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Home > General > Apply Panchsheel on Nepal (Kanak Mani Dixit) / India’s spectacular policy (...)

Apply Panchsheel on Nepal (Kanak Mani Dixit) / India’s spectacular policy failure in Nepal (Bharat Bhushan) / Outrageous interference in Nepal’s affairs (Faraz Ahmad)

24 September 2015

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The Hindu - 24 September 2015

Apply Panchsheel on Nepal
by Kanak Mani Dixit

[Photo]Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav promulgates the constitution at the parliament in Kathmandu on September 20, 2015.

The oldest nation-state of South Asia must be allowed its own space to implement its new Constitution, which for all its weaknesses has progressive elements, from institutionalising the republic and secularism, to conferring several social and economic rights on its people

No other term but ‘dismay’ can describe one’s response to New Delhi’s ungenerous reply to Nepal’s democratic drafting of a Constitution through a Constituent Assembly. The Ministry of External Affairs merely ‘took note’ of the document, and followed that up a day later with a veiled threat of economic blockade, which Nepal has already experienced in 1988.

According to reports, this was followed up the next day with a list of demands from New Delhi as to what should go into Nepal’s Constitution in amendment, including the kind of provinces to be created exclusively in the Tarai-Madhes plains. This overt interventionism, meant to impress Kathmandu’s recalcitrant political class, has left the observer aghast.

The ‘Constitution of Nepal 2072’ (in the Vikram calendar) was the culmination of seven years of effort, including a failed first Constituent Assembly (CA) feeding into the second CA. This process began with the 12-Point Agreement of 2005, negotiated between the underground Maoists and Nepal’s democratic parties, facilitated by New Delhi, with the promise to hold elections for a Constituent Assembly. The constitution-writing had been frustratingly painstaking, even suffocating, and it was hoped that India, more than any other country, would recognise the need of Nepal to move on with its social agenda and economic revival.

A ‘rights-based’ Constitution

Attempting to write a modernist Constitution in ‘post-modernist’ times, there are many holes and loopholes in the statute. This is a rights-based document that makes promises to all, rather than the spare, basic law we have been taught to be the ideal, and it makes many promises conditional upon the enactment of laws.

The preamble starts with ‘we the Nepali people’ rather than the ‘people of Nepal’, forgetting that there are those who self-identify as ‘Nepali’ elsewhere in South Asia. A dreadful sop to the Maoists was the salute in the preamble to the ‘armed conflict(s)’ of the past.

There are contradictions galore in this Constitution, written by politicians responding to populist pressures rather than by circumspect jurists and constitutionalists. The process was weakened by senior leaders who formed a cabal that took all decisions instead of allowing debates on the floor of the Constituent Assembly.

For all its weaknesses, though, the Constitution has progressive elements that would do all of South Asia proud, from institutionalising the republic and secularism, to confirming social and economic rights as fundamental, to rejecting the death penalty. The needs of marginalised communities, including the Dalits, the disabled and those from the LGBT community, are addressed. There is a genuine attempt to safeguard the rights of women, though it is not seen to be enough.

Perhaps the most welcome aspect is that amendments can be adopted with relative ease over the next two years and four months, as the Constituent Assembly enjoys a kind of afterlife as a Parliament with the same party-based configuration. Everything except sovereignty and national integrity are open to amendment.

Given that we are all saddled with the nation-state as the primordial unit of governance, it is important for India to let the neighbour sort out its challenges on its own. The Nepal-India relationship, including the historically defined open border, the alive cultural linkages and the overall goodwill between the citizenry on the two sides, holds out an example for South Asia as a whole. For this reason alone the Modi dispensation, which places such a store by improving neighbourhood relationships, should be careful not to act, or to be seen, as Big Brother.

The fact is that India is big, and it is a brother to Nepal. The latter, meanwhile, is the ideal country where enlightened sovereignty can lead to an end to social marginalisation, economic growth, and the ratcheting down of nationalist posturing that has been such a drag on the egalitarian evolution of the Subcontinent over the past six decades.

