‘The Nepal Nexus: An Inside Account of the Maoists, the Durbar and New Delhi’ review: Chill in the neighbourhood

A journalist argues that the role of India in Nepal’s political transition from monarchy to constitutional democracy has affected relations between the two countries

June 06, 2020 04:20 pm | Updated 04:20 pm IST

Nepal-India relations are often romanticised as one of ‘roti-beti’ (food and marriage), but Sudheer Sharma’s fast-paced account of contemporary Nepali politics shows that it has been defined more by Indian bureaucracy and spies. He weaves in his experience as a reporter and a leading editor of Nepal to show that India was involved in the political transition of Nepal from monarchy to constitutional democracy, but that the transition did not fulfil India’s expectations.

Complicated strands

In lucid prose, Sharma presents the complex history of communism and monarchy in Nepal, and explains the India link in a gripping chapter titled ‘Delhi Agreement – II’. The author reveals how the Maoist insurgency of Nepal was brought to an end through dialogue among the key Nepali leaders, Girija Prasad Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”.

The two stalwarts of Nepali politics met in Gurgaon. Baburam Bhattarai, Krishna Prasad Mahara, leaders of seven political parties representing various political groups of Nepal, and representatives of the Manmohan Singh government were the other participants at these meetings held in the summer of 2005. It was a difficult dialogue as the Maoists had not yet stopped the decade-long insurgency as they negotiated for a future mainstreaming of the movement. A ceasefire followed the massacre of soldiers in Pili and after months of meetings, the landmark twelve-point understanding was reached.

The understanding aimed at creating a constitutional republic in Nepal had to contend with Nepal’s Durbaris, the Maoist challengers, the Janjatis or ancient communities like Tharus and Magars, while fulfilling the democratic aspiration of the Madhesis of the plains. Both Koirala, who led the seven-party combine, and Prachanda, the leader of the Maoist side, made crucial concessions to take Nepal to the next phase. Sharma claims that working behind the scenes were former head of Research and Analysis Wing Hormis Tharakan, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) and Devi Prasad Tripathi of the Nationalist Congress party. At that time, Tharakan was the member of the National Security Advisory Board. With the Left Front extending support to the Manmohan Singh government at the Centre, the involvement of Karat-Yechury indicated the government’s direct involvement with Nepal’s political truce.

The political situation changed in India with the advent of the Narendra Modi government even as Nepal remained on track to adopt the constitution. The main problem at this stage appeared to be that the post-monarchy Nepali democratic leaders, despite the revolutionary features of their movement, wanted Nepal’s traditional centre of power to remain Kathmandu-centric. The Indian stakeholders increasingly pushed for an identity-based criterion to give more rights to the people of the plains of Nepal. Kathmandu suspected that through the Madhesi assertion, India wanted to ensure a permanent grip over Kathmandu. As the final touches were being given to the constitution, India was shocked to find that the leaders who had been aided by it earlier were not interested in implementing Delhi’s demands.

Epic meeting

Sharma brings out the stunning differences between the Nepali and Indian side at an epic meeting that was held by current foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali with his counterpart S. Jaishankar, then foreign secretary, on September 16, 2015. Gyawali had arrived as the emissary of Nepal to inform India about the decision to adopt the constitution. Jaishankar and Gyawali were joined by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and midway through the discussion the Indian foreign secretary received a phone call that the Constitutent Assembly had passed the constitution.

“What is the use of talking anymore,” Jaishankar is quoted as saying at this moment by Sharma. Jaishankar rushed to Kathmandu to stop the constitution from getting adopted as India argued it had not addressed the aspiration of the Madhesis who have greater social and cultural similarities with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

‘India’s revenge’

Jaishankar’s failure to stop the constitution spilled into the crippling blockade that Nepal termed as India’s revenge. India maintained throughout this period that it was not responsible for the blockade as it was imposed by Madhesi protesters. But Nepal blamed Delhi for the hardship that the common people faced because of the harsh move.

Nepal today is shaped by the traumatic experience of the months-long blockade. The government of K.P. Sharma Oli, seemingly egged on by its ‘northern neighbour’, is determined to keep Nepal from ever returning to the grip of bureaucrats of South Block.

The charges against leading Indian officials for playing a role in creating this reversal can only be refuted by them personally but till that time, Sharma’s book is a must-read to understand India-Nepal ties.

The Nepal Nexus: An Inside Account of the Maoists, the Durbar and New Delhi ; Sudheer Sharma, Penguin/Viking, ₹699.

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