File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli | Twitter
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli | Twitter
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At an event organised at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu to commemorate International Women’s Day earlier this year, China’s ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi wowed the female audience, which included Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s wife Radhika Shakya. Yanqi shed her diplomatic avatar, donned a lehenga-choli with gold embellishment and performed a Nepali dance in tune with a popular Nepali folk song, which went something like this: ‘If only I could fly like a bird/Under the wide, open sky.’


Also read: Nepal govt tables constitutional amendment bill over new map, plans talks with India


Chinese diplomacy in Kathmandu

Hou Yanqi’s soaring popularity is the talk of town these days. A key part of her job, of course, is to wean Nepal away from its civilisational embrace of India and offer the charms of Beijing, instead of the all-too-familiar tramping grounds like Delhi and Banaras. By all accounts, she is succeeding rather well.

Barely a month ago the Chinese ambassador persuaded the faction-ridden Nepali Communist Party to come together, swallow their dislike of PM Oli and give him another chance to govern. Oli – by attempting to change Nepal’s map, incorporating a large swathe of Indian territory, including Kalapani, and insulting India’s national emblem Ashoka Chakra – has not just outwitted India, but also exceeded China’s wildest dreams.


Also read: Nepal in regular touch with India over map row, date for talks not fixed yet: Minister Gyawali


Where is India?

But there’s a larger question at stake here. Why has India, with its historical, cultural, religious and language affinities with Nepal that transcend the past and reaffirm the present, hardly ever got its Nepal policy right?

Oli will surely go down in history, just like Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana in 1950, to play the “saviour of Nepal” card and outfox India. This time around, though, India has probably lost Nepal of its own volition. Between feting US President Donald Trump in February, obsessing the return of a few score thousand Indians under the #VandeBharat Mission, and now scrambling to get the Chinese to abide by their own promises of respecting the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, Delhi has had no time for Kathmandu.

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Nepal’s ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya has called foreign secretary Harsh Shringla several times, but to no avail. As for External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, there have been larger fish to fry – and not just in the Indian Ocean.


Also read: In Ladakh, like in Doklam, China must learn to deal with the assertive Indian soldier on LAC


Delhi’s flip flops

The biggest irony is that New Delhi has completely changed its Nepal policy, not once but twice, in the last six years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power. When he went to Kathmandu for the first time in 2014, and began his address to the Nepali parliament with a few words in Nepali, Modi brought the house down. Within a year, that bonhomie was to turn sour when New Delhi supported the Madhesi political parties in the Terai region to push for a far more inclusive agenda that had once held such promise during the 2006 ‘Jan Andolan’ movement.

But instead of letting Nepal’s fractious politics figure out its own future, India tried to push Kathmandu’s upper caste elite, the “Bahun-Chettris” or the “Brahmin-Kshatriya” class, to share power with other backward classes of the Terai, which shares a border with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The new policy was imbued with a high moral fibre, an idealism that had its roots in India’s own affirmative policies for lower castes and tribal folk. This was Delhi’s first big change.

So when, in 2015, Terai’s political parties blockaded all goods coming in via the India land border, in order to put pressure on Kathmandu to listen to its long-suppressed demands, Delhi’s long arm of support could hardly remain hidden. But the four-month-long protest spun out of control and more than 50 people were killed. In the mess that unfolded, India had a choice to make: abandon principle for realism, and go back to breaking bread with the upper castes that have always ruled Nepal, whether Communist – like Oli – or middle-of-the-road parties such as the Nepali Congress.

The more difficult choice would have been to stay with the Madhesis and fight the long diplomatic battle for a truly inclusive democracy.

Modi’s India rightly picked the first, arguing that it was not in the business of bringing political parties to power. Abandoning the Madhesis and returning to the Brahmin elite was the second turnaround in Delhi’s Nepal policy.


Also read: Covid has brought back Chinese whispers in Sri Lanka, Nepal. Is India listening?


The anti-India sentiment

By 2017, though, Oli was barnstorming the countryside on anti-India slogans that catapulted him to power in December 2017. Modi sent then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Kathmandu to make peace. Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Ram Madhav also kept open a vigorous back-channel. The newly-appointed ambassador in Kathmandu, Manjeev Singh Puri’s orders were to appease Oli & Co.

Unfortunately, India forgot Modi’s basic political mantra: there are no permanent friends or enemies in power. But India’s diplomats were so keen on making nice with Oli, that they forgot India’s oldest friends in Nepal — the Nepali Congress, left out in the cold, abandoned, hurt. The party had its revenge last November, after India redid its maps in the wake of dilution of Article 370 to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. It was the Nepali Congress that taunted PM K.P. Oli’s inability to save the country from India’s “big brother designs” on Lipulekh and Kalapani.


Also read: In Ladakh, like in Doklam, China must learn to deal with the assertive Indian soldier on LAC


Neighbourhood mess

Today, the Nepali Congress is at the forefront of supporting Oli’s campaign to change Nepal’s map as it hypes the nationalist agenda. The Madhesis, once again, are left in the lurch – marginalised by both the Nepali Congress and Oli’s party. The “Bahun-Chettris” are back to feeling secure – riding high on an anti-India plank.

As for India, things have never been so bad in the neighbourhood in recent years. Pakistan has been an all-weather ally of Beijing for decades, now Hou Yanqi has pushed Oli’s Nepal much deeper into China’s arms.

