Your real friends are those who tell you the truth, good or bad. In Nepal’s political culture, you take those as friends who flatter you. But they are fake. I will talk about Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s just concluded 5-day India visit as his real friend, not fake.
His fake friends have lauded Deuba’s India visit as a grand success and, wrongly, of the same level of as Girija Prasad Koirala, whom his Indian counterpart Man Mohan Singh had welcomed and sent off. I understand their motivation and sympathize with them.
But my view, as a real friend of Deuba and as a non-partisan individual, Deuba would have been way better off if he had not made this visit. Why?
Deuba’s achievements from this visit were puny. But his mistakes were monumental.
The eight memoranda of understanding, which were signed to allocate the $100 million housing grant that India had committed after the 2015 earthquakes, were insignificant. The bureaucratic or ministerial level could have allocated those funds through mutual understanding.
For starters, four were related to the construction of buildings in the education, health, culture, and housing sectors. The fifth related to the construction of the Mechi Bridge, sharing the cost with the Asian Development Bank.
Other three understandings covered demand reduction and supply prevention of narcotics and precursor chemicals, uniform standardization of products and services, and cooperation between the Institutes of Chartered Accountants.
In other words, Prime Minister Deuba’s routine India visit produced commonplace positive results. At the same time, it resulted in monumental mistakes for Nepal.
Among several of such mistakes, let me cite the main two: The understanding on the Saptakoshi High Dam and the commitment to amend the Constitution.
First the High Dam. US President Donald Trump would have called the understanding a disaster. If the dam is built, districts from Sindhupalchok to Morang will sustain unspeakable damage in two ways.
First, the dam will raise the level of water in the seven Koshi Rivers and their tributaries, submerge millions of hectares of agricultural and forest land, and displace millions of people along the river basins all the way to Sunsari and Morang.
Second, landslides will be more widespread and common, as the water level in the Koshi Rivers and their tributaries will rise and make the already fragile hills even more vulnerable.
India had sought this project for the last 40 years. But all previous government had refused to compromise on this disastrous project until Deuba signed on it. If the old Koshi and Gandaki agreements were sellouts, as many believe they are, then the understanding on the Saptakoshi High Damthey will dwarf them in comparison.
Regarding the Constitution of Nepal, I found one major shortcoming and one major mistake. The shortcoming: Deuba could not win India’s support for the Constitution of Nepal despite doing everything to amend the statute and selling out his soul on the Saptakoshi High Dam.
The major mistake: Deuba allowed India to reflect its reservation on Nepal’s Constitution in the joint statement.
I heard or read some of my wise friends say that nowadays countries do take interest in each other’s affairs and that the November 2005 agreement, brokered by India, has given New Delhi the privilege to interfere in Nepal’s internal matters.
On the first point, Nepal has never raised the issues of Kashmir or Darjeeling and sought to include them in any joint statement. For that matter, Taiwan or Xinjiang. Why should it be OK for Nepal to accept the mention of a purely internal matter to be reflected in a bilateral statement?
On the second, by sending its troops, Nepal had helped India quell the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the riots after India’s partition. Can, therefore, Nepal claim that it has the privilege to speak on Kashmir or Darjeeling?
Deuba seems to have forgotten that he was visiting India as head of government and leader of the legislature. It was his duty and obligation to defend the government and the legislature. But he spoke and acted on the issue of the Constitution as the leader of his party, the Nepali Congress.
Both the UML leader KP Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal rightly criticized Deuba for raising an internal issue of Nepal in a foreign country and letting the neighbor call the shots so soon after the legislature had rejected the amendment.
I do not even need to talk about Deuba’s failure to sort out the differences between the two countries on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project.
Besides, the time of the visit was inappropriate both internally and externally. Internally, Prime Minister Deuba visited India without even appointing the full line of ministers and without adequate preparations. If the new state and assistant ministers had anything to contribute to enriching Nepal-India relations, they had no time to do it.
Externally, Deuba visited India at a time when the Dokhlam Dispute has been burning between India and China. He could have used the India visit to establish Nepal’s neutrality, but he ended up siding with India. It might have long-term negative consequences to Nepal.
In other words, Nepal would have been better off without Prime Minister Deuba’s recent visit to India. The visit produced insignificant benefits and monumental mistakes.