By Maila Baje
As far as we know, the following exchange didn’t occur during the Wuhan summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Maila Baje wouldn’t be surprised if it had:
Xi: Up next is Nepal.
Modi: That’s a sore one for us. And the way they’ve been rubbing it in.
Xi: You can’t blame them, though. They’re almost on an endless campaign for independence from you.
Modi: What haven’t we done for them? We built their first airport, their first highway, their first modern hospital, all those scholarships, all those jobs for Nepalis. Sure, we might have demeaned and denigrated them here and there.
Xi: It’s more than ‘here and there’, from what I hear. Across the board, they feel India can’t stand the fact that they are independent.
Modi: They can’t have it both ways, though. The king, political parties, even the communists, come running to us whenever they’re in trouble. We mediate, they get their throne/chairs back and what’s the next thing everyone does? Indians this, Indians that.
Xi: Maybe the way you micromanage things is the problem. It kind of irks us, too. Take the Maoists, for example. They were your guys throughout the ‘people’s war’. But internationally we got blamed for trying to export revolution. And the irony? Unlike me, Chinese leaders then were trying run as fast as they could away from Mao Zedong. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson had to keep reminding the world that the Nepali Maoists were giving our man a bad name.
Modi: That was smart wasn’t it? [Chuckles] Jokes apart, we didn’t know what the palace and the parties were up to once democracy was restored in 1990. We thought the Maoists could be a check on both. But the insurgency got a life of its own, based on the corruption, inefficiencies and callousness of the Nepali state. Now, don’t you start blaming us for excesses of democracy in Nepal.
Xi: The palace massacre was a turning point for us. Birendra kind of understood us both. Look at the way he kept shuffling prime ministers. But even he slipped in 1989-90. His brother was made of a different cloth. Gyanendra meant well, was more assertive, and could have gotten a lot of things done. But he just couldn’t grasp how complex regional dynamics had become since the time of his father and brother. I don’t know about you, but we were really troubled by the way he and his people tried to project the royal takeover as Chinese-backed.
Modi: And the way he ambushed our prime minister on TV in Jakarta over the arms embargo. The antics at the Dhaka SAARC summit. We aren’t fools. We recognized that China had arrived in South Asia long before 2005. Heck, we were eying the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But there are nicer ways of doing things. In retrospect, Gyanendra tells us he would have done things differently. And that’s a big thing for a king to say. You’ve got to give him that.
Xi: No doubt, he was a man in a hurry. But we’re a little worried. It looks like you still have plans for him, with all this talk about Hindu statehood. Or are you just trying to keep the political parties in check? [Winks] No hurries. Let’s walk to that bridge with out cups and continue. The cameras have been on for a while now.
Modi: Not sure what to make of this Oli guy, though. In private, he sounds very reasonable about his plans for Nepal and the country’s place in the world. But this unification talk between the UML and the Maoists is really worrying us. To be brutally honest, it has your fingerprints all over it.
Modi: No, just hear me out. Your ambassador in Kathmandu met a former UML prime minister and openly expressed concern about the delay in the unification.
Xi: No, the Nepali media got it wrong. She did meet Madhav Nepal as part of her regular interactions with the Nepali leadership. Some of my people tell me that you guys engineered that misrepresentation in the Nepali media. But look here, after the fall of the monarchy, we didn’t have a reliable partner. Everyone was either educated or exiled – often both – in India. We thought we might turn the tables on you and even tried cultivating the Maoists. But they seemed too wedded to your intelligence agencies for a modicum of ideological affinity with us. Prachanda outdid Gyanendra in flaunting non-existent Chinese support. We had to cut him loose. After careful thought, we thought a Maoist-UML alliance would be our best bet.
Modi: And you end up choosing the very guy we tried so hard to project the most India-friendly leader in the UML. Man, all those hospital bills for his kidney treatment in Delhi.
Xi: Now that you brought Oli up. We can’t be really sure about him either, can we?
Modi: Oli’s already accusing us of ‘air imperialism’ after the lengths to which I went to be a good host in Delhi. If I remember correctly, he told one of your newspapers that he was building ties with China to extract concessions from us.
Xi: And don’t forget the reporter who interviewed him was Indian.
Modi: Okay [checking his watch], we can’t keep running in circles. You do understand why we consider Nepal to be in our sphere of influence?
Xi: Yes we do. But you, too, have to remember that Nepal was the last tributary to our Qing Court. In China, that still means a lot.
Modi: Maybe we should continue with Nepal next time?
Xi: Do we have a choice?
The Xi-Modi summit and Nepal
By Maila Baje