New Delhi: Former Indian ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae has said Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s announcement of a new map incorporating territories under dispute with India has been a “godsend” for him.
In an interaction with Jyoti Malhotra, ThePrint’s National and Strategic Affairs Editor, Rae said PM Oli through this issue has been able to “whip up anti-India sentiment” to consolidate his own position in the Nepal Communist Party.
“Nepali Communists tend to use anti-Indian nationalism to consolidate its position in Nepal. PM Oli was on a weak wicket within his own party. This issue has been a godsend, like a lifeline for him in the sense that he has been able to whip up this anti-India or nationalist sentiment. This is what he used in the last election as well to come into power,” Rae said.
He asserted that the new map introduced by Nepal, which incorporates the territories of Lipulekh and Kalapani, is an “unfortunate development”.
Asked why other political parties in Nepal didn’t protest this move, Rae replied, “This nationalistic agenda which has catapulted PM Oli to power is now being used by parties like Nepali Congress.” He explained that the opposition parties had been “egging” on PM Oli to take up this issue. The Communist party, Madheshis and the democratic forces were all on board with this issue.
The former ambassador also listed several reasons that may have been the ‘trigger’ behind this move.
In 2015, he said, the Nepalese raised this issue when an agreement between India and China was signed on strengthening of trade and pilgrimages through Lipulekh pass. Rae also mentioned that Nepal protested last year and sought talks when India released its new political map after the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir following the scrapping of Article 370.
Moreover, he added, the comments by Army Chief Manoj Mukund Narvane asserting that the map of Nepal had been reorganised at the behest of another country, without naming China, was the “immediate trigger”.
‘Oli is playing the China card’
Rae asserted that China’s role has “certainly increased” in terms of trade, investment and connectivity projects in Nepal. It is also deeply engaged in the domestic political processes of Nepal.
Rae recalled, “Recently, when Oli was under threat from his own party, the Chinese ambassador in Nepal played a very active role in sorting things out. Clearly, China is deeply involved.”
He revealed that Oli’s government was “unpopular” since it had not been able to develop or contribute to economic prospects in Nepal. Moreover, his government was also ineffective in its response to coronavirus.
Rae asserted, “K.P. Oli is playing the China card, there is no doubt about it… Look at the role the Chinese are playing in saving his government.”
Relationship between Nepal and India
During the interview, Rae maintained that the relationship between Nepal and India is not just the relationship between the Government of India and the Government of Nepal. “The relationship is complex, it is asymmetrical and also about how Nepal looks at itself, as one of their founders said a yam between two rocks,” he said.
By presenting a new map of Nepal, Rae said, India is being made to be seen as a “big brother” that is not treating Nepal “fairly”.
He explained, “Nepal sees itself surrounded by India and utterly dependent on India for access to the outside world, both trade and bilaterally…Nepal’s foreign policy strategy has been to create greater political space for itself whenever there’s an issue between India and Nepal.”
Moreover, Rae said, Nepal’s “default position” is either playing into the anti-Indian sentiment or the China card.
He suggested that the only way to resolve this issue is to begin talks with Nepal soon, saying India must “restart talks no matter how offended we are”. There is also an urgent need to factor in anti-India sentiment and the China card when developing India-Nepal strategies, Rae said.