Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015
Need for Synergy and not Rupture between Indian and Nepali Polities
Saturday 3 October 2015
by Vijay Pratap
Nepali, Indian and international media—all have published extensively the debates on the dynamics of Constitution-making and its promul-gation in Nepal. The viewpoints of both the establishments of India and Nepal have been aggressively and explicitly stated. But the views of the Indian civil society have not seen the light of the day adequately in the mainstream media, social network sites or even the alternative media.
A small section of the Indian civil society and political class has been active with the people of Nepal in the struggle for deepening democracy as if it was their own struggle. This is in conti-nuation with the communist-socialist tradition of both the countries. Both streams being inter-nationalist in their nature, they had very close cooperation and debates.
It is from this viewpoint that I write the following brief comment.
The first thing which crosses my mind is the fact that the Nepali people have promulgated a Constitution as a result of their internal political dynamics; this deserves adequate appreciation. This marks a paradigm shift in the internal politics of Nepal, where all the epochal changes in the past were effected by direct or indirect support and proactive involve-ment of the Indian people and system. Before this paradigm shift surfaced, all political shades, including the ones that have ensured the pro-mulgation this Constitution, used to actively seek the support of the Indian establishment irrespective of the ideologies and public positions regarding India of their respective parties. In fact, the kind of micromanagement in their factional battles was sought by the Nepali leadership from the Indian establishment did not fit the even the idea of the relativist sovereignty of modern nation-states. The relationship between the Indian and Nepali state appeared similar to the system and pattern prevailing during British India—the princely state system. This system had open borders and proactive political engagement with each other and the idea of modern sovereignty was defined very differently. This model was obviously outdated, especially after Nepal in its first meeting of the revived Parliament declared itself a Republic.
But the Indian establishment continues with the old paradigm. The present shock of disre-garding the Indian establishment will hopefully churn them into reformulating a new paradigm of engagement with Nepal. The sooner we do so, the better will it be. In spite of the strong resentment in the political class of Nepal against India’s open, aggressive, and last-minute prescriptive suggestions to amend the Consti-tution, the basic elements of the relationship between India and Nepal still have the potential to flower into a model for the entire SAARC region. This relationship with open borders has to better itself incorporating some of the elements of the European Union. However, if the relationship doesn’t improve, then it is bound to deteriorate. The present tense relationship cannot stabilise. The equilibrium will be either worse or better.
As a solidarity activist for democracy in Nepal, I was a very proud participant in 2005 when King Gyanendra engineered the coup and removed the then Prime Minister, G.P. Koirala. There was a spontaneous response even while King Gyanendra was on air addressing the Nepali nation. A meeting had started at my residence in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and in the evening a platform, Rajshahi Virodhi Morcha, was constituted with Anand Swaroop Varma, a Leftist ideologue close to the Nepali Maoists, and myself. On February 3 we held a demonstration at the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi. On February 24, 2005 an all-party solidarity convention was held at the Constitution Club where leaders from all important political parties, activists from independent socialist groups and two former Prime Ministers, V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar, spoke. D.P. Tripathi and Sitaram Yachury had taken the initiative to mobilise the leaders for this convention. I had mobilised migrant Nepali leaders and movement leaders for this meeting. A Nepal Democracy Solidarity Committee was launched at this meeting with Harkishan Singh Surjeet as its chair. This Committee continued with its occasional meetings and statements to extend its moral support for the struggle of restoring and deepening democracy in Nepal. We also visited Kathmandu to appeal to the King to release the imprisoned political leaders as well as demanding restoration of democracy.
