May 09, 2016 Published on Dailyo.in by KAMAL MITRA CHENOY @kamaichenoy
Nepal is an old friend of India. Many of its natives have served with distinction in the crack Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army. A lot of Nepalis have settled in India, just like many Indians, the Madhesis have settled in Nepal. But the Nepalis don’t like big brother treatment. Thus it is imperative for Indian governments to be consistently diplomatic with Kathmandu.
In the current regime diplomatic manoeuvres with Nepal have been on occasion blunt and even ham handed. The transition in the Nepali Interim Constitution to the finalised Constitution was difficult.
Issues like proportional representation, requirements for Nepali citizenship, a Constitutional requirement that only the Nepalese born could hold a Constitutional post, the dealing with small nationalities like the Tharus, the resolution of the Madhesi demand for more acceptable boundaries, were among the more difficult issues facing the Nepali Constitution makers.
Indian concern, particularly about Madhesi issues, was understandable. But there are few issues more sensitive than Constitution making, but Nepal’s sensitivities were not properly assessed by the Indian government.
At a time when very few English translations of the Nepali Constitution were available, the prominent Indian daily The Indian Express, published several suggested amendments to the Nepali Constitution, generally addressing Madhesi concerns. This open intervention was ham-handed and intrusive. Such critical issues are not discussed in public. India has a number of possible interlocutors, who could have been sent to have a comprehensive dialogue with the major Nepalese leaders and parties, behind closed doors.
But India played big brother. The overt intervention and open support to the Madhesis was doubly unfortunate. Firstly, it hardened the Nepali position. Secondly, it significantly weakened India’s bargaining position, which was seen as partisan in favouring the Madhesis. After some time, when the Nepali leadership initiated a meeting with the Chinese, India was clearly unhappy. This was undiplomatic, to say the least.
Now matters have worsened. A crisis in Nepali politics on May 3-4, when former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist), invited Sher Bahadur Deuba, leader of the Nepali Congress (NC), to form a combine and replace the government of KP Sharma Oli (CPN-UML), led to suspicions of covert Indian intervention.
The Nepal government cancelled the visit of its president to India and recalled its ambassador.
Gopal Khanal, senior foreign affairs expert in the office of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli claimed that the plot to break the ruling alliance, led by Oli was supported by India.
As usual Indian sources rubbed salt into Nepal’s wounds. The Hinduon May 9 reported that a source claimed Mr Oli had not implemented the promised amendments. It was also claimed that Mr Oli “promised to bring necessary amendments in the Nepali Constitution but till now Nepal has not moved at all in implementing the amendments to provide equal rights to all sections of (the) population.”
The source expectedly claimed without amendments the Madhesis would begin agitating, which would hurt Indian security interests.
Once again making demands in a critical situation for the Nepali politicians, when the Nepali government was on the brink of being destabilised. It is staggeringly poor diplomacy.
The amendments cited by India may have merit, but that is for the Nepal government to decide, not for Indian “sources” to prescribe, that too in the press.
A major rethink in Indian policy towards Nepal is urgently required. Constitutional measures taken by a neighbour, even if they effect the India-connected Madhesis, must be handled delicately without insulting our small neighbour.
Prime minister KP Sharma Oli is not the only major politician involved in considering amendments suggested by India. All Nepali parties are involved.
They deserve respect and accommodation from their big neighbour.