By Bhavesh Shah , 27 Sep :Nepal’s new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ created waves during his recent visit to India. From politicians to academics to the media, Indians were charmed by the former Maoist rebel chief’s words and gestures. In the exhilaration, it was easy to forget that the Maoists had begun their anti-monarchy insurgency 13 years ago on a charter full of anti-India diatribes.
Yet until the eve of his election as premier, Prachanda had been accusing India of interfering in Nepali affairs, specifically to prevent the Maoists from taking charge of the new government. He, like most Nepali politicians, conveniently forgot that without Indian ‘interference’, Nepal would perhaps still be languishing under royal absolutism.
Undoubtedly, credit for the restoration of democracy in April 2006 goes to the millions upon millions of Nepalis who took to the streets of Kathmandu and other Nepali cities against the rule of then-king Gyanendra. It is equally undeniable that New Delhi was actively involved in creating an alliance between the Maoist rebels and the mainstream Nepali opposition parties. The perceived impossibility of such cooperation between then-fierce rivals is what had emboldened the royal palace.
The monarchy, which was never a friend of India, is now consigned to the history books. However, the anti-Indianism it had fanned to consolidate its power since the 1950s remains a living feature of Nepali politics. Cutting across party lines, this sentiment emerges with vengeance, such as in the aftermath of the Koshi floods and the vice-president’s decision to take his oath in Hindi. As New Delhi struggles to come up with a rational post-monarchy Nepal policy, it must not lose sight of the collective Nepali psyche.
Ordinary Indians remain genuinely perplexed by the antipathy their country engenders at almost every turn of Nepali life. A common religious, cultural and social heritage, after all, should have been conducive to far more tranquil relations. India, despite its own needs, has over the decades contributed generously to Nepal’s socio-economic development. What went wrong and how? A new book, “The Raj Lives: India in Nepal,” helps put things in perspective.
In the book, Sanjay Upadhya, a leading Nepali journalist, repeats familiar gripes of his compatriots. By tying them firmly to the evolution of Indo-Nepali relations, he has enabled a better understanding of the factors driving the Nepali mindset. Some of these grievances are outrageous (i.e., that India staged the Indian Airlines hijacking in 1999 to expose the links between Pakistan and Nepal in fomenting anti-Indian activities and that Indian intelligence agencies were complicit in the assassination of King Birendra and his family in 2001).
Others are more amenable to bilateral discussions (i.e., reviewing the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty and other agreements Nepalis consider unequal.) Still others are merely rooted in differing perceptions (i.e., Kathmandu’s objections to Delhi’s legitimate security sensitivities vis-à-vis China, Pakistan and other quarters.)
Sadly, as Upadhya advances in his central argument, these distinctions do not seem to matter much in Nepal. As Nepal’s fractious political parties persist in their political games, these issues – and certainly newer ones – are bound to mar a bilateral partnership that holds much promise. In the final chapter, Upadhya lays out the opportunities that have been missed amidst mutual recrimination.
The inclusion of historical photographs as well as maps identifying existing border disputes would have brightened the book. Incorporating the text of the 1950 Treaty and the letters exchanged – the symbol of India’s highhandedness in many Nepalis’ eyes – might have facilitated easier comprehension of the subject matter without having to consult other books. Overall, these omissions do not diminish the importance of the book for serious students and general readers alike.