There are enough indications, through its experiments in community radio and locally managed forestry, local government and in the easy cosmopolitanism of Kathmandu, that Nepal can emerge as an ideal democracy. For this, Nepal should be allowed to make its own plans and mistakes.

The country has been politically sovereign for two-and-half centuries, but lacked democracy to make governance work for the people. Democracy was achieved in 1990 but was derailed with the Maoist ‘people’s war’ barely five years later. The conflict ended in 2006 but then followed a peace process and period of transition, during which time inter-community polarisation flared.

The interminable transition was to have ended with the promulgation of the Constitution, but the violence in the plains and the vehemence of the official Indian reaction has raised questions on whether Nepal will actually turn the corner.

New Delhi’s statements leading up to the promulgation of the Constitution and thereafter have been marked by escalating interventionism, with the gloves off. Indeed, one constant since before Mr Modi took charge has been the itch to micromanage Nepal, with even the external intelligence agency enjoying a carte blanche to operate overtly. Certainly, two key points of the Panchsheel Principles (mutual respect for sovereignty and non-interference) seem to have been consigned to the dustbin.

The reason for South Block’s imperative for visible interventionism may be as benign as wanting to be perceived as the decisive power on Nepal, or more problematic and linked to strategic interests including cross-border security and Himalayan water resources. It could also be as simple as the personal pique of mandarins and apparatchiks, who feel that Kathmandu’s three major parties have stopped listening to them.

The opinion-makers in Indian media, including former Ambassadors tied to present policy, have failed to consider the representative and inclusive nature of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly. Altogether 9.5 million citizens participated in the CA elections of November 2013, making up fully 78 per cent of registered voters. Of the 601 Assembly members, 335 were placed through proportional representation and 240 were directly elected, itself an advanced South Asian experiment.

In terms of the promulgation, 92 per cent of all Constituent Assembly members endorsed the Constitution while 85 per cent voted in favour of the document, far above the required two-thirds majority. This was very much the “the widest possible consensus” that has been Prime Minister Modi’s personal insistence. Of the 116 (first-past-the-post) seats occupied by representatives from the Tarai-Madhes plains, 105 voted for the Constitution while 11 boycotted.

New Delhi’s support has been lopsided by focussing on the Madhes-based parties that have been demanding plains-only provinces. This constitutes a lack of concern for the rest of Nepal with its profusion of communities, 125 in total. Neither is the plains citizenry monolithic, with a multiplicity of identities that includes the Muslims, the Tharus and the Dalits, as also a large number of Pahadiya hill people.

The activism by New Delhi also does a disservice to the Madhesi people of Nepal, who have no divided loyalties and who see their future as secure within a democratic Nepal even as they fight for inclusion, equality and dignity. It bears keeping in mind that only the Madhesi population has been provided an identity-based province (province No. 2 of the east-central plains) in the federal delineation.

If the neighbour’s strategic interest forces a fait accompli of exclusively plains-based provinces, there are two possible outcomes. First, the massive weight of poverty of the plains will be locked in and the promise of federalism will likely be wasted. Second, this interference will create a politically unstable Nepal astride India’s populous heartland. A return to Panchsheel, therefore, seems well advised.

Three-cornered mistake

All three sides have made mistakes in Nepal: the national leaders, the Madhes-based parties and Indian policymakers. The topmost leaders of the national parties (Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Maoists) have preferred a ‘rule by syndicate’, and made errors such as neglecting the Tharu people in expanding the originally proposed six provinces to seven provinces. They are yet to visit the plains to express sorrow for the more than 45 dead during the agitation of the past two months.

As far as the Madhes-based parties are concerned, at least some of their positioning is explained by the fact that the top leaders are fighting for political survival, having been routed in the November 2013 elections, when the (plains) voters rejected their main plank of identity-based provinces.

As for the set of seven demands that New Delhi is said to have placed before Kathmandu, including proportional representation in all arms of state, adjustment of electoral constituencies according to population, as well as aspects of citizenship rights, these are matters that have been already discussed between the Madhes-based parties and the three main parties. From the pulpit of the Constituent Assembly, the latter have committed itself to carrying out the required amendments.

