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What Modi means to Nepal

Given India’s influence, there are worries about a threat to the republican and secular order.

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published:May 24, 2014 12:40 am
Narendra Modi Narendra Modi

The change of government in New Delhi and Narendra Modi’s taking over as prime minister of India have triggered debate and fear in certain quarters of Nepal. Newspaper editorials and current affairs debates on TV are focusing more on the issue ever since the exit polls and the actual results.

Experts and diplomats are more or less agreed that a change of government in Delhi does not automatically mean a sweeping change in India’s foreign policy for Nepal or the neighbourhood. However, others believe that India’s open involvement in Nepal’s radical shift to republicanism, federalism and secularism, and the resultant chaos that followed, offer a case for review to the Modi government. After all, India’s official position that a stable Nepal is in India’s best interests remains unchanged — and the BJP manifesto projected the UPA’s neighbourhood policy as far
from satisfactory.

The BJP has all along been a votary of a “Hindu Nepal” and of the Hindu monarchy as a symbol of unity in diversity. Despite the public assertions of a L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh or Ashok Singhal of the VHP, A.B. Vajpayee put his weight behind Nepal’s radical journey and endorsed the new policy that the UPA prescribed for Nepal. But eight years down the line, people are not only frustrated and angry, but there are also claims that Nepal can achieve peace and a proper constitution only through dialogue among all the players, and not from the Constituent Assembly (CA) alone. That implies the need to involve both the erstwhile monarchy and the electoral forces.

Kanak Dixit, journalist and civil society leader, fears that Modi’s takeover may mean a threat to Nepal’s transformation into a secular state. There are many, especially in the ruling Nepali Congress, who think Modi’s victory may mean a threat to Nepal’s march to a “republican and secular” order. This fear apparently was behind the CA and political parties adopting a resolution that the new House would “own” all decisions of the previous House.

Constitution-making, public policy, laws and politics do essentially fall in the sovereign public domain. But Nepali politics has witnessed unsubtle outside involvement. In a different context, but taking this into account, Chief Secretary Leela Mani shot off a letter to the UN, World Bank and major donors, asking them to be accountable wherever they have failed to execute their projects on time. Most of these donors are also funding partisan issues that have a direct bearing on the writing of the constitution and its content. The current media and public debate also displays the anger at donors for their interference and partisanship, connecting them to the uncertainty in Nepal.

In India, several leaders, including Rajnath Singh and those from the RSS and VHP, have expressed their dissatisfaction about the world’s only “Hindu Kingdom” being declared a secular republic. But now that the BJP is in power, will that dissatisfaction reflect on its government’s Nepal policy?

Modi’s invitation to Sushil Koirala, Nepal’s prime minister, among other regional leaders, for his swearing-in ceremony was a good diplomatic gesture. But any clear indication of a concrete change, if any, in India’s policy will take a while to emerge.

The RSS has its Nepal chapter called the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and for the BJP government to initiate any change of policy, the HSS’s feedback will be as important as the inputs Delhi collects from its various agencies, including the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.

Karan Singh came to Nepal as a special emissary of Manmohan Singh on April 20, 2006 and the then-king, Gyanendra, handed back power to the political parties within days, revived the parliament and declared that an elected constituent assembly would frame the new constitution. Neither Delhi nor Kathmandu disclosed if there was any assurance given to Gyanendra, and if yes, whether that was met. The 240-year-old institution of monarchy was abolished on May 28, 2008, with India’s ambassador openly lobbying for it. There was no public debate or referendum.

In Nepal, the prolonged transition, failure of the parties to draft the constitution, the judiciary’s increasing politicisation and political corruption have contributed to Gyanendra gaining public sympathy and support, if the rousing reception he gets across the country is any indication. The HSS is aware of this and the fact that Nepal’s chaos is largely because of its failure to sustain the radical changes without involving the people.

The current rulers apparently fear Modi more than the former king or the angry Nepali public. After all, the radical agenda has been dictated from outside. A change next door will, therefore, cause both hope and fear in Nepal.

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