Darchula incident makes a diplomatic test case with India for DeubaGovernment has yet to make any position on Jaya Singh Dhami’s disappearance in Mahakali river, despite a probe committee submitting its report.
The Darchula incident in which a youth fell into Mahakali river has become the first diplomatic test case for Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who returned to power on July 13 for the fifth time.
On July 30, Jaya Singh Dhami, 33, from Khangdang Mal of Byas Rural Municipality-2 in Darchula fell into Mahakali while crossing the river using an improvised cable crossing, locally known as tuin.
It took a government probe team a whole month to submit its report. The details are yet to be made public.
“It appears that the incident happened in the presence of Indian Sashastra Seema Bal,” the Home Ministry said in a statement, citing the probe report. “So the report has recommended that the government take diplomatic initiatives to bring the perpetrators to book.”
The Deuba government has already received a lot of flak for failing to make the state’s position clear on an incident in which a countryman lost his life.
Former foreign ministers, party leaders and experts say that the government should take up the issue with New Delhi without any delay through diplomatic channels, should share the report with India and make attempts to find a way not to let such incidents repeat again.
“Whatever the findings suggest, we should not delay in taking the issue up with the Indian side through diplomatic channels,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, joint general secretary of the Nepali Congress and former foreign minister. “It is also better for India to admit the mistake so that we can resolve such things for once and all.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to take the matter up with India. Earlier, it was waiting for the probe team to submit the report. Now it is waiting for the Home Ministry to communicate with it regarding the report.
“We are going to write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the basis of the report submitted by the probe team,” said Phanindra Mani Pokharel, spokesperson for the Home Ministry.
Jaya Singh’s disappearance in the raging waters while he was on his way to the district headquarters to catch a bus to Kathmandu has exposed long-standing problems the people on the margins face.
Media reports based on eyewitness accounts suggested that an Indian security man had untied the cable just when Jaya Singh had almost made it to the other side.
The Home Ministry statement, however, stops short of explicitly saying whether the Indian security personnel were involved.
The Darchula incident has put Deuba, who has taken the government reins at a time when he needs to fix foreign relations left in disarray by the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government, in a fix.
This is the first diplomatic case that Deuba has to take up with New Delhi.
Even leaders from the ruling coalition have piled pressure on Deuba to make an immediate move to ensure justice to a countryman who fell into the river only because the Nepali state has failed to provide road links to his village.
The delay in making public the full report and the government’s hasty decision to announce Rs1 million for Jaya Singh’s family have also given rise to suspicions if the current dispensation is reluctant to take the issue up with New Delhi for the fear of antagonising its southern neighbour.
Some ruling party leaders on Monday and Tuesday urged Deuba to take up the matter with India and make a firm position on the issue.
“Definitely this is a test case for Deuba and the ruling alliance,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a Maoist Centre leader and former foreign minister. “We need to make our position clear based on the findings of the report. We should demand that the perpetrator(s) be booked, the family member be compensated and India should apologize over the incident.”
Concerns have already started to grow if the report would never be made public, given the Deuba government’s worry that implicating the Indian side would rub Delhi the wrong way.
Ganesh Thagunna, a lawmaker in the federal parliament from Darchula, however, outright rejected the probe report.
“The committee was supposed to probe the incident and give a report, not recommend another probe,” said Thagunna, mentioning the Home Ministry statement. “The committee was mandated to investigate the incident from various angles and bring forth the truth and facts.”
The probe committee was formed on August 1, a day after Jaya Singh fell into the river. The five-member panel was headed by Janardan Gautam, a joint-secretary at the Home Ministry.
Though this is not the first time that such an incident has happened on the border, in the past, Nepal and India have been resolving such irritants through diplomacy. There are several mechanisms in place between the two countries — from chief district officer/district magistrate level to foreign minister level — to resolve the differences and sort out the outstanding issues.
People of Darchula have for long said that unless the state pays attention to their plight and the conditions they live in, lip service by political parties in Kathmandu and their pronouncement of reclaiming territory mean little, as more residents could meet Jaya Singh’s fate.
“To me, both sides have demonstrated very immature diplomacy,” said Deep Kumar Upadhyay, a Congress leader and former ambassador to India. “Every year, in the bordering areas, several such incidents happen, of which both Kathmandu and New Delhi are well aware.”
According to Upadhyay, the sooner such issues are dealt with and done away with, the better it is for both the countries.
“I do not know why both sides did not take immediate steps to resolve the issue. Immediately after the incident, both sides at the local level should have sat down and formed a joint committee,” said Upadhyay. “But there was a delay on our part too. Now, we do not have a foreign minister, and the Foreign Ministry may not take the matter up with India until it gets the full report.”