India has to “review” its approach in light of the current socio, economical and political dynamics of Nepal. Because of the difficult terrain and geographical distance from China’s East coast, the destiny of Nepal is tied with India.
By Lt General LN Singh (R)
India is an emerging superpower, having a rapidly growing economy and a world- class military force coupled with a vast geographical area and has to play an important role in the South Asian region besides the geopolitics and economy of the whole world. Accordingly, the Indian foreign policy follows the dictum of neighbours first.
India and Nepal share similar ties in terms of Hinduism and Buddhism with Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini located in Nepal. The two countries not only share an open border and unhindered movement of people, but they also have close bonds through marriages and familial ties, popularly known as ‘Roti-Beti ka Rishta,.
Rivers originating in Nepal feed the perennial river systems of India in terms of ecology and hydropower potential.
Many Hindu and Buddhist religious sites are in Nepal making it an important pilgrim site for a large number of Indians.
India is Nepal’s largest trade partner and the largest source of foreign investments, besides providing transit for almost the entire third-country trade of Nepal.
India is playing a very crucial role by extending its support to Nepal in every possible manner. But some issues demand some mid-course corrections in India’s Nepal policy.
Nepal is a buffer state between India & China and has a very unique position in India’s foreign and national security policy. Ever-growing Chinese presence in Nepal is seriously a strategic and political concern of India. China’s influence is relentlessly undermining India’s role in Nepal. Therefore, India has to pay more emphasis on its foreign relations with Nepal.
Thus it is imperative to analyze India’s relations with Nepal by keeping China’s engagement in Nepal in view. In addition, attention must be paid to the future challenges that are crucial for – political and economic stability, and most importantly the security of Nepal to make India’s foreign policy more effective, result oriented to safeguarding and expanding India’s strategic and political interests.
Nepal’s politics for quite some time can at the best be described as a fragile democracy. Promulgation of the Nepali Constitution ensured the guarantee for the smooth functioning of Nepal’s politics but in actuality, the trajectory of political events is not progressing as would have been necessary political stability in Nepal.
China has invested very heavily invested on K P Sharma Oli and developed a very cordial relationship with him basically to counter the Nepali Congress and Madhesi Parties that are known as pro-India, China played a very crucial role in bringing together various left-wing factions to fulfil its geopolitical ambitions.
Nepal Communists Party (NCP), an alliance was formed by merging the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) of K P Sharma Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal with the support of Chinese. In addition, another factor for Nepal’s strained relationship with India due to border blockades by Madhesi protesters. During the border blockedes, Mr K P Sharma Oli and his corroborator Upendra Yadav made tons of money by smuggling essential goods into the country and used them to win the next election in 2015. K P Sharma Oli also used the blockeds to justify his tilt towards China stating that it is to balance India. All his life K P Sharma Oli used India to his advantage. Even during his exile days, he used to stay with his relatives in Assam’s Tamulpur district.
As advised by China, K P Sharma had claimed Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura passes and also issued a new map encompassing the whole territory that is part of Uttrakhand. More importantly, China has established ideological linkages with Nepal Communist Party by establishing several China Study Centers and organizing the workshop on Xi Jinping’s ideas on the Chinese model of economic development and socialism. During Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal in 2019, bilateral relationships were transformed into strategic partners.
Under this partnership, many agreements, MoUs, and treaties were signed in many spheres such as transport, agriculture, and industry. Xi Jinping offered Nepalese Rupees 56 billion in assistance to Nepal for development projects. Most importantly, Nepal became a signatory to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and various projects such as Kathmandu-Kerung Railway, and Galchi-Rasuwagarhi- Kerung 400 KV transmission line. China is the highest FDI contributor to Nepal. Efforts are going on for China’s engagement in tourism, education, and culture sectors.
The existing political instability in Nepal is a result of various factors such as weak socio-economic conditions, internal and external conflicts, corruption, religious and ethnic tensions, democratic accountability, weak government, the coalitional government not based upon ideology but just to win the elections, lack of transparency, and above all quality of bureaucracy of a nation. Nepal has been the victim of civil war from 1996-2006. Political instability is causing severe problems such as a lack of development that result in high unemployment, illiteracy, gender inequality, lack of education, weak investment, and extreme poverty. Moreover, Nepal’s society is bifurcated on caste lines and ongoing conflict between Hinduism and Buddhism also jeopardizes the developmental pace which, in turn, leads to political instability in Nepal.
