The 1950 Treaty : Public debate and homework needed

The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Nepal and India is now visibly haunting the Nepali society, especially politicians of the Left, and those with their interest and stake in bilateral relationship between the two countries. This has happened largely due to the emergence of CPN-Maoist as the single largest party. The Maoist stance concerning the Treaty has brought about deliberations and discussions in public sphere in recent weeks. This trend would keep the citizenry informed as the Treaty in question touches their lives.

The signing of this Treaty was evidently prompted by the three factors that

reigned supreme back then. The first

was colonial legacy, the second security perception of India and the third earnest desire of the then Rana rulers to entrench their rule. Now, however, all three factors have been removed from the political scene. The colonial legacy hardly exists; the Indian security perception has undergone visible change; and the Rana rulers were blown away six months after the signing of the Treaty. Notwithstanding these conspicuous changes, the treaty remains in sharp focus.

In the meantime, political developments in Nepal have brought to the fore extreme left forces in the shape of the Maoists, who have now assumed a significant weight in Nepal. Undeniably, the socio-economic plight of the deprived has brought in a political scenario that has tossed the leftist political force up on the political stage. Alongside this development, the hitherto marginalised and downtrodden people living in the rural and remote areas of the country have started to participate in the political process with enthusiasm and great awareness. This was amply exhibited in the constituent assembly election two months ago. However what is worrying is the fragmented political atmosphere in Nepal that has yet to convince common men and women that there will be political consolidation to kick-start a real democratisation process.

True, these developments on the political front has much to do with the broader relationship with our southern neighbour. Naturally, the question of the Treaty revision or signing of a fresh one should invite favourable opinions and consent of the people in general to strengthen any

initiative to be taken by the government-in-waiting to win people’s support for

improvement of relations vis-a-vis India, which could in turn ensure successful

implementation of any provision in

any treaty or pact. The Nepali people have seen how the Mahakali project concluded in mid-1990s has failed to come up as expected as it did not address people’s concerns. Any future government must seriously consider people’s concerns about socio-economic development, as any such treaty would directly or indirectly touch upon the industrial and natural resources of the country, together with other vital concerns of national importance.

The Treaty in question comprising

only 10 articles followed by letters of exchange encompassed broader aspects of national life, ranging from domestic politics to security concerns to the industrial and natural resources. Whether the Treaty is revised or replaced to suit the changing times, it needs to be broad-based. It should consider the wider range of political and socio-economic concerns and aspects. This necessitates an extensive preparation before any initial negotiation starts. Consultations and deliberations are highly warranted much earlier to do ground work for far-reaching and conducive outcome. No stone should be left unturned to seek advice and opinions from various walks of life and different strata of society.

The government must take into confidence trustworthy and well-qualified experts on security and terrorism, sociologists, geographers, economists, cultural and religious personalities and follow on their pragmatic views and ideas on Nepal-India relationship. Experienced diplomats with known drafting and negotiating skills need to be employed to make any effort successful.

At a time when the Nepali masses have been empowered and an upbeat

atmosphere prevails in the South Asian region, this is an opportune moment to

start fresh dialogue with India. Politicians at the helm need to be adept and proactive in order to create an environment congenial for national consensus before they plunge into any substantive work. A political mechanism with maximum representatives drawn from all major political parties and fringe parties must be devised to win popular support for the mechanism, which, in turn, could help draft a mutually beneficial treaty that will have a profound positive impact on the country.

Hard work backed by practical ideas and perceptive vision of politicians and

diplomats, along with cooperation received from other respected personalities in the society, would be of immense value to improving the relationship between the two age-old neighbours.

Shrestha is ex-foreign ministry official