Meanwhile in Ladakh, trouble across the LAC refuses to subside. As the Chinese trample all over South Asia, Modi’s India is encircled by China more than ever before.

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. Hahaha .. well written. But I laugh at Indian journalism. If it’s not good for the principles of journalism, you are pretty darn good at cheap popularity and a JOKE. Do you even do some research or you put 2 packets of gutkas and paan parag and write what comes to your brain!

    Thank you for a good laugh. I hadn’t had one since long. God bless you 🙏

  2. This Virus has helped getting out true colours out of people whether it be neighbor’s or it be enemy within in…
    As getting bullied, bowing backing down is not an option under current leadership…, So people are welcome go wherever they want to or do whatever they want to… in case they don’t want to be associated with this United India!!

  3. When Modi visited Nepal for the first time, we all welcomed Modi as one of our own. There was a Modi wave all around for the first time in my life I had seen that here was a leader whom Nepalese public seemed to trust. However after the tragic earthquake and immediately a blockade by India turned off the public here. Hence things escalated when the news of the western boarder of Kalapani came up. Now if Delhi needs to take this seriously and offers a table talk to settle the disputes and revises the way it looks at Nepal.
    We have shared such a lovely bond and I would like to see this continue there are only two nations where the authentic Vedic culture exists and both should be the flag bearer of the same.

  4. The problem with upstart journalists who dont know Katmandu from Kalimpong is that they think a few received wisdom and articles make up for decades of on the ground experience and knowledge.
    Chinese ambassador dancing like a cheap bar girl is not diplomacy and the Nepalis standing on hubris and ego is not a strategy.
    People like this journalist make the childish mistake to confuse popularity with foreign policy. Nepal being “friendly” with India or Pakistan being friendly with India is neither the aim of foreign policy or its barometer. Foreign policy of a nation is about securing one’s interests and one’s national goals – not winning popularity contests. India’s interest in Nepal is varied and multipronged. Nepal may resent India but it has no option but to depend on India and has no leverage over India regardless of Chinese influence if Nepal’s access to India and its markets are curtailed.

  5. There is no flip flop from Modi. Communists government in Nepal is the primary reason of increased Chinese influence in Nepal. Whether Indian communists or Nepal communists or China’s communists they all hate a Hindu governed India.

  6. You have a talent. You can call it a superpower as well maybe. You can draw modi’s fault for literally anything. You never talk about the good things he did. You actually know what Nepal did. Maybe your wit tells you that Nepal did it because of China’s Pressure. Even people of Nepal are against these move of their government. But, you my friend, that’s modi’s fault.

  7. Nepal don’t need too much attention. Seal the border, issue Visa . And treat Nepal like any other countries. No need to give special any aid. It’s not a punishment but they asked for respect and to be treated as sovereign nation. It’s time to do it. Let us good luck to Nepal for future endeavours.

    • I agree with you. India should Nepal like any other country. Nepalis are definitely feeling entitled. They’re not valuing what they have.
      At the end, whichever side feels like they lost more is the culprit for this rupture.

  8. No body is feeling gap.
    It’s Indian bully mindset and colonial hangover.
    Not a single neighbors trust India.
    Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, China, Pakistan.
    First Learn to coexist together.
    Do research, hear the others view.
    Indian journalism is a joke.

    India is an island on South Asia.

  9. The author gives too much credit to Ms You Yanqui. Participating in cultural dances is nice, but does not diplomacy make.

  10. The Chinese are geniuses. They have everything organized. From generating Coroa to having Ambassador dance to Nepali tune.
    And in India, the Gandhis and Congress are targeting Modi and co while BJP is returning compliments , with Mamatas an others in the fray mismanaging in waste bengal elswhere.
    Crazy times for us. When Print comes up with these news it seems India has LOST IT.
    It has.
    Modi is not the greatness he seemed it seems. Internal and External issues show it on his face these days, whatever little I see of it.
    Bad scene.
    Modi revival needed. Possible?

  11. Fine column by Shri C Raja Mohan – the Editor’s friend – in Indian Express on India’s relationship with Nepal. The “ everlasting friendship “ promised by the 1950 Treaty is wearing thin. Nepal has been playing the China card from day one. Understandable, natural for a small country that wishes to preserve its strategic autonomy. The Nepalis have been in touch with Peking for 200 years. 2. Where Indian diplomacy – in tatters according to Dr Subramanian Swamy – is stumbling in South, and to some extent in south east, Asia as well is to be obsessed with geopolitical games. Losing out on economic development. See our own domestic political agenda in the first year of the second term. Trade, investment, tourism, if China is a greater source of benefit, where do India’s strengths ( historical, cultural, religious ties ) leave it ? 3. Not accepting an Ambassador’s calls – even from the Pakistani High Commission – is poor diplomacy. It is boorish bad behaviour, like landing up in Kathmandu and asking them not to adopt their Constitution, or blockading them.

  12. The Print seems to have a clear agenda – just keep rubbishing Modi’s government on anything and everything.
    This is NOT OBJECTIVE JOURNALISM by any stretch of imagination.
    At best this can only be called yellow journalism,which I wish to avoid.
    Tell me how to stop getting your unsolicited newsfeds.

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