Opening the next door

From The Hindustan Times (27 May, 2013)

The occasional write-ups about Nepal in the international press, including India’s, tend to present the picture of a country where the peace process has been efficiently concluded, and the Maoists democratised and mainstreamed — a country well on its way to normalisation.
None of which is quite true. Under the cunning leadership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal (‘Prachanda’), lately wined and dined in New Delhi, the UCPN-Maoist openly cheated on the peace process and derailed the constitution-making. They have sabotaged the judiciary, compromised the police and army, foisted perpetrators of atrocities on the public, and conspired to polarise society in cross-cutting layers, including hill-plain and caste-ethnic.

The Constituent Assembly which died a year ago ended a farce; without discussion as to its failure, preparations are underway for elections to another assembly that would have a run of five full years. With a four-party oligarchy headed by Dahal dictating national affairs, the elections are being planned without addressing the critical issues of proportional representation, distribution of citizenship certificates, size and function of the forthcoming assembly, and so on.

A calibrated attempt is ongoing to weaken the Nepali state and society, even as the democratic parties remain paralysed in the face of Maoist momentum and ‘bideshi dabav’, the preferred euphemism. Meanwhile, the impoverishment that began with the start of the ‘peoples’ war’ in 1996 continues, evident in the thousands of citizens departing the country daily for the Gulf, Malaysia and further afield. The poorest continue to teem across into India, to serve as the underclass.

For long, since the days of BP Koirala in the 1950s, Nepal was ‘protected’ by the friendly contact between the Indian and Nepali freedom-fighter democrats. This is now history, with New Delhi’s Nepal policy ‘outsourced’ into the hands, first of the apparatchiks and now the field agents. With the civilian observers in New Delhi either unaware or uncaring, today there is open involvement of the ‘Indian hand’ in Kathmandu, and what seems suspiciously like an attempt to establish a client regime.

India’s involvement in Kathmandu politics goes back to 1947 and Jawaharlal Nehru, but today there is not even the pretence of decorum. Certainly, the intervention that is ongoing is not in support of human rights and democracy; it seems targeted at due process and accountability.

In May 2011, New Delhi pushed for the formation of the Maoist-Madhebadi coalition led by Baburam Bhattarai, on the back of an anti-people agreement that included pardon for perpetrators. India then got enmeshed in defining Nepal’s federalism, supporting the idea of a buffer province 500 miles by 20 miles that would economically devastate the plains-based Madhesi and other citizenry of Nepal. The unaccountable interlocutors even sought to puncture transitional justice procedures for conflict-era human rights abuse by the security forces and the Maoists.

In mid-March, ‘overwhelming force’ was used to demolish the opposition to the appointment of the sitting chief justice Khil Raj Regmi as head-of-government — something expressly prohibited by the Interim Constitution. In early May, Indian agents camped out in Kathmandu to push through the appointment of a royalist ex-bureaucrat certified as corrupt by the anti-graft national commission, to head the self-same commission.

If one were to search for answers as to this astounding level of micro-management of a friendly South Asian neighbour, they would be found in: a) the inability of Nepal’s senior-most politicians to stand tall: Messrs. Koirala, Khanal, Deuba, Oli, et al; b) the inattention of New Delhi’s civil society to the goings-on; and, c) the enthusiasm of the ‘agencies’ for Nepal as a playing field for experimentation and skullduggery.

No one would deny that India has legitimate interests in Nepal. The uniquely open border can be (and has been) misused by third-country infiltrators and by smugglers. Besides its security concerns, India eyes the natural resources of the Central Himalaya (hydropower and, especially, stored water from high dams), access to the Nepali market, and the possibilities of economic synergies with the adjacent Ganga plains. There is exasperation that the consolidation of democracy has not happened in order to push these and other agendas.

The first thing would be for New Delhi to consider its own role in the non-consolidation of Nepali democracy in the decades past. Meanwhile, the thought that interventionism would further the defined Indian interests indicates a failure of intelligence and analysis. Policy-makers in New Delhi may want to study whether the ongoing Nepal adventure can deliver what is sought in terms of national security, natural resources and market.

If the national level politicians are too preoccupied to pay attention, at the very least Indian civil society interested in democracy, social justice, human rights, accountability and downright decency — may want to take a look. India’s Nepal policy must be debated in New Delhi — there is no reason why it should be considered taboo.

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