Behind diplomacy and politicsInitially, Pandey was tasked with reading books and then presenting a brief on each book to the king. Eventually he would become the king’s most trusted envoy on foreign affairs
Kutniti Ra Rajniti (Diplomacy and Politics) is the autobiography of Ramesh Nath Pandey, a controversial and polarising figure in Nepal’s politics. Spanning a period of over five decades, this book elaborates on his role in shaping Nepal’s national politics, as well as Nepal’s relationship with the international community.
First, the contents of the book. Pandey’s passion for reading appears to have started at a very early age, and he entered the field of journalism at the tender age of 14. When he was 16 years old, he became the editor of a Nepali daily, Janata. By then, he had developed a close relationship with Prime Minister Bisheswor Prasad (BP) Koirala, which is highlighted by BP’s introducing him to prominent figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlaias—a promising young journalist. He maintained a close relationship with BP even during the latter’s imprisonment in Sundarijal and regularly sent him books to read.
When he was 20 years old, Pandey was approached by King Mahendra to negotiate with BP. After two rounds, negotiations were aborted because BP refused to meet the king without any pre-conditions. According to Pandey, had BP followed his advice, he would have been released from prison with dignity. With this, writes Pandey, his dream of bringing together the palace and the people was destroyed.
Following his unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation between BP and the king, Pandey was imprisoned three times for a combined period of three and a half years. Upon his release, he was once again approached by the king. However, this time, it was to become the king’s special advisor. He says this was an important milestone, as he was presented with an opportunity to fulfil his dreams of shaping the country’s future. But, Pandey’s new alliance also brought an end to his close relationship with BP.
Initially, Pandey was tasked with reading books on historical figures, international affairs, and philosophy, and then presenting a brief on each book to the king. Eventually, according to him, he would become the king’s most trusted envoy on foreign affairs. His first international mission was in New Delhi where he met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her senior cabinet members to strengthen bilateral relations between India and Nepal. Later, he was sent on a clandestine mission to Malaysia to meet Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and other senior leaders and seek assistance on counter-insurgency training for the Nepal Army. Within Nepal, he was introduced by the king himself to ambassadors from US and USSR as his trusted representative, and was able to establish a very close friendship with both envoys. Pandey believes he continued to be the most trusted emissary for both King Birendra and King Gyanendra.
Birendra appointed Pandey as a member of the Rastriya Panchyat, where he served for eight years and was inducted into the cabinet several times with important portfolios. Although the Panchayat system came to an end in 1990, Pandey’s career did not eclipse, instead it flourished. He was appointed member of the Upper House (Rastriya Sabha) twice, and even nearly elected the speaker. By this time, it appears, he himself had become a power centre, and senior political leaders across the political spectrum knocked at his door for advice.
Pandey reveals two of his life’s unmet goals: higher education and an ambassadorship. He was able to wear a graduation gown by attending a convocation ceremony at Tribhuvan University when he was the Minister of Education. And, the closest he got to becoming an ambassador was when King Mahendra informed him of his decision to appoint him as ambassador to Japan. At 28, he would have become the youngest ambassador ever. Unfortunately, he says, due to foul play by the palace secretariat, the official announcement was never made. He had to wait till King Gyanendra’s direct rule to be appointed Foreign Minister.
An interesting feature of the book is a long list of broken promises by prominent people. The more noteworthy ones are Kaiser Shumsher’s promise to give him Chandra Shumsher’s diary and Prime Minister Girja Prasad Koirala’s promise to support his election bid for speaker of the Upper House. He reserves his harshest criticism for Koirala and portrays him as a villain of contemporary history.
Pandey is both elusive and skilled at the use of words and often twists and bends facts in his favour. He details his close relationship with BP, but does not mention how the two first met. Similarly, he does not explain clearly how he was approached by King Mahendra to negotiate with BP, and why the king did not intervene when he was imprisoned. Pandey claims that King Mahendra trusted him more than the former prime minister Kirti Nidhi Bista, even though it is well known that Bista was a favourite minister of the king and one of the architects of his foreign policy.
Pandey describes, in detail, his role during King Mahendra’s second visit to the US, but provides very little information on his personal visit to the US during which he visited the State and Defence Departments. We may have to wait for further details to emerge from something akin to WikiLeaks in the days to come to get a sense of what transpired during those meetings.
After reading the book, one is left with the question of why it was written in the first place. Was the objective to expose the hidden and/or overlooked parts of contemporary Nepali history? Or, was it meant to inspire future generations? Pandey does not present any facts that are not already commonly known. And, it is unlikely that a future generation would be inspired by a figure that glorifies himself fully and vilifies his contemporaries. One must, however, acknowledge Ramesh Nath Pandey’s ability to maintain a substantial archive of newspaper clippings that mention him in good light. He was foremost, after all, a journalist.