By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
If the Prime Minister of a neighbouring country makes an open accusation in his televised address to the nation, then it is something serious and needs to be examined. In the instant case, Prime Minister K. P. Oli in his address to the nation accused India of imposing a blockade which he described as cruel, inhumane and beyond imagination.
While this outburst says something about the failure of Indian diplomacy towards a close neighbour, it is also necessary for Nepal and its leaders to make an introspection as to what went wrong. There is only one word for it- Nepal has always been insensitive to Indian concerns and interests. Nepal’s summary rejection of Indian request to put off promulgation of the new constitution for a while in view of Bihar elections is a case in point.
The special envoy of the Indian Prime Minister who carried a personal request was also sent back with minimum courtesies.
No doubt, the diplomatic crisis between India and Nepal evinced some interest in Bhutan and it was refreshing to see a very objective and frank assessment of the crisis from the Bhutanese point of view given by Tenzing Lamsang in the October 31 issue of Bhutanese.
The author begins the essay with the statement with which I fully agree that Bhutan historically has been very good at drawing lessons from the diplomatic mistakes of its neighbours and taking necessary steps to avoid them. This he attributes rightly to the unique quality exemplified by the fourth Gyalpo and the present King.
The current prosperity, peace and stability in Bhutan are not a little due to their guidance as also the importance Bhutan gives to Indo Bhutan relations. On the other hand, Nepal neither in the past nor at present has realised the need for good relations with India.
What Nepal needs is a great and a visionary leader which it is lacking while Bhutan has. For a while it was thought that after the demise of G.P. Koirala, Pushpa Kumar Dahal of the UCPN (Maoist) would fill the bill. But he turned out to be a disappointment!
The author has pointed out that “ What has escaped understanding of Nepal’s policy makers and even people is that India is not a perfect neighbour. India is a very big neighbour looking after its own interests which in a few areas coincides with the interests of its neighbours.”
On the other hand Bhutan knows what India is and what to get from it for its own interests in good time without pushing it too far. Nepal does not know. For example, Oli’s tirade against India in a national televised speech will do no good to Nepal.
Another case in point is the euphoria in Kathmandu valley over the current supply of oil from China. Of the promised 1.2 million litres of oil, only hundred trucks have come so far over a perilous route considered to be the second most dangerous in the world. Nepal needs 350 or more oil tankers a day and this cannot be made up by China in the near or even long term. The solution for Nepal is that instead of spewing hatred against India, the new government should negotiate with its own Madhesi citizens and hammer out an understanding. This is what India is telling Nepal time and again!
The author then flags important developments both in Nepal and Bhutan and tries to indicate that while Bhutan benefitted from the insecurities in regional and border security by India, Nepal lost out.
When in 1958, developments in the north were getting more uncertain, India entered into a strong and mutually beneficial friendship with Bhutan at the time of the third Gyalpo. Bhutan with both sponsorships and material support from India, joined the United Nations in 1971. Another delicate issue admirably solved was the change to the 1949 treaty which no longer requires Bhutan to seek foreign policy advice from India it its foreign affairs or permission to buy arms.
On the other hand, “Nepal’s foreign policy moves with India have often been big and brash moves and almost every time, it has suffered for it and yet refused to learn from it. As a result, it has affected the future of an entire country and its people.”
The list could go on but I would end with two good quotes from the author which are relevant to the current crisis. He says-
“Nepal started from what would be considered a strong position and had a lot of promise and potential around five decades ago, but it has turned itself into a cautionary tale.
Bhutan by contrast, started from a very vulnerable position in the 1950s and has bided its time with patience and discipline under a strong leadership to stabilize and strengthen itself.”
While the fourth Gyalpo and the present King of Bhutan can take credit for Bhutan’s development in all aspects, the past rulers as well as the political leadership of Nepal should take the blame for the ills of that country.