Before raising the ante on Nepal further, the Indian side should keep in mind that there are many forces that would want a collapse of the Constitution of Nepal-2072, including the anti-secularists and anti-republicans.

New Delhi must introspect and take into consideration the sovereignty of a neighbour, one that has always been sensitive to its well-being and security concerns. Nepal must be allowed to sort matters out by itself. Kathmandu, for its part, should not fall short of responding to this challenge of Indian officialdom with dignity and logic. Only dignity and logic.

(Kanak Mani Dixit, a writer and journalist based in Kathmandu, is founding editor of the magazine Himal Southasian)

o o o - 23 September 2015

India’s spectacular policy failure in Nepal
by Bharat Bhushan

The failure

  • India seems to have mismanaged its relations with Nepal
  • It has been openly rebuffed by many of the major political players
  • After Pakistan, this is India’s biggest foreign policy failure
  • This is despite India’s generous help during the April earthquake
  • Narendra Modi’s much-hyped visit to Nepal also yielded little goodwill

The players

  • Nepal’s PM-designate KP Oli told the Indian ambassador to mind his own business
  • Comrade Prachanda says Nepal is not India’s "yes man"
  • Baburam Bhattarai asserted that Nepal "makes its own decisions"
  • Sushil Koirala is also suspicious of India

The pinpricks

  • Nepal resents India’s big-brother attitude
  • BJP’s wish that Nepal reverts to being a Hindu Rashtra also raised suspicions
  • Nepal has always feared meeting the same fate as Sikkim, which had acceded to India
  • Nepalese politicians also make it a point to strike a balance between India and China
  • It would seem that after Pakistan, India’s most spectacular foreign policy failure has been Nepal.

Comrade Prachanda has publicly proclaimed that Nepal is not India’s "yes man". Baburam Bhattarai told a reporter that India is important but "we make our own decisions". And if stories going around in Kathmandu are to be believed, the man likely to take over as the next Prime Minister, KP Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) recently told the Indian ambassador to mind his own business.

Read more: Nepal has become a Hindu State through the backdoor

The Indian ambassador had apparently gone to inquire about Oli’s health when he saw Prime Minister Sushil Koirala leaving his house. He asked Oli informally what had transpired between the two, when he was brusquely told off.
’We don’t want to be another Sikkim’

Another apocryphal story doing the rounds says that a Constitutional head in Nepal rebuffed a senior Indian functionary when he advised him that Nepal must go back to being a ’Hindu Rashtra’ and clamp down on foreign NGOs. The Nepalese eventually did exactly the opposite because they said they did not want to become ’another Sikkim’.

After Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar’s unsuccessful foray to Kathmandu, such have been the levels of distrust that India has come up with three stern official statements criticising the developments in Nepal, but to no avail. Except for the Madhesi leaders, the Nepalese leadership across the political spectrum is united against what they perceive as Indian pressure.

Survival makes politicians develop notoriously short memories. India’s quick response to the devastating earthquake in Nepal and the Rs. 400 crore spent on Operation Maitri for rescue, relief and rehabilitation clearly haven’t bought India friendship.

Nor has Lord Shiva helped.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed rudrabhishek prayers at the Pashupatinath Temple with much fanfare and donated 2,500 kg of sandalwood (worth about Rs. 4 crore) and 2,400 kg of ghee (Rs. 9.36 lakh at the price prevailing in August 2014) at the cost of the Indian tax payer. But neither Lord Shiva nor his followers in Nepal were moved. Hinduism is no longer a unifying factor even across a totally porous border.

BJP’s wish that Nepal revert to being a Hindu Rashtra revives the Nepalese’ fear of Sikkimisation

Prime Minister-designate KP Oli’s sharp jibes against the Indian ambassador have finally shown Delhi where it stands in Kathmandu politics. Gone are the 1950s when the Indian ambassador used to attend meetings of the Nepal Cabinet. As are the days when India financed political parties against the monarchy or controlled factional leaders.

