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Far From Neighbourly

By P. Kharel
pkharel1India rejects neighbouring Nepal’s 2015 Constitution using its fronts fed, financed and clothed for years. In the course of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s unnecessarily extended five-day “state visit” to India last fortnight, Indian External Affairs Secretary S. Jaishankar, ignoring diplomatic nicety befitting conduct with an independent sovereign nation, expressed reservations about Nepal’s Constitution.
We don’t know whether we have a foreign secretary who is confident and prompt in employing an appropriately “correct” but fitting response to his counterpart’s uncalled for statement, that too, when a duly, democratically elected prime minister is being hosted.
Jaishankar’s statement was deliberate, confident that the visiting Nepali side or other sources would not venture rejecting such pot shots or seek to send a firm message that the hosts better refrain from the casual (or is it, taunting?) manner in which they treat the leaders of a “friendly neighbouring country with which India shares many historical and cultural religious features since time immemorial”. But then Deuba, in his bid to bend backward, went on defending his exercise that invited criticism not only from the main opposition but even his main partner in the coalition team.
Knowledge of dress codes, protocol business and perhaps even a capacity to recycle for the umpteenth time speeches or statements alone do not make diplomacy an effect exercise. The content of a message and method of conveying it matter of greater significance than anything else.
UNSEEMLY FREQEUENCY: In the past three years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seen four Nepali prime ministers and the process is not quite yet over. Disproportionate deference with which wayward teams from Nepal present themselves to their foreign counterparts is responsible for the consequence on national pride or prestige. Little wonder then that hosts issue statements equivalent to diplomatic insult.
Deuba in November attended a conference organised by the Indian government-funded foundation in Goa, in which the “prime minister” of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile also took part, seated as he was next to the Nepali Congress leader. Deuba did not have the presence of mind to even walk out the programme.
Vainly and disingenuously, Deuba denied he met with the controversial Tibetan-in-exile. Worse, the then Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, known as Deuba loyalist, defended his party leader. A foreign minister, and not his party officials, sounding like a party cadre!
In reference to Deuba’s New Delhi visit, an Indian official said patronisingly: “As a neighbour we wish them [Nepalis] well. We would like to see stability, we would like to see harmony, we would like to see prosperity and economic activity and we feel that if there is a broad consensus on the issue it will help in that direction.”
The fact is: We also want India to not only prosper economically but also succeed in establishing political stability across the “world’s largest democracy”. We want the militarily larger neighbour attain foreign policy achievements that maintain good rapport with and willing cooperation from most, if not all, its neighbours. We wish India success in helping its neighbours shed any suspicion that New Delhi is after disintegration or territorial encroachment of any of its neighbours; rather, it should begin loosening the stranglehold it might have on any neighbour.
DUBIOUS: As things stand presently, no neighbouring nation is really happy with New Delhi. In the cliché-ridden public statements made by Indian politicians and officials, Nepal attracts the largest dictionary of adjectives and descriptions on “common features” between the two nations. Yet the fact remains: India shares more with the rest of South Asian nations than with us Nepalis. The rest of South Asia’s common denominator constitutes long centuries of foreign rule.
Although the West tries projecting India as an economy stiffly competing with communist China, the comparison is expediently employed as a wish list and/or a strategy to boost the second-most populous nation’s morale vis-à-vis the world’s No. 1 economy heading with the certainty of overtaking the United States within the next decade. One has only to glance at the news coverage of China in the Western media to realise the scant coverage that India is accorded.
India’s half a dozen North-East states are constantly vulnerable to escalation of armed militancy while Kashmir continues becoming a bleeding wound first inflicted 70 years ago at the time of the country’s independence in 1947. Since 1989, at least 50,000 persons have been killed, a large number of them civilians. The rebel Naxlites militants, too, continue to make their presence felt.
Of note is the presence of sections in South Asia that view a united India as continuation of the British colonial legacy represented.
India does not really have problems on account of Nepal but there are multifarious problems for Nepal on account of its “friendly” neighbour. Hence Nepal should begin the diplomacy of publicly wishing the stability, peace and prosperity and good neighbourliness in India too. After all the highly populous but trouble-ridden neighbour harbours big economic ambitions and wants a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

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