Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, the newly elected Prime Minister of Nepal, is scheduled to visit India on 15 September, coincidently on the same date he visited India eight years ago (15 Sep 2008). He assumed the office of Prime Minster again on 4 August after a gap of seven years.
In his last tenure he had visited China first, of course not on official visit, and then India on a goodwill political visit when the then establishment had received him warmly. Several agreements were signed but hardly any one was executed. In May 2009, he resigned on the issue of dismissing the then Chief of Army Staff, whom then president Dr. Rambaran Yadav reinstated.
Since then he has always been critical of India and also of its interference in the internal matters of Nepal. His immediate predecessor KP Sharma Oli too had the same grievance against India in addition to charging the country with supporting the cause of the Madhes movement and forcing an undeclared blockade for about four months.
Generally, leaders in Nepal can be divided into three groups. One group is anti-India by schooling and psyche since the Panchayat days and they are pro-China. The second group is pro-India and this includes most of the democrats and pro-Russian communists. The third group is neutral as it is neither anti-India nor pro-India. However, there are no clearcut divisions. Some leaders become pro-India when they have to take some benefits and they suddenly turn anti-India when their wishes are not fulfilled,.
PM Dahal being a Maoist is anti-India by schooling. However, in course of the people&’s war he became soft towards India since 2003, perhaps under the influence of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.
PM Dahal seems to be very cautious in dealing with the two neighbouring countries from the very beginning of his present term. Even before appointing a foreign minister, he despatched deputy Prime Minister KB Mahara, his close associate, to China and the other deputy Prime Minister Bimlendra Nidhi, a Madhesi who leads the majority coalition partner, the Nepali Congress, to India. He first sent his envoy to China to assure Beijing that there would be no substantial change in the attitude of the new government and then his second envoy to India to clear the ground for his forthcoming visit. Thus, PM Dahal has tried to perform a balancing act between the two neighbours.
Interestingly, just minutes after his election on 3 August, Indian PM Narendra Modi congratulated him on his success and invited him to visit India at his earliest convenience. In the evening, the Chinese Ambassador called on the PM at his residence to congratulate him on his election. It is natural that neighbours should share the happiness and pain of the people of a country. They want political stability but priorities of the neighbours vary as per their concerns.
For example, China seems to be concerned about the execution of agreements signed with the previous regime, whereas India&’s concern appears to be to see a peaceful and inclusive Nepal. However, both neghbours differ in the nature or kind of stability. The difference lies in the political philosophies and ways of life these two nations have adopted. Nepal is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious country. In short, it has different nationalities within. The question is, how to manage diversity to the satisfaction of all through the Constitution passed on 20 September last year. The country has been suffering for want of a new course to be defined in the Constitution. As per China&’s policy, diversity is to be merged into unity for the sake of stability, whereas India prefers diversity to be maintained under the coverage of unity. The two divergent perceptions have been influencing the political evolution of Nepal, both implicitly and explicitly. Parties with democratic values want to settle issues democratically taking all stakeholders on board, whereas parties with communist background prefer to solve the problems authoritatively. Thus, the present political impasse regarding the amendment to the Constitution is prolonging.
Generally, a dignitary&’s foreign visit depends on two factors – his psychological makeup and the political condition of the country. The psychological makeup would mean the mindset with which he is making his visit. Is he visiting with an open mind to solve existing problems or just reciprocating or seeking cooperation or help from the host country? The external factor stands for the political condition prevailing in the country, whether it is peaceful or having internal troubles. These two conditions reflect the agenda of the visiting leader.
PM Dahal has to face multi-faceted thinking in India. First, he may encounter politicians who view Nepal-India relations in political terms. Though they are elected leaders, there are diplomats and security agencies to advise them. Diplomats consider Nepal-India relations diplomatically and strategically, whereas security agencies consider Nepal-India relations from security perspective. There is yet another strain of thinking, which is silent and dormant. It is cultural in character and is represented by the people, especially those living on either side of the border. Though this is a state visit, it appears to be a trust-building mission and PM Dahal should utilize it as such. It should not meet the fate of the visit made by his predecessor a few months ago.
The writer is a former Election Commissioner of Nepal.