Nepal’s prime ministerial hopefuls are increasingly proving to be their own men. This breed of Nepalese leaders may accept Indian aid/money but will be reluctant to do its bidding.
What divides India and Nepal

It is time the Indian establishment started viewing Nepal as a sovereign country. To do that, India’s foreign policy mandarins must accept the factors that divide India and Nepal.

The biggest distancing factor is the Nepalese consciousness of being a small, landlocked country set against a large neighbor. What makes the Nepalese fiercely independent and allergic to Indian highhandedness is the fact that they were never colonised by the British.

But India continues to play Big Brother. Telling the Nepalese that only India knows what their best interests are is patronising. But we can’t seem to resist it. Prime Minister Modi’s boastful claim that the Nepal Prime Minister learnt of the 25 April earthquake from his tweet is typical, as is the boast by another politician that India helped to bring the Maoist leadership into the mainstream.

The Sikkim syndrome has also played a negative role in India-Nepal relations. The annexation of Sikkim by India in 1975, although through a plebiscite, left deep suspicions in the Nepalese mind. The anti-India elements in Nepal have played on these sentiments whenever the relationship took a downturn.

Despite an internal undercurrent of discontent with Hinduism being abolished as the state religion, BJP’s wish that Nepal revert to being a "Hindu Rashtra" is deeply threatening to the Nepalese. It revives old fears of a possible ’Sikkimisation’.
Madhesi factor

This fear is further underlined by India’s espousal of an inclusive democracy for the Madhesis, or people of the Terai. Remember that from the monarchy, the Rana elite, the Bahun-Chhetris of the hills, to the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley - Nepalese political elites have tended to view the Madhesis as the fifth column of India.

They speak the same languages as people across the border in India and often inter-marry. Giving them due share in political power - they are half of Nepal’s population - seems threatening to the Nepalese establishment, dominated by the hill castes.

Some in the Indian establishment have promoted the formation of separate Madhesi parties, encouraging them to leave other multi-ethnic national parties during the democratic movement. This also has not helped allay the apprehensions of the traditionally dominant hill castes.

The new breed of Nepalese leaders may accept Indian aid but are reluctant to do its bidding

The lack of a clear enunciation by India that the future of the Madhesis lies with Kathmandu, has led to the Madhesis coming under perpetual suspicion. That is why when the Bahun-Chhetri elite drew the boundaries of the new provinces of Nepal in smoke-filled rooms, they ensured that their domination would continue in the new provinces and in the new federal government of Nepal.

Perhaps if India had encouraged the Madhesis to look towards Kathmandu in a more determined fashion than at Delhi, things might have turned out differently.
Balancing China and India

Some sections of the Nepalese media have also fed hostility towards India and see keeping a distance from India as an important ingredient of Nepalese nationalism.

Another way of asserting Nepalese ’independence’ is to constantly attempt to balance China and India. Even while swearing by deep cultural and civilisational ties with India, successive governments in Nepal have used China as a symbol to counter Indian hegemony. Earlier it was the palace, then the Maoists and now even some democratic leaders play the China card even when it has no real purchase in Nepal.

The Indian establishment must not react to the rude rebuff it has received from Nepal

The outgoing Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress, while outwardly friendly, is believed to harbour a deep suspicion of India. It has not helped matters that he is the only Nepal Prime Minister not invited for an official visit to India.

Prachanda, who never used to tire of talking of maintaining an equidistance between India and China, has gone back to bracketing the two countries in his recent speeches.

United Marxist Leninist Party’s prime ministerial hopeful KP Oli is also playing the same game even before moving into Baluwatar, the prime ministerial residence in Kathmandu. He sent his special envoy Pradeep Gayewali to Delhi in early September, but made sure that he also sent his party General Secretary Ishwor Pokhrel to Beijing for consultations at the same time.

