May 20, 2014 Sujeev Shakya

Modi-fying Relations

Diehard monarchists and people who still desire the revival of a Hindu state have been continuously discussing whether the thumping victory for Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will help revisit the case for monarchy and a Hindu state in Nepal. Unfortunately, the answer is a big ‘no’ and people who are aware of conversations on this matter know very well that Modi would be interested in focusing on economic cooperation and development rather than getting tangled in a controversy best avoided.

Apart from this, what does the new regime in India elected by a thumping majority mean for Nepal?

The interests of the new regime in East South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, along with the Indian states of Sikkim and its own North East, will be different from its predecessors. The need to connect to Myanmar and other growing economies in Southeast Asia would necessitate a new policy framework for this region. Nepal, therefore, can benefit from the opportunities presented to participate in the region’s growth. Nepali firms and institutions will have immense opportunities. So it will be important for the Nepali government to understand these opportunities and ensure legal frameworks are in place for Nepalis to invest and work abroad legally; else we will see much activity through different routes that will never benefit the Nepal state treasury.

The Gorkhaland angle

The victory of the BJP Vice President SS Ahluwalia in the Darjeeling constituency with the support of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) will now build pressure on the formation of Gorkhaland. In addition to Nepali being recognised as one of the official languages by the Indian constitution, a separate state could provide a new wave of opportunities that will benefit businesses and services in Nepal’s eastern region. Similarly, how the GJM and others view the 1950 Nepal-India treaty will bring about new discourses that will potentially redefine the India-Nepal relationship.

Communist debacle

With the communist parties in India on the verge of loosing their national party status, the elections have thrown the communist movement in India in disarray. While most parties in India still subscribe to socialist economic ideologies, there has a been strong co-relation with the state  of communist parties in India and the ones in Nepal. The emergence of communist parties in India with support of the Left Front to the Third Front, then led by VP Singh, provided impetus to the first Janaandolan in Nepal in 1990. Thereafter, Nepali communists were brimming with joy when Jyoti Basu, the longest serving Chief Minister of Bengal nearly became Prime Minister. Successively, till the last elections, the Left Front played an important role in Indian politics. Both the CPN-UML, as well as UCPN (Maoist), derived a lot of confidence based on their connections with Indian communists. However, after this election, the future of the communist movement in Nepal will require a serious rethinking. This will definitely have impacts on how economic issues in the new constitution are carved out and how far issues of deferring the market-oriented economy and private ownership of land and enterprises go.

Stability in Bihar and UP

For Nepalis, India is not what is happening in Gurgaon or Bengaluru, but more about what is happening in the bordering states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Untill there are some dramatic changes in the people-to-people relationship along the border, the perception of India in Nepal will be difficult to change. Nepal has suffered due to highly fragmented politics in Bihar and UP. The resounding BJP win in Bihar and UP may bring about a more stable economic development-oriented discourse rather than a discourse laden with caste, religion and ethnicity. Nepali democracy basically went on to replicate the chaos of Bihar and UP. A stable Bihar and UP will definitely help a stable Nepal. Foundations based on good people-to-people relationships along the border towns can only define a better relationship between Delhi and Kathmandu. A unique opportunity therefore has emerged to rearticulate the discourse of looking at the relationship of the two countries using the lenses of what we want in 2050 rather than what happened in 1950.

Opportunities for re-engagement

Unfortunately, we have left our relationship with India on official and unofficial trips by politicians to New Delhi. We have not even bothered to appoint an ambassador to the country that is the base of our transit, our largest economic partner and a country that we share an open border with. Politicians have wasted meetings on either the wrong people or on wrong purposes, which range from begging for admissions for their children to waivers of medical costs. We have not cultivated relationships in the bureaucracy or with thoughtful leaders. Nepal is not a priority for India, but for us, India is. Therefore, we have to find ways to ensure that we appoint a good ambassador who can ‘market Nepali issues’ and also build relationships across institutions in India—be they academic, business, bureaucracy or civil society. Dealing with a majority government is easier than dealing with coalitions. We have to leverage this opportunity.

Amongst the top 100 things for Narendra Modi to do, we are not sure where Nepal stands but it is in Nepal’s interest to engage with him not for petty things like waivers of medical bills or scholarships, but for real issues that can transform Nepal’s economic growth and development. We have to make our issues interesting for Modi so that it becomes one of the top 10 things for him to engage in. When Modi arrives in Nepal for the Saarc summit, it will thus be interesting to hear what he has to say about Modi-fy relationships.

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