Alfred Adler, the famous Austrian psychologist, has said inferiority complex — the feeling of imperfection and weakness — grips some people forever, other people get over this complex with effort, and yet others act superior to hide this feeling. This is what characterises the overall Nepal-India relations and the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) is caught in that complex.

The two countries share symbiotic existence culturally and economically, though their political courses have been historically different. Extended families straddle across the common border tethered by nuptial and filial ties. More than 80 percent citizens in each country are Hindus who visit shrines in the other country to pay their homage. Both have languages derived from Sanskrit.

Nepal depends on India for export market, for manufactured goods, and for transit to third countries due to the distance to Chinese ports and Himalayan mountains. The rivers emanating from Nepal irrigate Indian farms and fields. Every day, thousands of their citizens cross the open border for employment, trade, treatment and social visits.

However, politically, two countries have pursued different paths. The British ruled India for over 300 years. Independent before the advent of the Rana oligarchy in 1846, Nepal came under British tutelage under the Ranas. When the British left, India embraced parliamentary democracy and continued to be a meddlesome kingmaker in Nepal. It took decades of detour through the party-less panchayat system before Nepal joined the rank of multiparty democratic states.

India is an elephant in the South Asian room. Whenever this mammoth stirs even without intending to harm anyone, its mere size and movement affects smaller neighbors. Thanks to impressive economic growth and modernisation in last two decades, India has become the world’s fourth military and sixth economic power and more frightening to its lagging periphery. Besides, New Delhi has not always been magnanimous with its smaller neighbors due to the paranoia arising from fear of China and threats from Pakistan-based terrorists who use these countries.

Add to this muddled mix the occasional skirmishes between individual citizens and police excesses for a fast buck in the border area that infuriate both sides, and you have a perfect blend of very close but troublesome ties. No wonder, Kathmandu’s diplomatic exercise is focused primarily on managing relations with New Delhi.

Consistent with this exercise, Nepali prime ministers make it a point to visit New Delhi on their maiden bilateral trip, and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, a Maoist, was no exception. During Bhattarai’s trip, Nepal and India signed the agreement to protect and promote bilateral investments (BIPPA) that has created huge political waves in Kathmandu. The most controversial has been the provision of compensating investors for losses owning to war, armed conflict and national emergencies.

Opposition to the agreement is wide, deep and acerbic. A faction of the prime minister’s party called the agreement anti-national and greeted him with black flags on his return. The CPN-UML also deemed the agreement against national interest. The main opposition party in the Constituent Assembly, the Nepali Congress, was slightly milder and divided, one segment labeling the agreement as a sellout and the other seeing its merit. Only the pro-Indian parties from the plains participating in the ruling coalition have kept mum.

Political parties are up in arms not because of the compensation provision as such, but because they fear the provision could be used against Nepal at two levels. First, even an equal treaty between David and Goliath could be unfair to David due to differentiated capacities and vulnerabilities. Take for instance the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, the main irritant between the two countries, which grants the right to the citizens of both countries to settle freely in each other’s territories. If 10 million Nepalis move to settle in India, they will constitute drop in the ocean of 1.2 billion people. Conversely, if 10 million Indians settle across the border, Nepal’s population will increase by more than a third.

Secondly, India often uses such treaties to Nepal’s disadvantage through tilted interpretation and clandestine supplementary agreement. For instance, the 1950 treaty stipulates that both countries share strategic information and treat an attack on one as an attack on the other. India has never shared such information, but it insists that Nepal abide by the provision. What is more, New Delhi forced Kathmandu to exchange a letter in 1965 under which Nepal cannot import weapons from other countries without India’s approval. When, defying the treaty, Nepal imported Chinese weapons in 1988, India refused to renew the transit treaty and reduced the number of transit points from 14 to two. In addition, Sikkim’s integration into India in 1975 frightens the Nepalis.

Prime Minister Bhattarai has defended the BIPPA suggesting that he has taken a risk to promote Indian investment for Nepal’s development. If he means what he says, it is a genuinely positive development. Bhattarai has been one of the masterminds of the Maoist goal of capturing the state and imposing proletariat dictatorship. His willingness to protect private investment might be the first rays of hope that the hardcore Maoist ideologue who still justifies the murder of innocent civilians in a class struggle is abandoning the dirigiste dogma and becoming a pro-private investment democrat.

Nevertheless, there is reason to be suspicious. Bhattarai might be using the agreement as a ploy to remain in power rather than intending to protect Indian investment. Bhattarai has become prime minister only because New Delhi rejected his boss, the Maoist supremo Prachanda. He has to keep India in good humour to maintain the support of pro-Indian political parties participating in his government and to keep at bay the opposition that has begun to call for his resignation.

The problem lies in both sides of the border. Nepali politicians supplicate to India to promote their personal interest and project it as a bogeyman when their interest is not served. India has been a meddlesome big brother entertaining the paranoia of its own fear and vulnerabilities. Adler would have probably said, in this relation, one is in the grip of inferiority complex forever and the other is acting superior to hide the same complex.

Posted on: 2011-11-07 09:22


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