The (not so) innocents from abroad

There is widespread resentment about the international community meddling in Nepal’s politics

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published:August 20, 2010 12:13 am

The UK’s Department of Foreign Investment and Development (DFID) recently wrote to the Nepali Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN),warning that it would stop all financial assistance if NEFIN resorted to bandhs and strikes. NEFIN has been a vocal advocate of ethnic nationalism,and the biggest recipient of moral and financial support from the United Kingdom as well as other European countries. The Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF),now a political party,was also launched as a non-governmental organisation,and funded by the DFID in its campaign for the empowerment of the Terai region.

It is not yet clear if the DFID’s recent message has anything to do with the Conservative-led government taking charge in the UK. Former British ambassador to Nepal,Andrew Hall,and DFID chief Bella Bird left the impression that they supported groups that had a role in eroding the state’s authority. The state has been projected as a perpetuator of discrimination against the ethnic groups,Dalits and minorities who collectively constitute more than 70 per cent of the country’s population.

In the last few years of political change,donors had risen in Nepal’s esteem for their support to socio-economic transformation. But with political parties failing to deliver the constitution on time,or even elect a prime minister in place of Madhav Nepal (who resigned on July 1),popular sentiment is turning on these donors too. DFID’s warning to NEFIN is perhaps proof that it cannot promote groups challenging the Nepali state.

DFID has a large presence in Nepal,but it is not the sole promoter of ethnic nationalism. The government of Nepal seems to have noticed the rising sentiment against “foreign meddling” and has started reacting,perhaps for the first time in the past four years. In fact,major political parties that were part of the government,as well as civil society and big media,stand accused of either tolerating or actively benefiting from these external aid-givers.

With the collapse of the politics of consensus and Nepal facing the prospect of becoming a failed state,its political players and key donors are now in an interesting situation. The government,sheltering behind aggressive public sentiment,is trying to ward off the image of being “dictated by external forces”.

It reacted strongly to the US state department’s recent alert to India,asking New Delhi to remain watchful about the possibility of Nepal being used by Islamic terrorists. The statement had been issued on the basis of information that a prominent Lashkar-e-Toiba leader may have visited Nepal recently. “Nepal is capable of dealing with such problems and it is totally safe,” the government said.  Similarly,the reaction from the political and government establishment on the visit of India’s former foreign secretary Shyam Saran,as special envoy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,was acerbic and unusual: “As far as we are concerned,it was a personal visit by Saran,” said Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala who is also in charge of the foreign ministry. “Let more Shyam Sarans and Hari Sarans come from India,that will bolster Nepal’s tourism,” Jhalnath Khanal,a prime ministerial aspirant and chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML),said satirically. Nepal’s foreign ministry is far from comfortable with the manner in which Saran announced,on arrival at the airport here,that he had been sent as the prime minister’s “special envoy”. Similar resentment is being directed at European Union and Scandinavian countries,rightly or wrongly,in direct proportion to their presence in Nepal.

Nepal’s failed politics seems to have taken an all-round toll. In the past four years,the foreign ministry has become near-redundant with every ambassador and mission chief having direct access to the PM or president. It is too early to infer whether the international community will be more accountable and act within prescribed norms,but they are now firmly on the citizens’ radar. And yet,there is little that Nepal’s government and political parties have done to reduce its dependence on the outside world.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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