Neighbourhood Diaries: Nepal in Turmoil

Nepal is a very small country with a meager population of 25 million people. The idiosyncrasy of Nepal as a country emanates from its foreign relations. Nepal is landlocked between the two most populous countries in the world viz. India and China. After the paradigm shift from Monarchy to Democracy in 1990, Nepal has built strong political relations with India and China and is often involved in balancing both. India’s relationship with Nepal took shape in the 1950’s and ever since, there has been continuous improvement in the ties between these linguistically contrasted neighbors. For the first time in 1988, the relationship started getting sore owing to small differences in trade and transit treaty renewals. Nepal procured weaponry from China during the same time which fanned the fire all the more.

India’s ties with Nepal in the last 7 years have been topsy-turvy for most parts. Things doomed in 2005 when King Gyanendra took over at the helm. But ties were reestablished in 2008 after restoration of Democracy in Nepal. India went on to help Nepal to frame its constituency and helped in the country’s governance significantly. Concerns about a possible restructuring of India’s relations with Nepal have been voiced recently by strategists and politicos. Lack of trust and suspicious mindsets have been the main reasons for the lack of a strong bond between the neighbors. The latest insurgency in Nepal is a cause for concern and India, being a larger and better developed nation cannot just sit and stare. Governance is on the back-foot and announcements of autonomous states have been making headlines in the last fortnight. Recently, Maoists announced autonomy in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu. A new political confrontation is surely on the cards.

Should India act as a responsible neighbour and interfere? Or is it wise to watch from the outside and ensure that there is no spillover into her own territory? If India decides to interfere, the first question is which of the parallel governments should India support? India being an epitome of Democracy and Maoism being a rude threat to herself, favoring democracy is the obvious choice. But Maoists have substantial support in the nation and one should not forget that Maoists were in power for about 6 months before their sacking of Nepal’s army chief. Hence peace talks moderated by a friendly neighbor like India or China is the solution to the problem. This is an opportunity for India to walk the extra mile to ensure its supremacy in the region lest China get their nose ahead. Circumstances being as they are, it is inevitable that only one of the two powers can take the leader’s role.

Economically, India has undoubtedly raised the bar in the last decade. But it is important that India get a strategic vantage and vindicate her quest for superiority and control in the region. It is certain that India does not intend to take a dogmatic approach being a developing country herself. But in the race against time, wherein China is whizzing past India to reach the zenith as Asia’s ultimate power, it is an opportunity for India to act with some wit and resolve. Doing so would also help to restructure our relationship with the little neighbor. Nepal, being a tourism based economy, it will do a world of good if it can have seamless support from a highly populated and developing country like India. For India, it would be a platform to assert superiority in the region. Hence a peace process initiated by India is for the best of both the countries and would serve a couple of other ulterior purposes too.

Pradeep Sekhar

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