In November 2005, seven political parties of Nepal and the Maoist party reached a 12-point agreement in Delhi. This agreement was facilitated by the Indian Government. In my understanding it was primarily an accomplishment of the Indian establishment, both South block as well as our security agencies. As a political worker I was a bit embarrassed that this was primarily done by our establishment, although for purposes of legitimacy some political leaders from India were given credit. Whatever work this Solidarity Committee did is to be appreciated. But, in the light of the challenge of responding to the contemporary crisis of our democracy coming increasing under corporate control and away from the principle of “last person first”, the response of the Indian and Nepali political class is very weak. The widespread misgivings regarding the nature of the Nepali Constitution promulgated on September 20 are a result of the weaknesses of our polity, parties as well as civil society. The politicians in Nepal had become too much dependent on the moves of the Indian establishment and too deeply involved in personal and factional power battles. The leadership did not actively engage in sorting out the differences on the basis of mutual trust keeping in mind the interests of the larger entity called Nepal. In my political assessment it was the political will and vision of K.P. Sharma Oli which saw through the coming together initially of four and then three major political parties and eventual promulgation of the Constitution.
That this Constitution will result in conflict and violence was anticipated in many circles. The International Crisis Group in its Conflict Alert on September 2, 2015 (http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/alerts/2015/nepal-conflict-alert.aspx) clearly gave such an indication.
The Madhesi opinion is being articulated by Prashant Jha, in Hindustan Times one such example is—‘India’s Diagnosis of Nepal is Right’ on September 26, 2015 (http://www.pressreader.com/india/Hindustan-times-ranchi/20150926/28179710-2800658/textview).
The Indian establishment’s view has been put forward in the Indian media by three former ambassadors to Nepal—(I) ‘Federalism: Nepal’s Final Frontier‘ by Jayant Prasad in The Hindu on September 15, 2015 (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/federalism-nepals-final-frontier/article7652362.ece), (II) ’Constitutional error’ by Shyam Saran in The Indian Express on September 26, 2015 (http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/constitutional-error/), (III) ‘Making friends, influencing Nepal’ by Rakesh Sood in The Hindu on September 26, 2015 (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/rakesh-sood-writes-making-friends-influencing-nepal/article7689720.ece).
The most candid reaction from the Nepali establishment is an article by Prateek Pradhan who resigned from the post of Press Advisor to the Prime Minister after writing this article—‘Wrong advice’ by Prateek Pradhan—in Republica on September 16, 2015 (http://myrepublica.com/opinion/story/28261/wrong-advice.html).
A balanced response from the Nepali civil society was also not missing; for example; ‘Apply Panchsheel on Nepal’ by Kanak Mani Dixit in The Hindu on September 24, 2015 (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/kanak-mani-dixit-writes-on-nepals-historic-constitution-apply-panchsheel-on-nepal/article7681981.ece).
The article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express on September 29, 2015—‘In thrall to the past’ (http://indian express.com/article/opinion/columns/in-thrall-to-the-past/)—is a response to both the Nepali and Indian leaderships and the issues involved in the promulgation of the Constitution as well as the debates around it.
I have gone through all these positions carefully and I strongly feel that both the Nepali and Indian leaderships are still stuck in the past, whereas both countries need to move forward and construct a model of partnership between two sovereign nation-states of unequal size but shared past and shared imagination for a better world. The Indian response to the limitations of the Constitution is in the old paradigm of a big feudal state dealing with a smaller feudal state. Similarly, the Nepali response doesn’t recognise India’s contribution in ending ‘people’s war’ in Nepal and bringing the Maoist party overground to participate in the democratic process.
My hypothesis is that India and Nepal are stuck in this paradigm because the political elites of both the countries still believe in corporate-led growth fundamentalism refusing to see the deepening ecological crisis and threat to the lives on this planet. One had hoped that since there is an overwhelming majority of Communists and social democrats in the Nepali parliament, it will strive to put forward an alternative development model for the entire South Asia in particular and the entire planet in general. Unfortunately, a lot more needs to be done before there is synergy between the polities of India and Nepal to realise the sustainable goals for the region.
The author, a socialist activist, has been actively associated with efforts to forge solidarity with democratic forces in South Asia, particularly Nepal (where he has livewire contacts with democrats of all shades regardless of ideological differences).