BY MAILA BAJE
We don’t know who invited her or why she came. Yet from most accounts emanating from her side of the border, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent whirlwind visit to Nepal was a success.
The series of ‘group audiences’ Swaraj granted to party leaders during her ‘goodwill’ visit lost much of its ability to revolt us. Nepalis have seen shoddier examples of collective obsequiousness before. Nor was her breezy ‘I-just-dropped-in-on-friends’ demeanor that nauseating. Backslapping has become an inextricable parallel of the frontal variety when it comes to India’s outreach.
The disaffection expressed by some of our leaders over the ill-timed character of Swaraj’s arrival was remarkable indeed. But those raising their voices the loudest there are the ones who have the least to lose. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, although elected to parliament, is virtually a one-man show, notwithstanding his Naya Shakti gyrations. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center)’s Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who lost to Bhattarai, is a former deputy prime and foreign minister – and that’s about it.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party chairman Kamal Thapa, who as a senior member of caretaker Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government, probably feels betrayed by Swaraj. It’s not that far away in time when, as then Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s foreign minister, Thapa and Swaraj came up with four points on a piece of paper that carried enough ambiguity to help the Indians maintain that their blockade was not a blockade.
Regardless of the validity or otherwise of his grievances, Thapa has come out as petty. He would have made more of a mark had he chosen to oppose Swaraj’s visit before she landed, even if that meant quitting the cabinet. If naiveté was behind the miscalculation of the normally astute Thapa regarding the motives of the Indians in 2015, then the less said, the better about the man who was home minister in the royal regime collapsed amid New Delhi’s shenanigans.
Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist insists that Swaraj arrived on a fence-mending visit, a stance shared by Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ as well as sections of New Delhi’s foreign policy establishment. If so, did Swaraj utter anything approximating an apology for having subjected Nepalis to collective punishment for those many months? If not, did she express any other form of contrition?
Or did she really land in Kathmandu to admonish the leaders the incoming government about how South Asia’s geo-strategic landscape had changed since the embargo? Maybe she packaged a not-so-diplomatic intimation of her country’s Doklamian-Trumpian-Quad-infused confidence that would not countenance Kathmandu’s tilt northward?
Maybe Swaraj didn’t have to do any such thing. At this point, merely sowing doubts in the Chinese mind as to what her Nepali interlocutors might have vouchsafed would count as success from India’s vantage point. If Dahal could learn his lesson and reverse his regional orientation during his second stint as prime minister, what makes us think Oli is under any obligation to stand firm?
After all – just as in Dahal’s case – the Chinese weren’t terribly eager to shield Oli from Indian opprobrium and eventual exit for having the temerity to try to redefine Nepal’s geo-strategic persona.