BY M.R. JOSSE
KATHMANDU: More than a month ago, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli disclosed to a gaggle of the party faithful that the government had started “homework to prepare a formal proposal for bilateral talks with India regarding the Kalapani dispute.”
Yet, though a typhoon of rhetoric on the question has swirled through political, media and academic circles, we are not any nearer to a resolution of that imbroglio than we were on 2 November 2019.
To recall, then, a controversial official map of the disputed area was issued by the government of India, triggered a storm of nation-wide protest, stoked further by the fact that thousands of Indian military personnel still occupy the territory nearly sixty years since they first moved into the area.
Before proceeding any deeper into this discourse it will be useful to identify the emergence to two main streams of opinion on the issue, since then: the first is that the nettlesome bilateral problem should be tackled with India through the appropriate political and diplomatic channels; the second, is that by no means should the question be ‘internationalized’ – as cautioned, among others, by NCP chairperson, Prachanda.
At this juncture, attention might be usefully directed to this reminder by colleague Shashi Malla: “Back on November 8, Nepal’s ambassador to India, Nilambar Acharya, had met with Indian Foreign Secretary Vijaya Gokhale and communicated Nepal’s request for talks. The ambassador is still waiting for a reply” – more than a month later.
Worthy of mulling over, too, is his telling disclosure that at a recent seminar on Nepal’s boundaries and their effective management organized by the Government-supported Institute of Foreign Affairs, two former foreign secretaries expressed their firm, but hardly astonishing, belief that boundary disputes such as Kalapani cannot be resolved through diplomatic channels.
Against the above backdrop it is logical – indeed, necessary – to ask: what is the government’s policy to be if – as seems most likely – New Delhi just keeps mum, pretending it’s stone-deaf to discordant noises emanating from Kathmandu, supremely confident that Nepal cannot make her budge.
INDIA’S PAST RECORD
Why do I believe that India will, in all likelihood, just keep on stone-walling? The short answer: because India’s past record vis-à-vis her Nepal policy points in that direction – whether it covers the period immediately after Indian independence or in the current rambunctious Modi era.
In the former period, we have India’s historical record, claiming special rights and privileges in Nepal, under two much-flogged, but spurious, theories: (a) that Nepal falls under India’ so-called ‘sphere of influence’, an obsolete colonial-era legacy as is the outdated notion of a ‘buffer state’; and (b) the myth that “the Himalayas constitute a security barrier for India,” even though that has long been exploded.
India’s adamant refusal to endorse Nepal’s Zone of Peace proposal of 1975, endorsed by 100-plus countries by the time of the Jana Andolan-1 of 1990; her- initially – looking with displeasure at Nepal’s endeavour, along with that of Bangladesh, to secure the establishment of SAARC; her refusal to accept the idea of regional cooperation in the exploitation of the plentiful water resources of the region; and her relentless tendency to interfere in Nepal’s domestic affairs are most noteworthy.
Disturbingly tell-tale, too, are India’s role in the creation of Bangladesh – and the absorption of Sikkim into the Indian Union, not to mention her natural propensity to clamp economic blockades or otherwise twist political arms , whenever she believes Kathmandu needs to be taught a befitting lesson for not going along with her dictates.
India – in the many splendoured times of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – has pursued policies vis-à-vis Nepal no less disturbing to her than those pursued in the Nehru-Indira/Rajiv/Sonia Gandhi political age.
Off-hand, two stark similarities spring to mind – in the matter of imposition of blockades against Nepal and in New Delhi’s inexorable campaign – whether under Congress or BJP rule – to demonize Kathmandu’s legitimate foreign/security policy of progressively up-dating and enriching her ties to Beijing, including by constructing a modern railroad connection between them.
Even today, the propagandists of Luyten’s Delhi are furiously spinning the ludicrous yarn that China – Nepal’s immediate northern neighbour with whom she has a long history of political, cultural and social ties that anchor their geopolitical connectivity – is a rank outlier!
One only shudders to contemplate what Nepal’s political fate might have been if China’s Tibet region were not integrated into the Chinese mainstream in 1950 – or, if those who dream to separating Tibet from China, were/are successful.
But, to return to the main thrust of this write-up, let me remind readers that since Modi assumed political power in India in 2014, New Delhi has doggedly pursued foreign/security policies rooted to the notion that she is a Great Power – and must be treated by all as such, and more so, by smaller neighbours.
As such, Modi’s BJP-led government has pursued policies designed to highlight her growing economic, diplomatic and military clout or reach, including frequent assertions of her right to sit in the United Nations Security Council as a permanent, veto-wielding member. Fortunately, that remains a dream –at least, in the foreseeable future.
Considering the BJP government’s knee-jerk tendency to use the Big Stick, whether it be in Kashmir or with dealing with Muslims more generally, or even in frequently attempting to brow-beat Pakistan, Modi’s India will, in my considered view, plainly not meekly accept Nepal’s pleas and argument vis-à-vis the Kalapani territorial dispute.
Nepal’s leaders must therefore stop day-dreaming. If India continues to look the other way, in respect to bilateral negotiations, Kathmandu must clearly either internationalize the dispute and/or devise other means, including imaginative politico-diplomatic ones, to impress upon India’s present rulers that Nepal is not quite as helpless as they might imagine.
Accepting continued Indian occupation of Kalapani as a fait accompli is simply not acceptable. But are our present day rulers capable of coming forth with a response that serves the national interest, while keeping Nepal’s national dignity, sovereignty and territorial integrity intact?
We will know, soon enough. But, what needs to be emphasized, policies based merely on hope or wishful thinking are no panaceas.