By Maila Baje – Heavens, the Chinese must have promised the sky this time.
If the angle broached about in the barest of terms vis-à-vis the latest political circus is anything to go by, Beijing thwarted New Delhi’s attempt the dislodge the government led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli.
Truth be told, the mandarins up north have said a lot of things to a lot of Nepali leaders over the centuries. If the accumulated wisdom is worth anything, it counsels against putting too much stock in those promises.
Prime Minister Oli, however, seems to be breaking new ground here. This begs the logical question: what did the Chinese say that made our once Fierce One step down several notches in the docility index?
That something was cooking somewhere was all too clear to the national olfactory senses. Former king Gyanendra dashed to Delhi and back so suddenly that pictures of a simple ex-royal family rafting excursion merited much more than the society pages.
That was after newly elected Nepali Congress President and parliamentary party leader Sher Bahadur Deuba returned from an extended medical trip to the Indian capital that camouflaged political consultations. United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for his part, reportedly refused to fly out in that direction for fear of precipitating a political backlash.
Yet Dahal barely lasted 24 hours in his public avowal to lead a new government with the help of the Nepali Congress. Murmurs of a Chinese hand started appearing, but never took a more sonorous form. Instead, Oli advised President Bidya Devi Bhandari not to proceed with a planned visit to India. (That, too, after the head of state breached protocol by detailing part of the substance of her putative agenda.)
Deputy Prime and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa – representing the ostensibly royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal – ended up becoming the most forceful and seemingly only defender of the Oli government during its hours of gravest peril.
In an address to parliament, Oli became rather outspoken in the second half of his speech against external machinations. When the government announced that it had recalled Ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyaya from New Delhi for actions incompatible with his status, the weirdness got weirder. Such phraseology, customary when the host government expels a foreign ambassador, was a first in the annals of Nepali diplomatic history.
Granted, the Chinese have reason to be miffed by apparent Indian threats to the Oli government following the ‘groundbreaking’ agreements signed during the prime minister’s recent visit up north. Yet, amid the latest political crisis, nowhere have the Chinese equivalent of institutions like the Research and Analysis Wing or individuals like Sukh Deo Muni been identified as complicit in the machinations.
What specific threats, if any, did the Chinese make to precipitate Dahal’s U-turn? Did they remind Nepal of its responsibilities as the last tributary to the Middle Kingdom? Did they reiterate Sun Yat-sen’s lament over how China had lost Nepal to imperialism? Did they invoke the Great Helmsman’s dictum that Nepal constituted one of the five fingers of the Chinese hand? Or did they implore Dahal to remember Zhou Enlai’s paeans to ‘blood ties’ between the Chinese and Nepali peoples – and all that that implied?
India’s perceived dilution of its vaunted strategic autonomy to join the China containment/encirclement bandwagon gives credence to an escalation of the dragon-elephant rivalry in Nepal. But have the stakes risen so high for the Chinese to mount such an overt move to checkmate the Indians?
Or could all this be just a red herring? Specifically, what are the chances that the entire episode was a by-product of the turf wars within India over its Nepal policy? Those advocating the logical culmination of the 12-Point Agreement process (whatever that might be) have long been contending with the rival school demanding a review and rectification of that approach. After all, passions are as high on each side as are the perceived righteousness of those respective causes to their proponents.
And there is precedent here. The Indians benefited for a while claiming that the Maoist ‘People’s War’ in Nepal was being run by China, while providing support and sanctuary to our Maoist leaders on Indian soil. Of course, Beijing was too smart not have sought to mobilize our Maoists to their advantage. But the irony was the China almost ended up reaping the entire benefit of India’s propaganda campaign after our Maoists rose to power.
Galling as that irony still must be across the southern border, there must be recognition of a greater short-term benefit in pointing the finger to the Chinese as the Indians struggle to come up with a coherent and credible policy on Nepal.