| October 24, 2018

In poor taste

Oli's India diplomacy

Even at the height of the four and half months of India's border blockade, there was constant exchange of high level visitors between India and Nepal. Both Sushil Koirala and KP Sharma Oli, the two prime ministers at the helm during that time, regularly send their envoys to New Delhi to explain their positions on the new constitution. Likewise, there has been regular visits of top Indian diplomats, including the Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who have come to Nepal to convey India's concerns over the new constitution. Such exchanges are important between two countries who share such extensive ties as well as an open border. So even when Nepal-India relations had hit rock bottom, the two sides kept talking. But now that the blockade had ended and Nepalis are given to believe by the Oli government that Nepal-India ties have 'normalized', Oli has inexplicably cancelled the India visit of President Bidya Bhandari; he has also recalled Nepal's ambassador in New Delhi. Apparently, these moves are a way for Nepal to express its disapproval at India's alleged attempt to unseat Oli government and at the questionable role of Nepali mission in New Delhi.
There is no way to prove (or disprove) these allegations. But even as a level of Indian meddling in Nepali politics has been an undeniable reality in recent times, we should not forget that often it was our own political leaders who invited such meddling. Even the recent attempt to unseat Oli was being undertaken by Nepali Congress and UCPN (Maoist), two democratically elected political parties in Nepal. True, India might have felt that PM Oli was not doing enough to resolve the Madheshi crisis and it was as such working behind the scenes to explore Oli's alternatives. But again it would not succeed without the help of our own parties. But what India would like to see in Nepal is really besides the point here. Oli's decision to cancel the president's India visit and recall Nepal's ambassador was bad diplomacy, plain and simple. Nepal has absolutely nothing to gain by being in India's bad books, when even China, Nepal's only other neighbor, has time and again clearly hinted that Nepal has no option but to be in best of terms with India. Moreover, the Indian establishment seems interested in correcting its faulty past course, which is part of the reason why it lifted the blockade.

So it is hard to understand what Oli is trying to achieve by needlessly needling India when what it should be trying to do is use India's good offices, and its good relations with Madheshi parties, to try to find durable constitutional settlements to the Madheshi crisis. With the Chinese president Xi Jinping floating the concept of trilateral cooperation between Nepal, China and India, the onus is again on Nepal to convince the skeptical Indians that such cooperation is in the interest of all three sides. Then there are issues of greater connectivity between SAARC countries, which is again not possible without India. Besides Madhesh, there is also a whole host of bilateral issues—water-sharing, electricity, trade, transportation, border management—on which India and Nepal need to work together. The knee-jerk diplomacy that has been in evidence of late, instead of spurring cooperation on these vital issues, threaten to further widen the gulf between Kathmandu and New Delhi. We might not always like India's big-brotherly attitude. If so there are proper diplomatic channels through which such grievances can be conveyed. Severing important communication channels between the two countries at such a sensitive time is most certainly not the way to go about it.

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