By P. Kharel
If anything, the significance of the Eminent Persons Group’s third meeting in Kathmandu earlier this fortnight reiterated the desire/compulsion on part of the two neighbouring countries to discuss the issue of reviewing and revising—or as an extremely remote possibility of even replacing—the 1950 Nepal-India Treaty of Peace and Friendship that never brought about desired peace and friendship between the “two peaceful and friendly countries”.
CONSTANT OBJECTION: On the past of political groups and the ruling class, there has hardly been any strong support for the much-despised document that was designed to put India at advantage and was imposed on this country under circumstances that were fluid employing a process and mechanism that is internationally unprecedented.
The latest EPG discussion decided to meet next in Dehradun May 29-31. If the schedule is not deferred, the next round could hold a faint promise. Many Ranas, who were retired or forced into exile for a century starting from the 1850s, lived in Dehradun which at one time was a part of Nepal until the invading British colonial regime in India snatched it from Nepal.
Traditionally treated as “experts”, the Nepali academic Lok Raj Baral and the Indian academic Sukh Deo Muni, it may be noted, do not figure in the EPG. Baral served as Nepalese ambassador to New Delhi whereas his Indian counterpart Muni, however much he might have liked, did not get such posting to Kathmandu. Muni was once ambassador to Laos but was recalled before he could complete the term, as if he were a wife-beating academic. Another Indian “expert” on India-Nepal ties, the retired army general Ashok Mehta is never considered for an ambassadorial role, as if he had committed any objectionable molestation. The Muni-Mehta duo owes its presence as “experts” on Nepal at the behest of South Block, the headquarters of the Indian External affairs ministry.
OVERNIGHT EPERTISE: This scribe recalls another incident that occurred in connection with a particular Nepali Congress’s aspirant to a diplomatic assignment in 1991 shortly after Girija Prasad Koirala was sworn in as prime minister. The guy wanted his article on Nepal’s diplomatic relations to be published the very next day he submitted. The features desk had reservations about the appropriateness of the material thus pressed for publication.
When the article remained withheld for consultation with editor Shyam Bahadur KC, the aspirant-in-diplomacy undiplomatically fumed on the phone and questioned an assistant editor whether he needed to have the editor “instructed by the prime minister”! The article, as a result, was spiked. In the course of time, however, the fellow wangled an ambassadorship, even if to be recalled quickly after the subsequent abrupt change in government.
Four years later when this scribe was at the helm of the same daily, another aspirant, who I knew since the 1970s, for the first and only time, arrived at my residence submitting an article with a note that someone very senior in the government wanted to have him publish an article on foreign policy. I asked him to meet me at an appointed time at my office. When he showed up the second time that day, I handed him over the copy that I had edited heavily. Some days later, he was appointed ambassador, only to be recalled some six months after. He then probably has not bothered writing anything on foreign affairs, while relishing the tag “foreign policy expert” that the Nepali media give anyone serving as an ambassador for whatever length of time.
That was more than 20 years ago, and yet the practice of such expertise developing overnight, thanks to the aspirants’ proximity to the powers that be, continues to this day. It has fired the imaginations and fuelled the ambitions of a breed that has access to the kitchen and bedroom of the politically influential.
SUBSTANCE SHOULD SPEAK: Meanwhile, what about the issue of the 1950 treaty with India? The four members that form the Nepali EPG are not known for making any concrete comments on the Treaty in at least the last two decades, except for hemming and hawing. For the first time in Nepal’s history, a call for reviewing the treaty was officially and publicly voiced by the minority government of CPN (UML) when Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikary, in 1995, paid an official visit to New Delhi.
After the Adhikary government fell a few months later, UML leaders conspicuously put the issue in a deep backburner, though they headed the government three more times. Since the 1950s, most communists in Nepal, except the pro-Russian groups, kept the issue live in their public uttering as a part of keeping their political careers. They were vociferous that “the unequal treaty” should be scrapped.
Their Eminences Nilamber Acharya, who was associated with the pro-Russian group prior to the 1990 political changes, and Rajan Bhattarai, a UML youth leader holding a Ph.D. from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal University, have not given any substantive opinions on the issue, at least in the recent decades.
[Correction: Please read Bimalendra Nidhi instead of what appeared in the second paragraph of this column last week.]
By P. Kharel