After over a month, and much criticism, Nepal writes to India on Darchula incidentThe disappearance of a man in Mahakali river, in which Indian security personnel are said to be involved, has become a diplomatic headache for Prime Minister Deuba.
More than a month after a Nepali youth disappeared into Mahakali while crossing the river using an improvised cable crossing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken the matter up with India.
“We have already written to India,” an official at the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post.
Sources said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to New Delhi through the Indian embassy in Kathmandu after the Home Ministry’s letter regarding the report by a government probe team.
A Foreign Ministry official confirmed to the Post that the diplomatic note has been sent to India.
On July 30, Jaya Singh Dhami, 33, of Khaldang, Malghat in Byas Rural Municipality of Darchula district, was trying to cross the Mahakali river using an improvised cable crossing, known locally as tuin, the only means to get to the district headquarters Khalanga from where he was planning to travel to Kathmandu.
According to locals and eyewitnesses, a member of India’s Sashastra Seema Bal detached the metal cable from a tree supporting the cable crossing just when Dhami had almost reached the other side.
A probe team was formed immediately, but it took almost a month for it to submit its report, and the delay caused quite an uproar among the public.
The probe team submitted the report to Home Minister Balkrishna Khand on August 31 and the Home Ministry wrote to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday.
On Thursday evening, India had said it was unaware of any official correspondence from the Nepal government regarding the matter.
During a regular press conference, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs, said that India was not aware of any official communication from the Nepal government.
“We have heard about the incident through some media, but no official information has been shared with us yet,” said Bagchi.
That India was not informed by the Nepal government fanned the flames, with the public lashing out at Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s administration for its failure to show urgency and its “servile” attitude towards the southern neighbor.
Officials, however, say diplomacy cannot be conducted based on public sentiments and that there “is a process” that needs to be duly followed.
“We did not make any delay in writing to India as soon as we were informed about the probe report,” said the official at the Prime Minister’s Office. “Since Prime Minister Deuba himself is looking after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he, after consultation with Home Minister Khand and Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Poudyal, instructed to dispatch the note to the Indian side.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not issued any statement regarding the diplomatic note with India. Nor has there been any communication from the Indian side regarding the letter by the Nepal government.
Though officials refused to divulge the content of the diplomatic note, the Post has learnt that it has referred to the probe team’s report which said the “incident had taken place in the presence of India’s Sashastra Seema Bal personnel.”
A minister in the Deuba government told the Post that the diplomatic note was dispatched on Friday, a day after the Home Ministry wrote to the Foreign Ministry about the probe report.
“We have requested India to launch a probe on its own and compensate the family,” said the minister who did not wish to be named. “We have also requested India to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in the future.”
The probe report is also yet to be made public.
The scant details that have been provided to the media through a statement by the Home Ministry are: Indian security personnel were present on the other side of Mahakali when Dhami fell, along with the cable, into the swollen river and got swept away and the government should take diplomatic initiatives to bring the perpetrators to book.
Dhami’s whereabouts remains unknown. The government on August 26, however, announced Rs1 million compensation to his family, long before the probe report was submitted.
Officials say they were waiting for the probe team to submit its report before it could write to India.
Amid the delay in communicating to India, protests have continued in different parts of the country against the Deuba government.
Observers and analysts say the Deuba government made a spectacular bungle of the Darchula incident, giving room to critics and others to question its lackadaisical approach to an issue tied with the life of a countryman.
The government could have at least brought the matter to the notice of the Indian government in Kathmandu through the ambassador and dispatched New Delhi, summarising the incident, according to them.
“The government should have promptly taken up the matter with the Indian side so that both sides could have found a way out to resolve the differences much earlier,” said Durgesh Man Singh, Nepal’s former ambassador to India.
India and China are neighbours and Nepal should not hesitate to take things up with them, just as both should also understand the sensitivity of issues, according to Singh.
“Bilateral relations remain smooth only if we understand each other’s sensitivities,” said Singh.
According to Singh, when a Nepali policeman was killed by the Chinese troops in 1960, then prime minister BP Koirala had promptly taken up the matter with the Chinese side. Beijing then apologised over the incident and compensated the family of the policeman who died in the firing, he said. “It was a result of quick communication.”
Deuba came to power in mid-July this year through a decree of the court, which defenestrated KP Sharma Oli over his misadventures, including the dissolution of the House of Representatives twice in a span of less than six months.
With a host of coalition partners to manage, Deuba’s diplomatic test began immediately after the Darchula incident. Many believe he did not take the incident promptly up with India because he did not want to rub New Delhi the wrong way in his initial days.
As protests flared up, with a student wing of one of his coalition partners burning the Indian prime minister in effigy, the Deuba government issued a statement warning of stern action if such activities are continued.
This was seen as Deuba’s bid to appease Delhi, at a time when he should have been making a position on the Darchula incident.
Had the government apprised New Delhi of the details that were available regarding the incident, maybe the Indian side could have initiated its own investigation, say observers.
Now with the government making a position against its own citizens over the protests, according to the observers, it appears it has made it look like a case in which the Indian state is involved. That’s a “massive diplomatic debacle”, they say.
There is opposition to the Home Ministry statement from the leaders of Deuba’s own party, the Nepali Congress.
“The government cannot curtail the freedom of expression,” Prakash Man Singh, a senior Nepali Congress leader, told the Post on Monday. “People have the right to protest and speak out. The Home Ministry statement is out and out objectionable.”
Now that the government has already dispatched a letter to India, Nepal can do nothing except wait for a response. In the past too, New Delhi has ignored diplomatic letters on different occasions, including when Kathmandu objected to India’s new map unveiled in November 2019 that showed Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura within the Indian territory.
Kathmandu had written to Delhi in May last year also after India opened a road link via Lipulekh to Kailash Manasarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
The erstwhile Oli government then unveiled Nepal’s new map, depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura within Nepali territory, in a move that Delhi called cartographic assertion. This led to souring of ties between Nepal and India.
Deuba currently is taking a lot of flak for failing to take matters related to national interest up with India, while forming a committee to look into border disputes with China.
Observers say Nepal should stop making efforts to improve its relations with one neighbour at the cost of the other.
A Nepali diplomat, who served at the India desk at the Foreign Ministry in the past, said Nepal should maintain a coherent foreign policy when it comes to two neighbours and other friendly nations.
As far as the delay in writing to India is concerned, said Khaga Nath Adhikari, a former ambassador, the Foreign Ministry, it seems, was waiting for some evidence.
“It is not wise to send a note to any country without anything concrete to say,” said Adhikari. “Now that the letter has been sent, we can hope it calls for proper investigation into the incident by the Indian side. If there is any fault from the Indian side, Nepal should push for compensation to the family and assurances that such incidents do not occur in the future.”
Adhikari, however, is sceptical of a few things, including any response from the south.
“There are very few incidents where India has responded to our calls. But we should continue to raise issues on our part,” said Adhikari. “In diplomacy, what is required is consistency and continuity. Nepal should stop exhibiting prejudices and biases when it comes to the neighbours.”