The Indian NexusThe Nepal Nexus, the updated, translated version of Prayogshala, is an accomplished piece, but it lacks the depth in the demystification of events post the 2015 constitution.
“The great nations have always acted like gangsters, and the small nations like prostitutes.” This highly political quote doesn't come from a political scientist or politician but from a legendary Hollywood film director, Stanley Kubrick. This rather blunt observation—emanated more from experience than theory—reflects perhaps the truest account of the generic trait of relationships between large and small countries. Of course, there are several seminal theories related to the variation of policy behaviour of the larger and smaller nation-states (see for example, the article by Maurice A. East, 1973, Size and Foreign Policy Behavior: A Test of Two Models, World Politics, Vol. 25, No. 4), but the fate of smaller states barely seems to have altered for centuries despite the rise of many facets of equality narratives in global diplomacy. The predicament of the smaller ones appears more pronounced when they are adjacent to relatively very powerful neighbours.
Journalist and editor Sudheer Sharma's latest book, The Nepal Nexus: An Inside Account of the Maoists, the Durbar and New Delhi (2019), only reinforces Kubrick's almost six decade old epitaph. The book alludes that the main vantage point for all observations contained in the book effectively is New Delhi, not Kathmandu. And except from limited alliterative aesthetics, one wonders why the title is ‘The Nepal Nexus’ as opposed to ‘The Indian Nexus', as it would have been a better suited title. The author baptises it as the book of 'politics and geopolitics' and acknowledges that the English edition is an outcome of 'modified, updated and translated' version of his earlier book in Nepali, the Prayogshala (2013), but how much so is debatable.
The work is undoubtedly an accomplished product of the author's hard work and is a very systematic presentation of researched material. He must be praised for at least three distinct characteristics of the exposition. First is the boldness and courage with which Sharma has brought out information, particularly on Nepal-related activities, engagements and movements of India's international intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officials. The book in many instances has evidenced and established many incessant hearsays surrounding the RAW's influence, meddling and/or micromanagement into Nepal's internal politics whereas in many other cases, shown how futile RAW's own conclusions and strategies have proven to be.
Second, the book has presented facts with verifiable authenticity since, barring a few exceptions, the actors, characters and interviewees of the author are still active in their respective fields. Also, this phenomenon is vindicated by the fact that during the last seven years since the publication of Prayogshala, not even a single Nepali politician, security forces and/or RAW operatives came out to refute the claims made regarding their role as mentioned in the book. The detailed facts of the incidents and published references presented with due credit make the work not only a collection of placid journalistic reportages but also a valuable academic product that is in compliance with the global tradition of knowledge creation.
Third, a systematic chronology of political events of the last three decades in Nepal with exact dates, locations and parties involved makes the book an important and citable historical document. It has a lot of flesh for those willing, specifically, to understand origin, culmination and effective dissolution of Nepal's Maoist insurgency, counter-insurgency measures adopted by the governments of different political ideologies, the peace process that followed and their mainly political fallouts (as the book is not directly focused on social, economic and other ramifications of the insurgency and ensuing machinations).
As the title of the book suggests, it dwells on the chessboard like moves and strategies of four major political players in Nepal then: the monarchy under two different Kings, Birendra and his brother Gyanendra, the Maoists in rebellion, RAW and mainstream parliamentary party, Nepali Congress in particular. The book exposes a number of antithetic developments during the period. King Birendra's refusal to allow the mobilisation of Nepali army to crush the Maoists despite recommendation of elected Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala for the same and then constantly circulating hypothesis of impending coup d'état allegedly contemplated by the king help explain why the democracy could not take roots under the constitutional monarchy.
In later years of insurgency, as revealed by the book, the Maoists and monarchy worked to come together and strategise to send the leaders of parliamentary parties behind the bars (page 117). Such an industry for collusion between two ideological extremes unmasks both; the republican hypocrisy of the Maoists leaders and the democratic dogma of the monarchy. Similarly, India's abandonment of two-pillar policy of supporting the constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy in apparent favour to Maoist agenda and paradigm shifts of the latter from 'expansionist India to ally in making Nepal a republic' bring sheer opportunistic politics sans ideology to the fore. The book—with details of dozens of encounters of high-ranking RAW officials with Maoist supremo Puspa Kamal Dahal and a few others—unveils not only close contacts between the two but also the treacheries, tactics and tantrums Maoists customised after each of these crucial meetings. In addition, the book also validates the RAW's keen interest and visible involvement in shaping and extending the Madhes movements of 2008 and 2015.
Although, the author at the very outset claims that the book is an updated version of the Prayogshala, the rigor and depth in coverage and demystification of the events that unfolded after Nepal promulgated the 2015 constitution seems lacking. One of rationale of the new edition of the book beyond catering the same Prayogshala content to the English readers is the update of the developments that took place after the publication of the Nepali version. Chapters 23 to 27 touch upon this critical period, but the depth and breadth of research and inferences seem little diluted compared to the original version. The dynamics of role and expectation of Indian establishment, specifically RAW, after six years of Bharatiya Janata Party in power in Delhi, and strategic rise of Chinese influence in Nepali politics undoubtedly deserved more detailed treatment which is clearly only suboptimal.
Sharma's somewhat sweeping conclusion that India is hardly willing to change and maintains the tendency 'to indulge in one experiment after another in Nepal, at the heart of which lies its desire to have a state of 'controlled instability', where no single force is decisive, so that Nepal's dependence on its neighbour persists and it can guide the country where it sees fit' (page 471). This 'experimentation' perhaps is unlikely to last very long as rapidly changing geopolitics of the region is making a transformation from 'controlled' to 'competitive' a new imperative even for India.
Book: The Nepal Nexus: An Inside Account of the Maoists, the Durbar and New Delhi
Author: Sudheer Sharma
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Price: Rs 1,120