External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj may not be signing any major agreement with Nepal during her visit here, but she sent a strong message Saturday that the NDA government would be making a departure from some of the policies pursued by its predecessor regarding the Himalayan country.
Swaraj clearly expressed her unhappiness when leaders of the Madhes region — the plains area congruous to India — complained during a breakfast meeting with her that they were treated as “second-class citizens” by the Nepali government. At least two of them sought India’s intervention in the matter.
Swaraj retorted in Hindi: “What makes you first-class citizen? A Madhesi has been elected president, another vice-president, (they have also become) foreign affairs minister, home minister and all that.”
Dumbstruck, the Madhesi leaders were still trying to gather their wits when Swaraj added: “If your cause is right, why can’t you all get united?” This was a reference to the poor showing of the Madhes parties during the last elections to the constituent assembly after a series of splits.
The guest list at a lunch hosted by Ambassador Ranjit Rae in honour of Swaraj was also telling. Among the invitees was Kamal Thapa, the pro-monarchist leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal. The group has lately been treated almost as a political pariah by India as well as European diplomats for advocating that Nepal go back to its status of a Hindu State and for seeking a constitutional monarchy.
In contrast, not a single leader from the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), the second largest coalition partner in the government led by the Nepali Congress, was present at the lunch.
A guest told The Sunday Express that Swaraj made her concern known when Nepali leaders spoke about growing proselytisation in the country. Finance Minister and Nepali Congress leader R S Mahat said the RPP-N Nepal had emerged as the fourth largest party in the House in the last elections because it had raised the issue of Hindutva. Thapa retorted by saying that his party had raised both Hindutva as well as “the erosion of the identity of the nation”.
Nepali leaders appreciated the fact that Swaraj respected protocol in her meetings, calling on President Ram Baran Yadav, PM Sushil Koirala, the vice-president and speaker, as well as former PM and leader of the opposition Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.
Her predecessor Salman Khurshid had ruffled many feathers in Nepal by having former PMs meet him at his hotel. The local media had often criticised Nepali leaders for agreeing to this “serious breach of protocol”.