Monday, August 16, 2010

End experiments

The political situation in Nepal is getting murkier each day. Recently, India sent two of its former ambassadors to Nepal to find the "outlet". One of them, K V Rajan, who landed immediately after Shyam Saran left is still busy with parleys. Subsequent visits of the former Indian diplomats make it clear that the situation is out of control of the handlers based in Indian Embassy campus in Kathmandu. This is certainly not the situation, where bureaucrats, especially the young ones trying to vault higher into the overly bureaucratic and hierarchical structure of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), would like to be in. They, for their part, seem to have tried everything from backdoor dealings to issuing open threats. But at times, things do not work despite all sweat and toil, and that is life. It certainly doesn't feel good, does it?

To India's dismay, things in Nepal is surely not going the way Saran and other "Nepal experts" based in Delhi had imagined, when they came up with the formula of bedding the violent Maoist radicals with the moderate mainstream political parties. They thought that by catapulting the Maoists into the mainstream—which is what they thought they were doing till the Maoists swept Constituent Assembly elections—they would have complete dominance over Nepali politics and politicians. It would have been true if politics was an electric circuit where you exactly know the way electric current flows, and stop it, if need be. But politics is not an electrical circuit. In it, you have an ego, ambitions, power, and money at play. Hence, deciphering how one would act in changed circumstances is a very tricky business.

Saran and others crafting India's "pragmatic" Nepal policy should have taken cues from what happens in India all the time. Protégé abandon their political mentors as their political base and popularity expands. Nitish Kumar, the current chief minister of Bihar, which is also the home state of Saran, is one such example. Nitish ended the parliamentary career of George Fernandes, who was not only his mentor but also a person that helped a formerly lightweight Nitish to jump start his stagnant political career under Lalu Prasad Yadav. It was Fernandes that helped Kumar to break away from Lalu's Janata Dal in 1994 and form the Samata Party. 

Saran and fellow pragmatists placed enormous confidence on transformational power of Indian establishment's moral and materialsupport to the Nepali Maoists during the insurgency and their role as a "guarantor" and "facilitator" of the twelve-point agreement signed in New Delhi. They thought it was more than enough to keep the Nepali Maoist on a leash. But little did they realize that impacts of moral and material support strength-bound and wane as protégé gain their own strength. As support base swells, they feel less obliged to remain subservient. It happened with the Maoists and again with the Madhesi People's Rights Forum. In the case of later, India was quite successful to contain the defection by administering vertical split. The bottom line is that moral and material support does not buy eternal subservience.

To say the least, India's policy toward Nepal is seriously flawed. It wants to turn Nepal into a subservient client state like Bhutan, butcan't articulate exactly how. This inability has led India to engage in a never-ending series of dangerous experiments that have completely destroyed the prospects of establishment of egalitarian republican order in Nepal. India sincerely hoped that uprooting of the Monarchy would align its Southern neighbor permanently in its sphere of influence. But that hope got dashed away when the tactical use of nationalism by the monarchy was soon replaced by the jingoism of the Maoists. In order to neutralize the Maoists, Indian establishment then exploited the genuine quest for ethnic empowerment. While the Madhesi politicians are being assured of all help in their quest, the likes of Laxman Tharus that are dead against Madhesi parties' one madhes agenda are being occasionally ferried to New Delhi for secret consultation and direction by the Indian intelligence. Ethnic populace clamoring for their genuine rights appearas confused, if not more, as ever. Even the leaders appear bewildered. Recently, Upendra Yadav, during one of his media interviews said that it is not only Kathmandu but also Delhi does not understand their plight. If Nepali media is to be trusted, there are reports all over about K V Rajan and the current Indian ambassador meeting Gyanendra Shah. If this is true, the never-ending experimentation in the name of "pragmatism" by the Indian establishment has made a complete circle.

At present, India's policy toward Nepal is no different from managing a brothel—a purely business transaction, where the pimps are identified and paid off to get the best beauty in town in bed. Playing one forces against another has completely uprooted people's faith over the political process. It is not only that, people are losing lost faith over liberal democracy. The politicians of ethnic parties now come across as puppets playing at the hands of external power.

In summary, India has made Nepali populace, both Pahadis and Madhesis, wary of its intentions. It can certainly do better. All it has to do is stand by its commitment to the democratic process. People of Nepal, at least the educated ones, very well understand the sensitivity of Indo-Nepal relationship. The new herd of politicians and bureaucrats cropped up from the well-established transparent democratic system would be more level-headed and reliable than the ones currently in circulation and bartered occasionally. They may not serve Indian interest completely, but for sure, they will not be foolish like the herd we have now to resort to jingoism. The transaction costs of dealing with them will be far less than what India is incurring now. End experiments and get back to the basics. It will be beneficial both for India and Nepal.

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