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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Will Maoist Nepal put China first?

Arvind R Deo
Arvind R Deo
Former Ambassador To Nepal
China is more a notional neighbour

Some analysts of India’s strategic environment have expressed their apprehensions about the future course of Indo-Nepal relations with the installation of a government led by the Maoists in Nepal. Such thinking is somewhat reminiscent of the cold war days when bilateral relations were seen as a zero sum game. The world today is a vastly different. Whatever else might have changed, geopolitical consideration still shapes a country’s national policy framework.

Let us recall what Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) had told an Indian journalist on April 13, this year. Recalling that Nepal has a “historical relationship with India, with which it shares open borders” he had asserted: “It is very important to have good relations with India. We will further develop our close ties with India.” He also said: “we will maintain equal distance from India and China in political terms.” Even under the earlier political dispensations - democratic or partyless panchayat - Nepal had quite close relations with China since 1956.

All comparisons are odious. Yet if comparisons need be made the warp and weft of India’s close-knit relations with Nepal have a different political texture than China’s relationship with Nepal.

Nepal has only two neighbours - India on three sides and China (through Tibet) in the North. The latter is more a notional neighbour as high Himalayan peaks make economic interactions rather difficult. Indo-Nepal border is both open and easy to access for popular and economic interactions.

Traditionally, India has been the hinterland for political activists of all shades from Nepal and that is unlikely to change. It also provides economic opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled workers from Nepal and indeed becomes a major market for Nepal’s exports (and imports).

The challenge to Indian, and I dare add Nepali, diplomacy is how to work this mutually beneficial relationship with greater effectiveness. Nepal’s need for direct financial and technological investment is vast and whether India can contribute in this sphere will depend on whether mutual confidence is strengthened taking into account each other’s vital security concerns.

Gautam Navlakha
Gautam Navlakha
Civil Rights Activist And Commentator
Maoists will not bend before any one

The Maoist-led government was sworn in a week before the closing ceremony of Beijing Olympics. It was quite in order that Prime Minister of Nepal Prachanda should visit Beijing to enable him to meet many dignitaries from around the world.

To read into this a deliberate snub to India, because he did not first visit New Delhi, is quite unnecessary. At the swearing in ceremony of the PM, it was the Indian delegation leader Janata Dal (U)’s Sharad Yadav who was first to be escorted to the podium to congratulate the new prime minister. Thus due respect was paid to the historical ties between the two people.

However, the visit to Beijing marked a departure from a Nepali Congress initiated tradition which began in 1950. Leaders from Kathmandu travelled to New Delhi to pay obeisance to, and seek advice from, the Indian establishment.

While India moderated its policy towards Maoists in recent times, this did not prevent them from attempting their marginalisation. China’s approach was different. They maintained cordial relations with anyone in power because they emphasised state-to-state relations and did not play favourites.

China arrested some of the Maoist cadres who had entered Tibet and a few of them were given death sentence when monarchy was suppressing them. But once they came to power, China has been cordial towards them. Prachanda’s Beijing visit obliquely signals that Maoists will not bend before anyone.

Just as his statement that the first “political visit” will be to India signals that they don’t intend using one neighbour against the other.

This is because they owe their political allegiance to the people of Nepal. Their agenda became the agenda for entire Nepal. They now represent the mainstream in Nepal’s polity and society and intend to carry out much-needed radical reforms. Good relations with neighbours alone can guarantee them the elbow room to carry this out.

In this context, when the Indian envoy in Kathmandu publicly expressed India’s displeasure at Prachanda’s visit to Beijing he ended up conveying a message that India sees Nepal as a sort of client state. Such ill-conceived moves vitiate relations, not sequencing of visits.

Source : ET

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