Prachanda’s Nepal also committed, then, to India’s positions vis-a-vis the West, with regard to the South China Sea dispute, and Chinese President Xi Jinpings’ global OBOR initiative, to which India is opposed?
That aside, what is the reference – “both sides noted the progress in promoting sub-regional cooperation…” – supposed to imply given that ‘sub-regional cooperation’ is diplomatic code for regional cooperation sans Pakistan. Should Nepal ipso facto take India’s side against Pakistan for no rhyme or reason? Does he not know that the concept of ‘sub-regional cooperation’ was floated as a quietus to SAARC in the founding of which Nepal had a seminal role and whose headquarters is in Kathmandu?
At this rate, it will hardly be surprising if Nepal decides not to either not attend the next SAARC summit in Islamabad or to participate at a non-apex level – as India, from the looks of things, might do!
Prachanda has thrown his lot with Modi’s India. If I were a betting man, I’d wager it could prove lethal for his political health.
Prachanda’s India visit: disturbing strategic underpinnings
By MR Josse