Rampant corruption that is rooted in the nexus that involves politicians, civil servants, and people in business and citizens has become an integral part of the politics of Nepal and is responsible for its deep economic crisis. Weak infrastructure, environmental degradation due to high deforestation, and lack of modernization due to the unavailability of advanced technology are the factors responsible for the current situation in Nepal.
Nepal is surrounded by India from three sides and on the Northern side by Tibet which is presently under Chinese occupation. Earlier Tibet was also a buffer between India and China. But now only Nepal remains hence is of importance to India due to its strategic geographical location. Therefore, India has to keep away from Chinese influence. China is constantly influencing Nepal’s left-wing political parties by luring them in every possible way.
Since the abolition of the Monarchy as an institution in Nepal, China has been interfering and trying to influence Nepal’s politics to fulfil its security, military and political ambitions. Politicians of Nepal are very keen on leveraging this China factor as was done by K P Sharma took during his reign from 2015-16. Aware of its strategic location between two adversary nations, Nepal formulates its foreign policy by keeping a balancing act as its topmost consideration in addition to territorial integrity, and stability in political and economic situations.
Overtime trust deficit has widened in India-Nepal because of the Indian reputation for delaying the implementation of various projects.
There is the anti-India feeling among certain ethnic groups in Nepal which emanates from the perception that India indulges too much in Nepal and tinkers with their political sovereignty.
Thus India has to “review” its approach in light of the current socio, economical and political dynamics of Nepal. Because of the difficult terrain and geographical distance from China’s East coast, the destiny of Nepal is tied with India. However India could deliberate on the Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty, of 1950 by considering the needs and aspirations of the citizens of Nepal, current demands regarding maintaining its territorial integrity and security, and most importantly accord a very unique strategic place to Nepal in its foreign and national security policy to Nepal considering that China is trying to cultivate the South Asian in every possible way.
Unobtrusively, India should continue supporting favourable factions in the Terai region in Nepal.
Boundary disputes relating to the Kalapani River and the discrepancy in locating its source of origin have become a bone of contention between India and Nepal. The area around the Kalapani River is very crucial for India due to illegal cross- border activities and crimes originating from Nepal. Therefore, it is a very sensitive area and India must have control over it.
India should consider the views, security concerns, needs and aspirations of the people, especially those residing in Madhesi regions that play a very crucial role in the domestic politics of both countries. India should avoid any activities such as the ‘Nepal Blockade’ of 2015 that gives the impression of unnecessary intervention in the domestic political affairs of Nepal. These acts give an opportunity to the politicians of Nepal for justifying tilting swiftly towards China. If such acts become necessary they must be done quietly, without any publicity so that it is conducive to political stability and social cohesion in Nepal.
Nepal should also be asked to consider India’s security consideration and the growing needs of India’s economy. There is a reciprocal relationship between security and economy and both, in turn, affect the polity of a nation. The open and porous border along which five Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar West Bengal, and Sikkim have located consists of many points through which terrorists and destabilization activities such as money laundering, smuggling of arms and narcotics are being run by criminals and ISI sponsored proxies & spy rings that are aiming to destabilise India in many ways. It seems that Nepal is unable to control and is continuously ignoring these anti-India activities. Nepal’s leniency is encouraging some fundamentalist and terror funding organizations from Pakistan and the Middle East to create a power bloc which is also being fueled by ISI to disrupt the Gangetic plains where India is very sensitive. More importantly, this power bloc is creating law and order problems by creating ethnic unrest in Nepal also. Nepal has to understand this critical situation which is jeopardizing the security, economy and development of both countries. By keeping aside minimal and short-term gains, Nepal has to understand how this geographical interdependence that binds India and Nepal together could be fruitful to its holistic development.
India should engage more proactively with Nepal in terms of people-to-people engagement, bureaucratic engagement as well as political interactions.
Nepal is about to elect Banaras Hindu University graduate Shri Ramchandra Paudel Ji as new President. Let’s see how BHU vs JNU politics in Kathmandu go.
(The author is a retired Lt. General of Indian Army and a former chairman of Manipur Public Service Commission. He is an editor of North-East Chronicle, and active volunteer of Sewa Bharati, Manipur as President, Akhil Bhartiya Purva Sainik Sewa Parishad, Manipur & Secretary, Chinmaya Mission Trust, Manipur)