By Shubham Ghosh

Building a stable democracy is no child’s play and Nepal, which had abolished its monarchy and began experimentation with a republican political system almost a decade ago, has displayed how tough the task really is. The country has seen several governments taking over and getting toppled in this time and ahead of the next set of national elections in November and December, Nepal’s unstable politics coupled with its successiveleaderships’ inconsistent foreign relations have become a challenge to meet for not only its own people but also its two big neighbours, especially India.

The political parties of Nepal have displayed so much opportunism and inconsistency in their approaches over the last decade that nobody really harbours any hope that things will be better for the fledgling democracy anytime soon. The latest instance of the country’s Left forces forming an alliance (the Maoists who are in power with the Nepali Congress have joined hands with the Opposition UML!) is something that many Nepal observers have found to be yet another display of opportunism for grabbing power than any real ideological movement and given the track record of Nepalese politicians (one believes the number of the country’s past prime ministers is already a staggering one in its short span of republicanism), there is no guarantee that yet another election will settle things. Clearly, Nepal’s elections have remained limited to finding prime ministers and not addressing bigger challenges pertaining to regionalism, economy and community politics.

Modi made a good start to his Nepal policy but…

Nepal’s internal instability has left India worried. Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi had undoubtedly made a good start to his Nepal policy during his two memorable visits to the northern neighbour in 2014, soon after taking over. But 2015 proved to be a disaster in India-Nepal relations, thanks to India’s excessive help for quake-rattled Nepal and the disagreement over Nepal’s new constitution. Not to forget, the blockade imposed against Nepal which had left the country’s people extremely angry.

New Delhi had denied imposing it but experts and analysts said it was not something which was not understood. Modi’s goodwill shown in his early months had evaporated in the wake of these developments and India’s image as an assertive big brother made the turbulent scene in Nepal more unfavourable for New Delhi. The Modi government is all the more uncomfortable with the Left forces joining hands for the probability of a communist-ruled Nepal prevailing alongside red China is something that India’s policy makers would want as the last thing to happen.

India has not done well in post-monarchy days in Nepal

A serious drawback in India’s Nepal policy has been its inability to take Kathmandu into confidence in the post-monarchy days and that has encouraged China to try to influence Nepal’s internal affairs. This tendency is not unprecedented. In Afghanistan, too, it has been seen that the vacuum created by the failure of the country’s political leadership has made its several neighbours trying to control the affairs of the strategically significant country, leaving it in a further mess. Nepal, however, has only two neighbours but its own political turmoil is gradually making it a turf for both its gigantic neighbours to wrest the strategic advantage. This is not a healthy story for Nepal.

PM Modi is set to visit Nepal in November and New Delhi is trying its best to project how much deep is India’s love for Nepal. India has also taken up the task of implementing the BBIN (Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal) motor vehicles agreement for a borderless movement of traffic although Bhutan has decided against it. But will these measures be adequate enough to regain the confidence of Nepal’s fragmented polity?

India has an added responsibility to win Nepal’s heart

India has had a much deeper relation with Nepal over the years than China and that puts an added responsibility on its shoulders to take care of its relation with the Himalayan nation. The Chinese are more concerned with the realpolitik of winning Nepal’s heart through kind to corner India in South Asia. It has already taken big steps towards that direction while India has hurt its own prospects in Nepal by continuing with the old policy of acting as its big brother. New Delhi must understand that Nepal is now a democracy with a growing voice.

Being a democracy itself, it should be familiar with the fact that democracy creates noise but yet should be left to itself to find solution for its problems. Advising Nepal on how to make a new constitution is not required. It will only encourage anti-India sentiments in Nepal and give China an advantage. The days of the 1950 treaty are certainly behind us now.

India’s take on China’s BRI has affected its neighbourhood policy

One of India’s major policy goof-ups in South Asia has been its firm resistance against China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India has treated the matter as a part of its bilateral competition with the Chinese but overlooked the fact that it affects its neighbourhood policy. Nepal has not given it a second thought to cooperate with Beijing in the game-changing scheme, something that India can’t control but only rue. Had India been receptive towards it while conveying firmly to China that it should not violate India’s sovereignty, it would have done its neighbourhood policy a favour. The interference over Nepal’s constitution-making and boycotting China’s mega scheme have meant that India has gifted China opportunities to make inroads into Nepal’s politics and economy. This is not a good example of diplomacy.

If the NC faces defeat in the next elections in Nepal and the communists-Maoists take over, Modi will have a serious challenge to tackle in the north. Being a representative of the right-wing Hindutva camp, the Indian prime minister could not only face a backlash from his ideological constituency which had expected that Nepal would be turned into a Hindu state soon but also a strategic test created by Nepal-China relations.

Mr. Shubham Ghosh is a Bangalore-based Journalist

 

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