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Review: Nebulous Newness In Nepal

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The Raj Lives: India In Nepal

By Sanjay Upadhya

Vitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi

350 Pages; Hardbound Edition: 2008

ISBN: 81-89766-73-2

Price: Indian Rs. 645

   

The abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy in Nepal has come as a relief to those Indians disenchanted by successive kings’ hostility toward India. Indeed, the dominant theme of the history of India’s relations with its northern neighbor revolves around how Nepali kings took every opportunity to antagonize India.

 

At bilateral forums, Kathmandu always pressed demands without scant regard for India’s sensitivities. At multilateral forums, Nepal consistently ganged up with governments hostile to New Delhi. Nepal’s voting record in the United Nations was consistently against India’s foreign policy interests.

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New Delhi compounded its problems by creating the perception among ordinary Nepalis that it was backing the palace. When King Gyanendra seized power in early 2005, touching off one of the worst crises in bilateral relations, there was a belief in a sizeable constituency in Nepal that he had actually done so at the instigation of India. When New Delhi mediated an alliance the following year between the Maoist rebels and the mainstream parties for the restoration of democracy, Kathmandu seethed with suspicion that this was another Indian ploy to extract concessions from the palace. In essence, India lost both ways in Nepal.

 

Now New Delhi has wisely sided with the Nepali people. The Maoist victory in the recent elections came as a surprise to Indian policymakers, but they have prudently engaged with the former rebels. An opportunity for a new beginning beckons both nations. Yet India must not underestimate the challenge it faces from across a vast and unregulated border.

 

A new book, “The Raj Lives: India In Nepal,” provides important pointers to India. Essentially a compendium of longstanding Nepali grievances against India – and the British colonial rulers – the book’s principal strength lies in its portrayal of the depth of “anti-Indianism” in Nepal. The author, Sanjay Upadhya, a Nepali journalist, has shown how political parties, including traditionally India-friendly organizations like the Nepali Congress, have tapped into this psychology for electoral gains. From this book, it seems the political atmosphere has been vitiated to the point where it is immaterial who or what system governs Nepal.

 

The Maoists present the most conspicuous challenge. They have made a comparatively smooth transition from a bloody armed insurgency to the democratic mainstream. The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninists), among other parties, continue to voice skepticism over their true intentions. The Maoists, it must not be forgotten, had launched their uprising on a 40-point charter that began with purely anti-Indian demands.

 

In power, they have now moderated their stance on the controversial 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Indian officials, to their credit, have expressed their readiness to revisit the treaty in line with Nepali grievances. In interviews with Indian media organizations, Maoist chairman Prachanda has made conciliatory statements vis-à-vis India. Back home, he tends to strike a different posture. Some of this may be attributed to the continuing process of the former rebels’ adjustment to democracy. Still, India cannot afford to lower its guard, especially considering our own Naxal insurgency.

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One important reason, as Upadhya explains, is that the Maoists have strengthened their relations with the Chinese. During the 10-year-old insurgency, the monarchy, the mainstream parties as well as China accused India of aiding and abetting the uprising. The Nepali rebels undoubtedly used their relations with Naxalites and other Indian insurgent groups to seek safe haven on Indian soil.

 

New Delhi, in reality, offered the palace and parties political and military support to fight the insurgency. India captured top Maoist leaders and countless lower rank functionaries and deported them to Nepal. Those with cases pending locally were kept under the Indian judicial system. Still, the notion that India actively trained and armed the Nepali rebels, ludicrous as it may have sounded this side of the border, took hold in Nepal and continues to this day.

 

After the collapse of royal rule, the Chinese moved steadily to improve ties with the Maoists. As Nepali parties squabbled over the kind of government that should replace the monarchy, a senior Maoist minister visited China. Although the minister, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, sought to explain away the visit as routine, the timing clearly indicates it was anything but.

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A retired Indian civil service officer currently living in the United States.

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Review: Nebulous Newness In Nepal