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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015

Nepal: Modi’s Dream Merchants Messed Up Policies

Saturday 3 October 2015, by M K Bhadrakumar

At times one cannot but feel sorry for the Foreign Secretary. Over the years, his has become a thankless job. The incumbent official, S. Jaishankar, is being pilloried for having been lackadaisical in preventing Nepal from adopting just this sort of an unhelpful Constitution that it has chosen to adopt.

His lapse? Apparently, the detractors and critics say Jaishankar should have visited Kathmandu to do some arm-twisting in the month of August when the country’s draft Constitution was in the final stages of deliberation—and not in September when the unsavoury Constitution became a fait accompli.

Prima facie, the criticism may seem well-founded and it may appear that India’s Foreign Secretary was not on the ball. If so, it could be a serious lapse, because Nepal also comes under the Foreign Secretary’s direct ‘charge’ in the South Block. But the fact of the matter is that it is unfair to the incumbent Foreign Secretary who has a well-earned reputation for being a ‘hands-on’ boss.

Just look at the way he wrapped up the mega defence deal of $ 2 billion worth arms purchases from the United States even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was proceeding on his third ‘pow-vow’ with US President Barack Obama. Jaishankar ensured that Obama will damn well find time in an extremely busy schedule in New York to receive Modi — with Syria, Islamic State, migration threat to Europe, climate change, Afghan troop pullout, Iraq, Yemen, Iran nuclear deal et al. on his mind—by sensitising Washington that Modi can be helpful in creating at least a few hundred new jobs for Americans.

Surely, Jaishankar knows his job. Which is why Modi created a vacancy by sacking an incumbent Foreign Secretary and appointing him. So, why don’t things add up on Nepal?

Wouldn’t Jaishankar have grasped the kernel that Nepal’s Constitution is a ‘prestige issue’ for Modi who visited that country twice and was personally monitoring its transformation as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’? Wouldn’t the Foreign Secretary have sensed by now (after having been on the job for nearly nine months) that the hardliners in the Indian establishment (and the Rightwing Hindu nationalists) regard the Madhesi popu-lation of Indian origin in Nepal as our pocket borough in that country, whose commanding strength in the parliament could enable New Delhi to micromanage that country’s policies for decades to come?

Of course, Jaishankar knew all that. But then, the Foreign Secretary knew more. He also knew something that most people who berate him today wouldn’t know, namely, that India’s Nepal policies are driven by India’s intelligence czar —National Security Advisor Ajit Doval — and are the stuff of Smiley’s people. Unsurprisingly, Jaishankar did the wisest thing on earth — stay miles away from what was going on between the PMO and the spy agencies.

Looking back, India had reason to be rather pleased with the inordinate delay in the adoption of a Constitution by Nepal. The country’s political class simply couldn’t arrive at a consensus. It is always a pleasure manipulating them—playing one against the other—and it is affordable, too. The game went on until one fine day Nepal’s quarrelsome politicians apparently understood that they were being made jackasses. And they pulled their act together and went about adopting a Constitution.

From all accounts, the Constitution they finally adopted is indeed a fine document— except for two core issues from the Indian viewpoint, namely, that Nepal has chosen to be a ‘secular’ country, and, second, the Madhesis cannot occupy the commanding heights of power in Kathmandu.

Enter Jaishankar. The Foreign Secretary was brought in at the penultimate hour to rush to Kathmandu to impress upon the Nepali political class that they should know what is good for them. But it was too late. To be fair to Jaishankar, it is the folks within our security establishment who handled this gory assignment for donkey’s years to manipulate the Nepali politicians who must explain why and how they failed so spectacularly.

A blame-game is easy at this point — put the blame on Jaishankar, or better still, on Wang Yi. But the really pathetic thing is that Modi has been misled by our folks—or rather, he got mesmerised by their cloak-and-dagger stuff. They sold Modi a seductive dream—that if Nepal became a Hindu Rashtra, he would go down in India’s history as a latter-day Chandragupta Maurya. But the dream withered away.

Where are the dream merchants today? Modi shouldn’t forgive them for making him look so foolish—an emperor without clothes—in the South Asian bazaar. Can’t you hear the suppressed laughter in Colombo, Male, Dhaka, Islamabad? Maybe, even Thimphu.

On top of it all, Modi shouldn’t look a petulant statesman as well by his reported refusal to meet his Nepali counterpart in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Modi needs to take UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s advice: a country’s Constitution is a ‘living document’; and, the politicians in Kath-mandu are capable of acting with ‘continued flexibility and inclusivity’. Simply put, patience and self-control is the recipe— something the yoga philosophy also counsels.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.