BY MAILA BAJE
All the right notes were struck in such perfect tenor that you’d be forgiven for suspecting the sonorousness of it all.
Sure, there were discordant clatters conveyed through Indian news media reports suggesting New Delhi’s unwillingness to go along with Nepal’s desire to revive South Asian regional cooperation or to purchase Nepali electricity produced through Chinese investments. But those were intended more for audiences in Islamabad and Beijing, respectively.
Prime Minister K.P. Oli and his host and counterpart, Narendra Modi, seemed committed to turning a new page in bilateral relations. A partnership of equals – at least measured in terms of sovereign nationhood – has been Nepal’s underlying aspiration. This time, India did all it could rhetorically, symbolically and on paper to affirm its intention to move ahead in that fashion.
Still, the song was too silky-smooth to be entirely soothing. Skepticism has strong roots in the past. And that past is littered with the debris of generations of dashed hopes. The fate of the new beginning independent India sought with the democratic government of 1951, the elected government of B.P. Koirala in 1959 and the interim governments of 1990 and 2006 need not be rehashed here.
The backroom deals New Delhi engaged with the Rana oligarchy and Shah monarchy till the very end, only to renege on them at the first convenient opportunity only served to deepen our skepticism. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh broke protocol and welcomed Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala at the airport in 2006, where he called the distinguished visitor a South Asian statesman. Two years later, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal famously spoke of kram-bhangata (discontinuity) in Nepal-India relations.
Skepticism remains no less severe in India. From the Munis to the Mehtas, Nepal experts there are scratching their heads over Oli’s intentions vis-à-vis China and Pakistan. Domestically, will the Maoists betray Oli? The more traditionally minded have already consulted India’s national horoscope for 2075. With mysterious Rahu in Cancer in the 11th house of neighbors, can Nepal’s words be taken for granted?
Or can India’s? Oli must be smarter than to be taken in by Indian adulations over his heading a government as strong as King Mahendra’s. For the analogy is misplaced. It was B.P. Koirala’s elected government that commanded such broad electoral support. What happened next didn’t have to be repeated by anyone in New Delhi.
If anything, India and Nepal need to address the underlying psychology gripping their relations. The Indians need to get over the fact that Kathmandu managed to remain outside the Indian Union in 1947 when Kerala was in. Nepalis, for their part, need to come up with something more than ‘non-Indianness’ as evidence of their independence.
The two countries are closely linked and will continue to be so. But that should neither be a cause for asphyxiation nor amalgamation. Third, fourth and any number of other parties will emerge to affect this equation, benignly as well as malevolently. Nepal and India can handle such challenges with the resilience only they can inject bilaterally into their relationship.
How much Oli’s visit did or did not contribute to that process remains to be seen. In the meantime, we can applaud and be apprehensive of the visit at the same time, as long as we are mindful of maintaining our inner poise.
When it’s all in the mind…
BY MAILA BAJE