Murari Sharma: Dahal’s India visit — none would have been better than bad

Jog Mehar Shrestha was an accomplished politician of the Panchayat days. When he was living in Kupandole, I bumped into him while visiting my friend who lived next door to Shrestha, and greeted him. I was a mere student and he a former minister.

He asked me how I was doing, how my family was, and how my father was, as if he knew me for ages. I had never met him before, and he did not know my father. But he asked all those questions in a fake familiarity that is often typical of politicians. While the first two questions were innocuous in which you could not go wrong, the last one was sensitive. Thank god, my father was alive. Otherwise, how would I have answered him?

Like Jog Mehar Shrestha’s questions, India seems to have prepared the joint statement before what Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal met with his counterpart Narendra Modi. So the statement was issued soon after they spoke to each other, in the middle of the visit, not towards the end. The text shows it is unbalanced, in India’s favor.

Foreign Minister Prakash Mahat has claimed that the visit was successful in putting things back on track. Poor Mahat, what else could do in his position? Even if Dahal and Modi had broken each other’s teeth in a fight, Mahat would have said the meeting was warm, cordial, and fruitful. It goes with the diplomatic territory.

Besides, it takes integrity and courage of conviction to call a spade a spade and shake things up; many people and a majority of politicians lack such qualities.

India has been helping Nepal with its development activities as well as at times of disasters, and Nepali people should be grateful to India for their generosity despite their own economic problems. Indian politicians and bureaucrats are often reasonable if Nepal presents its case honestly.

At times, India has also been high-handed to protect and promote its national interest. However, the bulk of Indian high-handedness is invited by Nepali leaders and bureaucrats themselves to curry personal favors. My Indian counterparts told me a couple of times two things about our political leaders and other senior policy makers.

One, our people would request their counterparts in private only for personal favors, nothing for the country. Two, they would promise everything but deliver nothing, which irritated their Indian counterparts.

Which essentially means, Nepali leaders and policy makers promise the sky to their counterparts in private to realize their personal goal, without ever intending to deliver on their promises. And they talk to their Indian counterparts about our national interest only in public, formal meetings for public consumption. In the latest joint statement, even that low bar has not been crossed.

In Nepal, it is wrongly assumed that a joint statement indicates the success and victory in a high-level visit. It could be just the opposite. Not issuing a statement does not always mean the visit was unsuccessful. It only indicates that there were some fundamental differences between the two sides.

In principle, Dahal’s visit has been wanting in many respects. One, you usually do not include anything in the joint statement on which there are differences between the sides. Two, you should respect each other in form and substance, Three, you try to strike a balance and reflect each side’s views equally if there are differences. Four, you do not commit something that is not in your national interest. Five, you only commit something if you can deliver.

Dahal’s India visit has failed all these five tests, and more. It was stupidity on Nepal’s part to include the issue of its constitution in the statement if India was not prepared to welcome it. India has been successful this time to establish that the prime minister of Nepal has endorsed its position on the statute , opposed previously by Nepal.

Remember the 1950 Treaty between Nepal and India? Deemed as unequal, it was signed by the Indian ambassador and Nepali prime minister. Under the joint statement, we will have a monitoring mechanism of the Embassy of India and Nepal. It could mean the Indian ambassador and Nepali prime minister would co-chair it. Was there no foreign ministry officials sleeping when the statement was being prepared? Or did Dahal’s political team overrule the officials?

Across the points included in the statement, Nepal’s position has been reflected as a beggar, who has done nothing to do its bit, not as a partner. While there is copious mention of what India has done, there is nothing to show what Nepal has done. So, the statement is unbalanced, tilted in India’s overwhelming favor.

If true, here is the most distressing part, a blatant betrayal of the country by Dahal. Dainik Nepal has cited an Indian newspaper with the photo of the news that Dahal has agreed to maintain a distance with China. This was in reference to various Nepal-China agreements signed under the former Prime Minister KP Oli to reduce Nepal’s total dependence on transit and petroleum products.

Finally, Dahal has committed many things he cannot deliver. For one thing, his tenure is short, not even nine months if the Corruption Investigation Commission moves ahead quickly with its investigation into the huge financial irregularities occurred in the management of the camps of Maoist combatants on his charge. Ethically, it will be untenable for him to continue in his position. Do not foreget: Dahal’s own party has already investigated and found the irregularities worth billions of rupees.

For another, I recall what Om Pradhan, Bhutan’s former minister and ambassador, had told me in New York. He had read about the Karnali project when he was in Class 5; but that project still remains on paper.

So much for the substance. There were also glaring weaknesses on the part of logistics. Leaving the minor ones, let me point out one diplomatic faux pas.

When Sita Dahal, the prime minister’s wife, was sitting with Indian leader Vijaya Jolly, her one foot was on the sofa and the other on the ground, out of her sandal. Did not the Foreign Ministry and New Delhi embassy officials brief Dahal and his wife about diplomatic etiquette? Or Dahal and Mrs. Dahal disregarded what they were told?

However much the poor Prakash Mahat burnishes Dahal’s India visit, it was a sort of disaster from the national interest perspective. Dahal and Mahat scored a few personal points as New Delhi loyalists, but the country has lost. Quiet frankly, Nepal would have been better off without Dahal’s hasty, unprepared visit to India.

To put the record straight, I like Dahal more than his egotistic nemesis, Baburan Bhattarai. And Modi and Dahal’s was a meeting between the two unequals, like Jog Mehar Shrestha and me. A meeting between the confident Indian Prime Minister Modi, recently adulated in G-20 summit, and his timid Nepali counterpart, cast aside for long for his occasional anti-Indian sins.

More precisely speaking, Dahal’s visit was not meant to advance Nepal’s interest. It was aimed at expiating Dahal’s anti-India sins and reinstating him as New Delhi’s loyal poodle once again. The visit was an enormous success in that respect.

 

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