By M. R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: As I finish drafting this, American President Donald Trump is to outline his national security policy.
Next week, after monitoring reactions from politicians, policy pundits and officials, it may be possible in this space to offer some informed comments, including predictions of how its contents may impinge on the politico-diplomatic landscape of South Asia, not excluding that of the India-China-Nepal region.
For this column, however, I will focus on the broad overview of the results of the recent polls in Nepal, in particular the decimation of the Nepali Congress, leading the so-called democratic alliance, and, by association, the demolition of the élan and hubris of the Indian foreign/security policy establishment which brazenly sided with the former in its abortive campaign to smash the triumphant Leftist UML-Maoist Centre alliance.
But, before that, I believe it would be in the fitness of things to inform readers that, in my survey of available media reports here, I have not come across any reference to the Nepal elections.
Moving on, I should mention that, as Yubaraj Ghimere of the Indian Express informs, though the Indian government welcomed the successful conclusion of the polls and congratulated the government and the people of Nepal, it conspicuously did not specifically make reference to the ‘Leftist alliance’, noting merely that the Indian government was looking forward to working with the ‘democratically elected government’ in Nepal.
That is, of course, for the record, or, should I say, for the birds? Much more reflective of official India’s dark, prevailing mood are comments – verbal and written – of a whole phalanx of ‘Nepal experts’, all of whom have intimate relations with the government and/or its intelligence agencies.
For one, S. Chandrashekharan, of the South Asian Analysis Group (SAAG), writing in a recent paper summarizes his thoughts by entitling it: ‘Red Star over Nepal’ – reminiscent of Egdar Snow’s celebrated work, ‘Red Star over China’.
Though he goes on to tag ‘No need to panic’ to his title, Chandrashekharan plainly, if unwittingly, mirrors the sense of alarm that prevails within the ‘baithaks’ of power in Hindustan today vis-à-vis the results of the Nepal polls.
India’s irritation, or angry frustration, at the outcome of the elections came out loud and clear in an Indian TV programme on U Tube I viewed, where India was represented by S.D. Muni and former Indian ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood.
While both the aforementioned gentlemen hummed and hawed about the significance of the Left alliance’s impressive electoral victory, they repeatedly warned the incoming K.P. Sharma Oli-led government not to cross well-known Indian national security red lines, Sood putting his case much more diplomatically than Muni.
WARNING TO OLI
The latter, Prachanda’s long-time Indian guru, growled about the dangers to India emanating from what he termed as a ‘new’ Nepali nationalism, rooted in anti-Indian sentiment.
Both, I noted, warned that Nepal would do well not to get too close to the Chinese ‘dragon’ saying that such a condition would not be beneficial for Nepal herself.
Neither, of course, mentioned that India had openly backed the NC-led combination, or, even that the Nepali Maoist movement was created, nurtured and backed by India principally for engineering the downfall of an assertive monarchy which, among other things, had brilliantly succeeded in deepening and expanding Sino-Nepalese ties, creating an effective diplomatic shield against repeated Indian assaults on Nepal’s sovereignty.
A poorly composed editorial, ‘Watch Thy Neighbour’, in the Pioneer, a BJP mouthpiece, not surprisingly, took up the shop-worn theme of the threat to India from China, reminding its readers of its urgency, particularly against the backdrop of the setbacks suffered by India ‘in the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka’.
Arguing that New Delhi must keep its eye on the ball as China enforces its policy of “encirclement” of India, the editorial lashed out against Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for his recent comments on Sino-Indian relations, as against China for ‘turning the Brahmaputra (known as the Siang in Arunachal Pradesh) black with pollutants.’
One wonders if this is a prelude to an Indian campaign to seek support from Western powers who may fall in for the phony “encirclement of India” bugaboo – which, if it happens, would mean increased pressures on the next government in Nepal not to deepen relations with China across a broad front, including those relating to increased connectivity.
Thus far, keeping in mind that the Dalai Lama resides in India, one would have thought that there is a much firmer case that India could be a constituent in an “encirclement of China” strategy – in cahoots with the West, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia!
Finally, there is Kanwal Sibal’s Hindustan Times opinion piece which argues that a ‘neighbourhood first’ foreign policy has little value for India. The former Indian foreign secretary, who I knew when he served as DCM at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, charged that “Nepal has long played the China card against India. The latest election results in Nepal, with KPS Oli emerging as the country’s prime minister, is likely to increase China’s connectivity projects with it in full awareness of India’s security concerns.”
Sibal, referring more broadly to recent developments in the Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, pontificates rather sweepingly: “The conclusion to be drawn from this is not that India is necessarily mismanaging its relations with neighbours but that they, too, enticed by China are mismanaging their ties with India.”
Missing in Sibal’s shimmering exegesis is any reference to India’s cruel five-month blockade; her generous assistance in creating the Maoist Frankenstein; her open backing of the NC-led electoral alliance; and dirty, behind-the-scenes political maneuvers in toppling the Oli-led coalition with help, once again, of Prachanda.
What is one, then, to make out of all this sound and fury? The only conclusion to draw from the ominous and sullen unanimity of views is: they have a common official source.
Let the incoming government be forewarned!