| March 21, 2019

Marginalized Indians now envy Nepal’s constitution

Marginalized Indians now envy Nepal’s constitution

The government of KP Oli decided to recall Nepal's ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhyay, early this month. He was accused of 'non-cooperation' and of 'plotting the fall' of Oli government. Upadhyay, however, disagrees.

In an interview with Republica's Biswas Baral and Mahabir Paudyal, he says it's normal for Nepali ambassadors to change with a change in government.

Three months after the end of blockade Nepalis still wonder what India actually wants from Nepal. What do you think it wants?

Both China and India want sustainable peace and stability in Nepal. But there are groups in both India and Nepal who want to see perennial conflict between the two countries. But such groups have become weak now. Things are getting back to normal.

The government also says relations with India are getting back to normal, but if so why were you abruptly recalled?

The vacuum created by my recall may create some problems. But I hope the government will soon remove this vacuum by appointing a new envoy to Delhi at the earliest. In Nepal there is a trend of changing important ambassadors with government change. This is one reason for misunderstanding. It is about time we rectified this error. Their differing political bases and agendas notwithstanding, all parties need to come to a common ground on issues of national interest. We need to develop our foreign policy accordingly. Our diplomacy has been badly affected by internal politics.

What is the role of Nepal's ambassador in keeping India-Nepal relations on an even keel?

The Nepali ambassador has a limited role. An envoy is obligated to abide by orders and directives of his government, whosoever leads it. He facilitates relations between the two countries. But an envoy does not necessarily have to blindly follow instructions of his government. The most important thing is whether or not the envoy has the best interest of his people and the country at heart.

But didn't the Oli government recall you for 'incompetence'?

Many things have come out in the media regarding my recall. Most of them are rumors. Don't go after rumors. The letter that Nepal government sent asking for my recall does not support the claim that I was in anyway incompetent.

The government has clearly said you violated diplomatic protocol.

If I have done anything of the kind and you have proof of it, I am ready to give up my political and diplomatic career. I have not gone anywhere without informing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as my embassy. So I was shocked to be recalled unexpectedly. If they had furnished clarification, I would take it normally but I was not given a good reason. I was appointed envoy with political consensus. I was also at all times aware of my protocol. I am a Nepali Congress leader, but I did not visit my constituency while I was the envoy.

A lot happened in little over a year of your tenure as Nepal's ambassador to India. How do you look back at those days?

When I assumed office in New Delhi, the relation between two countries was normal. Then it passed through the most difficult phase. Now it is again getting back to normal. We must understand that Nepal and India have heart-to-heart relation. This cannot be broken down easily. Why India spoiled its relations with Nepal had become a big issue in India. Indian lawmakers questioned how friendly India-Nepal relation had descended to the level of India's often-adversarial relations with Pakistan and China. The issue was also raised in Rajaya Sabha. After Prime Minister Oli's India visit, both the sides were in a mood to mend the frayed ties. The situation was moving in the positive direction. Even now, I believe Nepal-India relations are perfectly normal.

So you believe Prime Minister Oli's India visit contributed to improved relations?

Exactly. One reason why a prime minister visits another country is to strengthen relations. Even before his visit, we had told Indian officials that Nepalis by nature do not know how to bow before others. We told them that the constitution was promulgated by an overwhelming majority of people's representatives. We told them that through the new constitution we were embarking on the path of stability and development. So we also told them not to be unnecessarily bothered over the new constitution.

Can you talk about India's reservations with our constitution?

Why would India be concerned about Nepal's constitution? Nowhere in the world do you get perfect constitutions. Even Madheshi leaders have realized this now. They admit this during private conversations. As for Indians, they have started saying there is no constitution as good as Nepal's in South Asia. The progressive provisions enshrined in our constitution have become a tool for Dalits and other minorities in India to demand more rights.

So what explains India's petulance over the new constitution then?

