COMES 11th May: Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving in Nepal; interestingly not to the capital Kathmandu but to ….
Mr. Modi ,he comes back after he visited Nepal in 2014 ; only months before the devastating earthquake and less than an year before he imposed a half an year long blockade on us when we had still not recovered from the agony of earthquake. Mr. Modi’s blockade that had made the people of Nepal witness their kith and kin shiver and freeze to death in the mountainous villages. Footpath in all major cities of Nepal were lined with miles long queues of the sick, the old and the women and the children ; all hoping to get a litre or two of fuel to heat their stoves. Economy of the nation had come to a standstill. Tourism and industry suffered the most. Blockade had played a havoc bigger than the earthquake. India had once again shown its power and policy to subdue its smaller neighbours. If at all Nepalese had any trust in India, it had been permanently irreversibly lost. Yes irreversibly. The lesson that national leaders learn over their lifetime was taught even to Nepali children in 135 days that Birgunj was blocked: trust power play more than the rhetoric of an expansionist arrogant mighty neighbor. Also the people of Nepal learned not to trust the books on international law that guarantee land locked countries their transit rights.
Security of the people of small countries depends on keeping alternate options open. The lesson that Nepalese learned in the winter of 2015 the hardest possible way, was reflected three years later in 2017 elections. It is said that public memory is short. It certainly is. But hard and bitter memories are a notable exception. They are hard to get rid of, even if there is a reason and environment to do so.
There would hardly be general elections anywhere in the world that would so unequivocally reflect a public sentiment; their support for a policy of asserting sovereignty and resenting Indian intervention and arrogance.
Modi then delivered a speech full of warmth and friendship. That is how all leaders do. The lesser the commitment to what they say, the taller the promises. The speech was a masterpiece of oratory. Let us take a look at some of the important promises made by the Indian Prime Minister in his previous visit. Prime Minister Modi promised a 550 crore Police Academy at Panauti. The project still remains at the stage of feasibility study. By contrast Police Academy pledged by China in 2013 has long been completed operationalized and handed over to the Nepalese side.
Second was the promise of Arun-III Hydropower project still remains on the discussion table embroiled in controversies challenging our national interests and unacceptable conditionalities, Not to forget that irrespective of the source of funding, the project taps a national hydel resource that belongs to Nepal.
The third was a billion US dollar credit line, that to remains to be utilized stuck somewhere in papers. To that lost of hollow announcements of 2014 was an interesting addition during the visit of Prime Minister Oli to India last month, The waterway project for transportation. The feasibility study for this project would be written by our grandchildren.
That was winter of 2014 in next winter many Nepalese found - the decayed old rituals of chosen India as the first foreign visit by the Nepal Government and receiving Indian Prime Minister as the first incoming visit cannot be shed away abruptly. It needs to be tapered and apparently Nepalese are moving in that direction. The first leader to visit Nepal after the assumption of power by the new Government was the Prime Minster of Pakistan.
The political wisdom gained in the blockade, translation of anti-India sentiments into a political force seen in the elections, and reinforce by the fizzling out of Indian pledges for earthquake reconstruction has enabled even the Nepali teenagers to read much in between the lines. The process is moving in that direction. It’s customary that foreign leaders, usually as a matter of respect to the capital [or the formal host] before visiting other cities. Modi’s programme which has apparently been chalked out in consultation directly with the Nepal’s Interior Ministry begins with a visit to Madhesh before touching capital Kathmandu. That clearly a sign of disrespect for the host country’s sovereignty and a show of arrogance that was earlier resented and now rejected by the people of Nepal. It was the same arrogance that made India refuse to buy electricity from a project from Nepal funded by China. Such country’s specifically conditionalities impacting the foreign policy of another country are below the minimum standards of respect for sovereignty of other countries.
Nepal has learnt lessons in foreign policy. It seems India has not the expansionist urge and arrogant approach that reminds Nepalese of the two prolonged blockades in 1989 and 2015 have pushed Nepal away from India. India had similar policies of expansionism and arrogance towards all its neighbors. They worked vis-à-vis smaller neighbors as long as India was a dominant power in the region. With China emerging as a nerve center of a global networks of communications the BRI the big and small countries in the region have alternate access to development opportunities that are much more accessible and respecting Nepal’s national respect and sovereignty. No wonder India find itself amidst its neighbors that are all a part of BRI or the String of Pearls as they call it. India must realize its imitation, a continuation of its policies expansionist and arrogant polices would made Nepal to explore more options and opportunities in its North. Nepal must take control of its resources especially hydropower resources and develop itself without being constrained by external hands.