A few weeks ago, Nepal promulgated a most democratic and comprehensive constitution, but the negative reaction by Delhi has provoked us once again.
Many see the Indian reaction as open interference in Nepal’s internal politics and an unnecessary encroachment on our sovereignty. We must ask big questions ourselves today: is the constitution not purely an internal matter for ourselves? Is it not the sovereign right of the people of Nepal alone to decide the future of our country, the future of our lives and of our way of life? Why are we subjected to so much pressure and interference from the South? How much longer is it going to continue? Is it not time to redefine our diplomatic relations with others?
There is no doubt that India and Nepal have for centuries shared a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation characterized by open borders and deep-rooted people–to–people relations, traditions and most importantly a common culture. However nationalist issues have provoked us many times in the past, and today Nepalese nationalism is reflected in strong anti-Indian sentiments felt by our people. There are rumours every day that India does not respect the independent status of our country. It interferes excessively with our internal politics, which appear now to be guided by Delhi alone. Why is this happening? Why is the oldest independent country in South Asia, even in the world, so helpless and suffering in the 21st century? Many resent domination from the South in every aspect of our political development.
Nepal now has one of the most democratic constitutions in the world ratified by an overwhelming majority in the democratically elected constituent assembly. It is inclusive, participatory, and transparent and most importantly provides a complete set of rights for the people. Does India have any right at all to interfere with it? Are both countries not equal sovereign states? We have accepted the fact that there are serious problems in Madhes and that we have not done enough to address the issue. However, the whole world is witness to the fact that the government is doing its best to include all dissenting voices in talks and this is the very charm of democracy. Our leaders and government are trying to include their demands into the mainstream. They have many times invited dissenters for talks and political dialogue. Why does India worry so much about Madhesh? Are the problems of Madhes not purely internal political matters for the Nepalese alone?
India should have played a more helpful and positive role while Nepal was making its own history. Whereas the whole world was welcoming, India should, as a faithful neighbour, have been more positive towards the recent political development and outcome. A show respect and receive respect’ approach by India would have been much more helpful, but it did not happen. The Indian reaction to our newborn constitution represents many more things. First, it represents a continuation of hegemony and interference over our political issues and internal matters. It also indicates an oppressive and dominant foreign policy and colonial mentality towards its neighbour’s affairs. Moreover, it refuses to accept Nepal as an independent sovereign state, and it does not wish to see political stability and prosperity except on its own terms. This article suggests a few innovations for change.
Firstly, it would be wrong only to blame India for its attitude and foreign policy towards us. Attitudes of our own leadership and political parties play a prime role in the frequent interference by neighbours in our internal politics today. Our loss of self-esteem and self-respect is due entirely to the ‘do as we are told’ culture adopted by some of our so called politicians. On any national issue of importance, it seems that we can no longer make decisions on our own. Past experience demonstrates that our leaders are ready to compromise on anything in order themselves to hold on to power: they no longer work solely for the nation’s good. The politics of compromise and the culture of ‘doing as we are told’ must cease in our country. Transparency and accountability are essential in politics, which should be about talking to and listening to the people. It is time now for our politicians to change their attitudes so that we establish a system of confident self-rule and leadership.
Secondly, many of our political leaders are accused of being nothing more than the agents of foreign powers. Rumours have it that some are pro-India, some pro-China, and some even pro-America and there are strong rumours that some work for India’s Intelligence Research and Analysis Wing. We must ask ourselves some important questions: Are such leaders really guided by the interests of our own nation, or are they just puppets of outside powers? How independent is Nepal today as a state and as a nation? Critics argue that if some leaders had not relied on India for their own personal political advancement, Indian encroachments would have been less severe. If such criticisms and rumours are true, people deserve explanations from these politicians, and current perceptions need to change.
Thirdly, screaming and chanting sentimental, nationalistic slogans in speeches to the masses does little to promote and consolidate our values, our identity and our national pride. This is not diplomacy. It may help our leaders to earn a few more votes in the election, but it does little good for the country in the long term. Nationality and birthplace inevitably give rise to sentiments and emotions, but if we are really to enhance our nationalistic pride, we must become more pragmatic and more visionary. Concrete solutions must be sought through dialogue and understanding. Is it not time to claim our political space in the world? Is it not time to redefine our diplomatic relationship with India? It is indeed time and a renewed relationship must be based on equal sovereignty, dignity and respect. It must be based on the values of the UN principles, international customs, traditions and the principles of international treaties.
Finally, Delhi’s frequent interference in Nepal’s internal political affairs is made to seem normal. The greatest attack, however, on its sovereignty comes from the frequent border encroachments by Indian forces. We hear time and again in the news that Indian armed forces have terrorised our people living in the border area. Without permission they enter Nepal with weapons and threaten our people. Every day we read that our people suffer from various kinds of atrocity, but we seem to do nothing about. Then why? Is it not time for high-level political talks on controversial border issues such as Kalapani, Lipulekh and Susta so that a peaceful resolution can be achieved? Nepal and India have enjoyed open borders for centuries, but does Nepal still derive benefit from that? Is it also not time for a rethink? Is it not time to for an effective monitoring system, even closing down some borders through bi-lateral talks and understanding?
As we are now re-defining and re-structuring ourselves politically, socially and economically on the way to making our society more inclusive and accountable, we have a unique opportunity to re-visit, re-analyse and re-assess our foreign policies and diplomatic relationships. Our great need now is to find a united voice and a single policy on major national issues that can unite our political parties and civil society alike. The recent activities and united voices of Nepalese politicians are a positive step and a good beginning. Unity must continue for the sake of us all. Nationalism must stand above partisan interest. For our sakes politics must be synonymous with service in defence of the national interest. It is time for us to promulgate a common foreign policy. This is time to secure our dignity and dignified political space in the global political forum. Formulating a common, dynamic foreign policy for us to address the needs of the 21st century is more vital than ever before. The quality of leadership is tested in difficult times, and no time is likely ever to be more difficult than the present. The choice is ours.