M.R. Josse: Nepal’s Quest for Survival in a Challenging Geopolitical Setting.
Foundation for Advanced Studies, 2020
By Shashi Malla
It must be said at the outset, that a comprehensive and in-depth book on Nepal’s foreign affairs from the standpoint of an independent, objective and native observer has finally been published. There have been countless books on Nepal’s foreign policy written by foreign and Nepali academics, but these have been overloaded with political science jargon, and other books written by journalists and others have lacked the specialized touch.
M.R. Josse strikes a fine balance and his latest book will, therefore, be interesting for a wide readership. His school education in a ‘missionary’ school in Kalimpong, Darjeeling cemented his language skills and his undergraduate studies in science under the Jesuits in Calcutta has endowed him with a unique scientific perspective, not available to purely liberal arts students. He continued his academic adventure with the study of International Relations at the prestigious Jadavpur University, Calcutta (now Kolkata), at the time probably with the best Master’s programme on the subject in India. The head of department was the then doyen of India’s China experts, Prof. Dr. P.C. Chakravarty [his book “India’s China Policy” has become a classic].
With his excellent academic background, it was no wonder that the editor-in-chief Barun Shumsher Rana of the newly founded English-language government daily “The Rising Nepal” [Gorkhapatra Corporation] immediately appointed him as one of his assistants, even while the paper was going through mock editions. As lore would have it, Josse had only written a couple of paragraphs of his essay on a current topic [entrance exam] when Mr. Rana — peering over his shoulders — was so impressed with the little that had been penned, that Josse was told that it was enough and to come next day to start work!
Thus, it was that Josse embarked on a stellar career in journalism. His articles, commentaries and editorials reflected his inimitable style – precise, fluid and fine choice of words – which won him many followers at The Rising Nepal, but also later at The Independent and The People’s Review. Although an official paper, Rana had much leeway and he encouraged independent and critical, but at the same time, objective writing. His motto was: ‘Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.’
His distinguished career in the print media did not go unnoticed, and Josse was then chosen to represent Nepal as the Deputy Permanent Representative (equivalent to deputy ambassador) at the United Nations in New York. This also included a stint as the Alternate Representative at the UN Security Council. He was able to garner a wealth of experience in practical diplomacy.
After his illuminating diplomatic assignment, he returned home to take up journalism again. One would have thought that with his wealth of experience in various fields, the powers that be would have sought him out for a new assignment, perhaps as a national security adviser. Later he could have easily been appointed as ambassador in a key country like India or China. It was indeed a great loss for the country, that the government did not have further use for this manifold talent.
However, the private sector did recognize his potential, and he was able to combine his journalistic pursuits with the academic. He was associated with the Sangam Institute for Policy Analysis and Strategic Studies where he made major contributions to its discussions, seminars and publications.
Thus, a lifetime of experience in the academic, diplomatic and journalistic fields are reflected in this collection of articles and academic papers. His background guarantees that we have before us a multifaceted analysis of Nepal’s unique role in the evolving international constellation.
First of all, the book is a must for students of the various courses of study impinging on International Relations: Political Science, History, Political Sociology, Diplomacy, Conflict, Peace and Development Studies. Second, all those who have directly or indirectly to do with Nepal’s external relations – lecturers and professors, diplomats, bureaucrats, journalists, the higher echelons of the military brass and police (especially those going on UN Peace Keeping Operations) will find this book very handy. The book will also be an eye-opener for the general reader for its many insights.
Josse explores the historical antecedents of Nepal’s foreign policy and the pivotal roles of the Great King Prithvi Narayan Shah and General Jung Bahadur Rana. As the American novelist William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead, It’s not even past.”
He discusses in some detail the rationale of the “Zone of Peace” proposal”, something which most books on Nepal’s foreign relations fail to do.
Nepal cannot change its geography sandwiched between the Asian behemoths China and India, and Josse discussion of this triangular relationship is compelling and fascinating. Not for nothing is his book subtitled ‘Challenging Geopolitical Setting’. At the same, he is the first analyst to see China as a legitimate South Asian power, recognizing that King Gyanendra took the initiative to introduce China with the status of ‘observer’ in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). He also notes that the Chinese often refer to the fact that China is linked to South Asian states by “mountains and rivers.”
His discussion of the impact of the Maoist insurgency on national security is illuminating. He analyses in detail the domestic and international dimensions of the conflict.
The author is, of course, in his element when analyzing Nepal’s role at the United Nations.
The core of the book is taken up with discussing the different aspects of Nepal’s security architecture in the various phases of its political development.
The book makes for not only very interesting and illuminating reading, it is also a major contribution to the study of Nepal’s foreign relations. His kaleidoscopic approach is indeed unique.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]