We are also to blame for this. We could not circulate English version of the constitution in India right after its promulgation. In fact, it took us two months to get the translated copy. This vacuum spawned rumors. They understood the reality only when they got the English version and read it. Then they realized that there was nothing wrong with Nepal's constitution. Like I said, since they read Nepal's constitution, they have started to ask why there are not similar progressive provisions in the Indian constitution.

In India, they take their constitution seriously. Where in the world do you have the liberty to take oath under the constitution and criticize the same document? In Nepal some leaders and even ministers have been doing this.

Can you talk of the leverage of Nepal's ambassador in India? What can he realistically do?

Like I said, Nepal and India have heart-to-heart relations. This bond is really strong. The Delhi representatives of other governments often ask me how is it that they cannot get past the desk officers at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs but the Nepali envoy can directly interact with senior ministers and even the prime minister? So as I said Indo-Nepal relations are truly special. But what is also true is that unless we in Nepal first settle our own affairs, there are bound to be some repercussions of domestic issues on international front as well.

It is said India was unhappy when its concerns were brushed aside and those of other countries were accommodated in the new constitution.

India has been involved in the Nepali peace and constitution project since the signing of the 12-point New Delhi accord in 2005. With this role of India, we perhaps failed to take it into confidence in the final leg of the constitutional process. In other words, India felt that Nepal was acting like a fair-weather friend. I believe this is what hurt India.

What do Indians say about Nepal's constitution now?

They are impressed by our constitution. You cannot hide truth with rumors. After they read the constitution, they have understood what's in it. Women, dalits and minority groups in India have begun to demand rights and powers in line with those provided by Nepal's constitution. They say "Nepal has done this much for its women, minority and dalits. What has India done for us?" Since Prime Minister Oli and Prime Minister Modi had one-to-one conversation during Prime Minister Oli's Delhi visit, there has not been any negative comment on Nepal's constitution from India. Indians are rather worried about growing anti-Indian sentiments in Nepal.

Some say India was mainly concerned about citizenship provisions for Indian women married to Nepali men and certain restrictions on naturalized citizens.

Not really. Indians know what rights and powers India grants to the Nepali women married to Indians. Here in Nepal more than 3,000 Indian women married to Nepalis have already obtained Nepali citizenships after the promulgation of new constitution. Do Nepali women married to Indians have comparable powers? Besides, nowhere in the world is there equal provision for political and constitutional rights for citizens by descent and citizens by naturalization. India does not have it either. So how do you expect India to ask of us what it doesn't practice itself? Some say India has issues with current provincial boundaries. I don't think so. Indians have plenty of other things to think about besides Nepal. All they want is peace on border regions and across Nepal. Once peace is restored, I do not think India will have any other issue with Nepal.

As an envoy how did you raise Nepal's issues with Indian authorities?

During the days of the blockade, I would tell them that they were depriving Nepalis of fuel with which to cook their daily meal.

I raised the issue of not enough water being given to Nepal for irrigation from Koshi and Gandak dams. I asked them why they were building dams on our borders without even consulting Nepal. We have failed to raise these vital issues with India. I would personally meet responsible Indian authorities and raise these issues. Now even the PMO in India has expressed its interest on this matter. The central government in India now has a plan to directly intervene in infrastructure projects in Indian territories adjoining Nepal. I also talked about jointly harnessing Nepal's vast hydro potential.

But Indian companies tend to 'hold' hydro projects indefinitely rather than complete them on time.

The problem is we have no spending capacity. We have failed to spend the aid India offers us. India has a provision to reward companies which perform well and punish those which don't. This is why development projects in India finish really fast these days. We need to replicate this model in Nepal.

How do you evaluate Nepal-India relation at the moment?

Like I said, our relation with India has again become normal. Let us not exaggerate things unnecessarily. What happens in the days ahead depends on our diplomatic skills. We cannot blame others all the time. We in Nepal need to have a common stand on our important foreign relations. If we keep talking negative, the outcome won't be positive.

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