Clearly, when it comes to demonstrating one’s Nepali nationalism, it does not seem to matter to Nepalese leaders that India is and will remain their most important neighbour. For their self-projection, they invent the image of an India inimical to Nepal’s interests. They forget that it makes no sense for India to weaken or de-stabilise Nepal, an important and friendly buffer state between India and China.
What New Delhi must do

Now, at least, the scales should fall off the eyes of the Indian leadership.

The Indian establishment must not react to the rude rebuff it has received from Nepal with extreme reactions such as a blockade. That would be an extremely unfriendly act. At the same time, however, there is no need to give any extraordinary concessions to Nepal.

Nepal should be treated like any other neighbour of India, irrespective of the religion of its people, the languages they speak or the attitude of its political leaders. Let the Kathmandu elite deal with the problems of its creation. Offer no help unless requested.

India-Nepal relations should, however, be gradually redefined by India to safeguard its interests. The Kathmandu elite, however, must realise that a new Nepal also needs to deal with a new India.

o o o

Faraz Ahmad’s Blog - September 23, 2015

India asks Nepal to amend its Constitution: Outrageous interference in Nepal’s affairs

by Faraz Ahmad

Has Nepal become the 30th Indian state? Isn’t Nepal a sovereign country? Do we have any right or business to tell Nepal how they should frame their Constitution and what should be deleted from it? Are we contemplating doing a Sikkim on Nepal now?

The impunity with which the Government of India has gone about dictating to Nepal to effect not one, not two, but seven amendments to its Constitution is not just untenable but downright shocking and a blatant interference in the affairs of our sovereign neighbour.

And what is the crux of these amendments? That the Madhesis, primarily Indian settlers from Bihar and Eastern UP, living in the South-Eastern districts of Nepal, be made to decide the laws and governance of Nepal. The Madhesis, though not originally Nepalis want to hold the levers of power in Nepal and have their men like President Ram Baran Yadav rule the hill nation. We haven’t granted this to the Gorkhas settled in Darjeeling. For decades the Gorkhas settlers of Darjeeling have been demanding a separate state of their own, within the Indian Union but that is unacceptable to the Indians. Ever so often the BJP raises a hue and cry that people from Bangladesh have come and settled in Assam registered themselves as voters and influence the voting pattern and wants to undo this by striking down IDMT Act, 1983 which seeks to protect minorities in Assam who have not migrated from Bangladesh. But when it comes to Nepal we want the fast multiplying Indian settlers from Bihar and Eastern UP (Mind you there is no passport or any permit to regulate the to and fro traffic between India and Nepal) to numerically overwhelm the true descendants of the hill state by their sheer numbers.

The new Nepali constitution has barred certain top public offices like that of the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of Nepal, the Speaker of Parliament, the Chairperson of the National Assembly, chief ministers and speakers of provincial assemblies and the chief of security bodies to naturalized citizens and reserved these only to those who are Nepalis by descent. It is amazing that the proposal has gone from the External Affairs ministry, headed by Sushma Swaraj. One wonders whether she recalls how she had threatened to get her head shaved and sleep only on the floor as a form of protest post 2004 general elections which brought the UPA to power, if Sonia Gandhi were to become the Prime Minister of India. Why? Because even though Sonia has spent the greater part of her life in India, she happened to be born in Italy.

Nepal is not the only country which wants only a true Nepali to rule the nation. I remember soon as the NDA lost the 2004 elections, the Sanghis led by the current Chairman of Prasar Bharti, A Surya Prakash held a meeting of like-minded Sanghi hacks in Bengali Market, presumably in The Pioneer School of Journalism then situated there to mobilise public opinion and not just express outrage but agitate to prevent Sonia becoming the Prime Minister. But today India has the gumption to tell Nepal to let the Madhesi settlers, larger in numbers, to govern Nepal by suitably amending its Constitution.

o o o

[Other resources & commentary:

India’s Nepal Policy Needs Caution, Not Grandstanding
by S.D. Muni on 23/09/2015

Nepal messed up its constitution, India messed up its handling of Nepal
by Indrani Bagchi on September 24, 2015


The above articles from The Hindu and Catch News are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use