India needs to wake up and smell the coffee in Nepal. Last week, India exhibited some truly clumsy diplomacy in Kathmandu, which was astounding for the fact that it showed India as the nasty big brother that Nepalis often accuse India of.
“Prachanda” Pushpa Dahal’ s showcause notice to the army chief, Rukmangad Katawal, was high-handed, dictatorial and rightly attracted the ire of the other political parties. But to see the Indian ambassador hot-footing it to Baluwatar, pleading with Prachanda to desist, showed the kind of desperation that has completely laid India bare in Nepal.
Even given fears that the Nepalese Army may have been considering a “coup” may have been uppermost on his mind, surely diplomacy throws up better ways of doing things. If the US, or any other country had done this to India, South Block would be up in flames.
Its been clear for a while that Prachanda wanted to throw out Katawal and install the Maoist-friendly Kul Bahadur Khadka in his place. Its also been clear that Katawal has been resisting efforts to integrate the PLA cadres into the army. That may be something the Indian army can screw up its nose at, but that should be the Nepalis’ business.
Prachanda, as elected PM is fully within his rights to question the army chief, because no matter what, the army has to serve the popular government of the day. How did South Block forget this mantra?
Katawal is no great lover of the Maoist government, and has been known to be very close to the deposed king Gyanendra, having been adopted by his father King Mahendra.
But for democratic India to intervene on behalf of an army chief in Nepal is to send out absolutely the wrong signals. Its blatant intereference in the internal affairs of another country, for one. Second, it shows that India would rather support the army than a popularly elected government, even if you don’t like the colour of their stripes.
Nepalese media have published detailed records of how foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon tried to persuade the UML chief touring China that he should stop the sacking. Now that was really clever.
Katawal is now “burnt toast” as someone said, ruefully. Because no matter what India says, or perhaps because of it, Prachanda will get rid of him. Then he will resume his now interrupted visit to China and sign that treaty of peace and friendship that South Block was so against.
When elections were held in April 2008, it was a fair and participatory process that threw up the ruling combine in Kathmandu which had few outstanding debts to India, like the older political parties, army or even discredited royalty, the traditional pillars of Nepal.
India has known, since then, that things could never be as good as they had been, when India ordered and Nepalese followed. The Maoists are not India-friendly, and South Block is not Maoist-friendly. The Maoists want to spread their risks by getting China into the game as well. No surprises here, and India should have been mature enough to deal with this particular challenge.
India is partly responsible for Nepal running to the arms of the Chinese - that’s now very clear. India has many levers to ensure that its interests are addressed in Nepal, if only India chooses to utilize them. But beyond that, India needs to cut Nepal some slack. Let them go, guys. Cut those apron strings.