The Maoist chairman needs to ingratiate himself simultaneously to the two big neighbours
Two matters need to be held up to scrutiny as the country continues its dangerous drift, now under a technocratic government: a) Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s geopolitical activism, and b) India’s activism in the Nepali polity.
The formation of the Regmi regime flew in the face of separation of powers and Nepal’s jurisprudential experience, and one can only wonder at the enthusiasm with which the Indian Embassy and some Western powers joined this exercise. Dahal’s own interest in implementing the agenda was clear: to get Baburam Bhattarai out of Singha Darbar before he amassed wealth and political power to match his own.
Making the sitting chief justice the head-of-government contravened the Interim Constitution, but few seemed to care. The direct fallout was the weakening of the two remaining independent state institutions – the Supreme Court and the presidency of Ram Baran Yadav. This was in line with the Maoist agenda of state-deconstruction, in the planning since the ‘people’s war’ and one on which Dahal and Bhattarai concur.
Dahal remains the tornado of Nepali politics, even though his political journey is sure to be affected before long by investigations into the conflict-era atrocities under his command. Given the inevitability, the chairman’s strategy is to shock-and-awe Nepalis, throttle human rights activists and victims who dare speak up, and emerge as the unassailable satrap of Nepal that India and China are forced to recognise before accountability catches up.
Dahal needs to ingratiate himself simultaneously to the two big neighbours. Last week he was in Beijing, where the CCP gave him privileged access to the high and mighty. This courtesy was clearly part of Beijing’s search for a reliable ally in Nepal to protect its soft Tibetan underbelly, while at the same time sending a message to New Delhi that no part of South Asia is out of bounds.
For some time now, Dahal has desperately sought an official invitation to New Delhi to try and make up for his loud anti-Indianism of 2009-10 and to wean South Bloc away from Bhattarai, its favourite Nepali Maoist. Dahal has therefore taken to behaving in ways he believes will please the New Delhi establishment and will promise everything and sign anything in Delhi next week.
Even as it prepares to meet Dahal, New Delhi may want to mull over the need for transparency in its dealings with Nepal as a friendly neighbour and assess its own contribution in the weakening of the Nepal polity. While Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khursid and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai went to some length to reassure a team of visiting Nepali journalists that India has a hands-off policy on Nepal, the reality on the ground lies somewhere else.
Over the last couple of years, the activism of the Indian Embassy and its ancillary agencies in Kathmandu has been at a level that no other national political establishment in the subcontinent would suffer, raising questions about the conduct of relations between sovereign members of SAARC. Amidst the stupefying acquiescence of Kathmandu’s politicos, this hyper-ventilation is building resentment in hill and plain.
Over the last few years, India has waded in on the main key national issues. It helped prop up the Bhattarai-led Maobadi-Madhesbadi coalition over 19 months, turning a blind eye to the unsavoury four-point agreement of that cohabitation. On the federalism debate, New Delhi backed a plains-based buffer province, a bizarre 20 miles by 500 miles unit that would destroy the socio-economic prospects of the Madhesi population.
Indeed, the people of the Madhes find themselves doubly disadvantaged: by a Kathmandu establishment that now includes ‘Madhesbadi’ parties and leaders and the embassy’s inexplicable agenda in the plains. Delhi may want to study whether the ‘Madhesbadi’ agenda supports the interest of the national underclass in the plains, including the Tarai Dalit, Tharu, Muslim, and Pahadiya.
The national leaders in New Delhi may be enmeshed in their own existential preoccupations, but Nepal can only emerge as a stable neighbour under conditions of peace and democracy. International involvement, even intervention, is welcome when the goal is to protect democracy, human rights, and an open society. On all other matters, a friendly neighbour should be left free to conduct its own politics.