Prachanda’s China visit Departure in style, not substance
Much hue and cry has been made over Prime Minister Prachanda’s visit to China. The main interpretations for it: all Nepali Prime Ministers have made New Delhi their first port of call for symbolic and practical reasons and the present one is a deliberate effort made for distancing Nepal from its southern neighbour. It has been alleged that the Indian and the US ambassadors had also tried to persuade the PM not to undertake the visit to China. Whether or not such wild guesses and prejudicial interpretations bear truth, the general people are confused by such rumour-mongering.
As a close neighbour of China, Nepal’s highest level representation at the concluding ceremony of the Beijing Olympic game was quite natural against the background of the low-level representation at the opening ceremony. The new PM who comes from a different political background and is a follower of Mao made a quick decision after he received the invitation from China. However, it does not mean that the new PM was not aware of the short- and long-term benefits to be accrued to his leadership and the country. Since he is a novice in statecraft and diplomacy, he might have taken it as an opportunity to develop rapport with the Chinese leadership while showing a gesture that Nepal gives much significance to its relation with China.
Surprisingly, however, this story is linked to India as if the Nepali PM should follow the same practice as was done by the previous rulers giving priority to New Delhi. It seems it was neither intentional that he should first visit China and only India, nor could it be guessed that Nepal’s foreign policy has tilted towards China. Although some Indian policymakers might have taken it with a pinch of salt, there is no ground to infer any conclusion at this stage that the new government has already changed its course by ignoring India.
No pragmatic ruler of Nepal can undermine India-Nepal relations owing to a multiplicity of factors and compulsions. India-Nepal relations cannot be compared with Nepal’s ties with other countries including China, despite the latter being its next-door neighbour. Yet, much attention should go towards maintaining a realistic policy (not a policy of equidistance as described by the new foreign minister and other Maoist leaders) towards the immediate neighbours.
Nepal’s new government led by CPN-Maoist is being watched by the major powers including India due to the party’s background, ideological orientation and strategies to reduce its distance from hostile political groupings in South Asia and other regions. Although the Maoists have tried to convince them about their new incarnation as a competitive political party with all attributes of liberal democracy, conventional thinking still persists that they cannot be trusted unless they prove their credential by actions. Their adherence to capitalist economy with a dose of welfare schemes need to be seen in practice. But Nepal’s ground reality and emerging international trends of changing political economy do not allow the party to be doctrinaire in the classical Maoist sense.
Yet another restraining factor for the Maoists is Nepal’s heavy dependence on India and other rich countries of Europe, America and Asia. India, whose perceived and real clout is incalculable, would like to see the Maoist power in light of India’s regional dominance as well as of strong dose of bilateralism in Indo-Nepal relations.
Nepali nationalism does not need to be anti-Indian if power elites of Nepal are confident. Only weak regimes and leaders are vulnerable to external and internal factors when they start losing their credibility in the eyes of the people. In the given context, however, political leaders seem squeezed by both the internal and external pressures. Internally, they have to take the interests of people into account in devising more progressive and forward-looking policies and their sincere implementation in order to survive, and externally, the principal donors and influential countries like India do not allow Nepal to drift, which would be detrimental to their vital interests — global, regional and bilateral.
As they are all competitive powers, they do not want a particular power (say China vis-à-vis Nepal) to gain an upper hand in containing others. India’s concern over Nepal’s future policy is guided by a number of factors, the most vital being an active
involvement of China, economic and security interest, international and regional
It seems Nepali politicians, irrespective of their political affiliations, have not awakened to the new realities that has great impact on Nepal’s external relations if not policies. No ruler has ever paid any attention to reformulating Nepal’s foreign policy in the wake of turbulent developments taking place in its environment. Increased international involvement in the region and the state of anarchy in the country has further limited Nepal’s options.
Prof Baral is executive chairman, NCCS