Next door Nepal: The price of instability

A constitution by any means will likely ignore public opinion and cost India further credibility

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: December 8, 2014 12:04:56 am
China is more popular today and has as much influence and presence in Nepal as India does. China is more popular today and has as much influence and presence in Nepal as India does.

Anand Swaroop Varma, the editor of Teesri Duniya, with open sympathy for the radical Left, including the Maoists, sent out a clear message through his column that the support that Narendra Modi has been able to draw in Nepal is the latest version of what used to be called “Sikkimisation” in the years following Sikkim’s merger with India in 1975.

Varma’s influence on Indian policy in Nepal, especially after 2005, ultimately led to the Maoists being brought to the centrestage of Nepali politics and the monarchy’s overthrow.

Independent observers of the peace and the failed constitution-making process over the last eight years have often said Nepalese actors post-2006 were frequently taking dictates from the Indian bureaucracy. But there were no critical voices from the Indian side about how far it ought to get into Nepal’s internal politics. It is, however, true that Modi has been criticised by many in Nepal this time round, unlike in August when he addressed the Constituent Assembly and indicated that his government would be more involved in Nepal’s industrial and economic growth.

The dynamic of the bilateral relationship had evidently changed in the days following, as major hydro projects were signed and politics seemed to take a backseat. But Modi revived it on his last visit, when he said that the constitution, even if incomplete, should come about by consensus and by the January 22 deadline.

But Nepal’s politics, fast heading towards instability, and the likely failure to write the constitution within that deadline, will definitely be an issue for not only the Nepalese people but also India, which believed its new post-2005 Nepal policy would keep its northern neighbour permanently in its sphere of influence and China out.

Just the opposite has happened. China is more popular today and has as much influence and presence in Nepal as India does. None of the actors the Indian establishment had actively supported, including the Maoists, are popular among the people any more. For the BJP, which has come to power eight years after India’s policy shift, it is an opportunity to blame the UPA for the mess. But clearly, India cannot escape the price of instability in Nepal and the consequent geostrategic fallout.

Those close to the previous regime and those opposed to the BJP seem to have embarked on a policy of offence towards Modi, as evident in Varma’s criticism. The criticism of Modi in the Nepali media and some political circles has multiple reasons. He gave the impression in August, that he and top officials would be monitoring Nepalese affairs, instead of leaving it to intelligence agencies and junior diplomats as under the UPA. Also, his emphasis on the constitution at any cost erases the difference ordinary Nepalese saw between him and the UPA leadership.

In all likelihood, the Constituent Assembly will eat into the time allotted for soliciting public opinion to maintain the deadline, if it still insists on delivering the constitution. But there are other groups —  both secular and pro-Hindu state, pro- and anti-federal, republican and monarchist —  that are rapidly polarising and have threatened to burn the constitution if it does not incorporate their respective demands. If the Constituent Assembly ignores public opinion, the document it will call the “constitution” will likely be rejected by a majority.

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