Warning or yearning?Raj or Swaraj, Delhi’s power elites have always taken Nepal for granted as their natural backyard
The book ‘A Life in Diplomacy’ (2016) authored by Maharajakrishna Rasgotra offers a rare glimpse of the mindset that prevails in the India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA). The book provides an official view of the MEA bureaucracy on India’s international relations rather than a critical analysis of an independent nature. Given the stunning first-hand accounts of Delhi’s overriding assertions over Kathmandu in the book, it may be useful for Nepal’s policymakers as well. Rasgotra, the former MEA secretary whose career spanned over 40 years (1949-1990), held several ambassadorial posts that included one in this country between 1974 to 1977. He was again posted here as Second Secretary between 1954 to 1956.
The powerful and lucid narratives of the veteran diplomat of post-independence India, that too at the age of 91, are a testimony of his poetic, diplomatic and intellectual calibre. However, the author has held back information that may embarrass Indian officials even slightly. He keeps total mum about RAW—India’s external intelligence agency—which operates in foreign soils with or without the liaison, or the cover, of embassies. Very active in Nepal, the secretive body is often believed to be decisive in shaping Delhi’s Nepal policy since quite some time.
Not so correct
Falling in with the conservative, traditionalist and conformist mainstream of the MEA bureaucracy, he sharply criticises India’s former Prime Minister IK Gujaral for adopting a concessional policy toward small neighbours, which greatly reassured and benefitted them and profoundly generated their goodwill towards India.
The author puts aside objectivity, fairness and even facts, particularly when it comes to Nepal. Though well-informed readers may easily discover his half-truths, others—little or not familiar with the ground realities of this country—may take his concoctions at face value. For example, in April 1974—soon after assuming office in Kathmandu—when he was in New Delhi for consultations, he had conveyed to then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that Sikkim’s forthcoming “integration” into India ‘was bound to provoke a wave of anti-India protests, prolonged agitation, abuse and attacks on Indians (on Nepali soil)’. But when the protests took place, he
reported that they were stage-managed by Nepali authorities, which only fuelled Gandhi’s hawkish sentiments towards Nepal. The spontaneous protests that reflected the mood of an angry and apprehensive nation should have been dealt (by the Indian side) with patience, reassurance and tact. Conversely, Rasgotra misled and provoked Gandhi—who had already ordered him ‘to react toughly on the protests and threaten Nepali authorities if necessary’—to do the opposite.
Rasgotra, who headed the MEA’s ‘Northern States Desk’ that comprised Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim (before annexation), has failed to mention about the systematic elimination of the Nepali language and culture in Bhutan, the plight of the Bhutanese of Nepali ancestry and the forced exile of around 100,000 people in more than 400 pages. Instead, he has held Bhutan’s royalties, which drove one-sixth of Bhutan’s population and one-third of a whole race out into Nepal, in high esteem. A majority of those refugees have now settled in Western nations, as Bhutan, ever since it expelled them in the early 1990s, has been dilly-dallying to take them back. The great admirer of the racist royal regime of Bhutan makes no secret of his disdain for Nepal, an inclusive democratic republic.
He pleads to the present BJP government headed by Narendra Modi to be tough toward the “implacable” neighbour. He regrets that ‘Nepal as a secular republic continues to generate much mawkish sentimentality in some quarters in India’ and that ‘(BJP) has traditionally nursed a soft attitude towards Nepal because the country was a Hindu kingdom.’ He therefore has cautioned India’s (new) policymakers against adopting an ‘emotional approach to foreign policy’, and asked them ‘to keep religious sentiments out…particularly in relation to Nepal’.
The Durand symptom
While historians of all ages and places agree that during the British occupation of India, rulers of Nepal were subservient to the British Raj, Rasagotra opines that Nepal has always been a difficult neighbour for India. History aside,
rulers of modern Nepal too have promptly addressed India’s security concerns, all and sundry, even going out of their way. For example, every now and then, Nepali authorities nab people at the behest and tip of the Indian embassy or RAW officials and quietly hand them over to Indian police at some mutually agreed upon border point. They act in such bizarre ways to avoid legal hurdles and political controversies, as an extradition treaty between the two nations is yet to come about. The incidents later appear in Indian media as heroic acts of Indian police. This is only an example of how “difficult” a neighbour—as defined by Rasgotra—Nepal has been to India.
Rasagotra alleges that Nepali rulers suffer from ‘the Durand symptom’. Also referred to as ‘the China Card’, the catchphrase was named after Durand, who as British India’s Resident in Nepal, grudgingly reported to his bosses in Delhi in 1890 that Nepali rulers were playing China to counter
India. Raj or Swaraj, Delhi’s power elites have always taken Nepal for granted as their ‘traditional or natural backyard’ and China as an unwelcome rival there. In this age of globalisation too, they cannot seem to reconcile with Nepal’s desire to maintain good neighbourly relations with both its giant neighbours. They do not appreciate that despite our trouble-free relationship with contemporary China, we are destined by geography to be closer to, and more dependent on, India.
Rasgotra also seems poorly informed and updated about recent events in Nepal. While covering those events, he relies on hearsay and is driven by his deep-seated bias against this country. For example, he dismisses India’s role in the five-month-long blockade as mere “accusation” of the Nepal government, and describes it as ‘disruption of movement of goods from India to Kathmandu Valley (only)’ staged by the ‘Tarai people.’
Similarly, his views on the new constitution, promulgated by over two-thirds majority of elected Constituent Assembly members including many from the Tarai, goes as: ‘The high-handedness of Kathmandu’s ruling elite to adopt a constitution which deprives the Tarai people who constitute half of country’s population of its legitimate citizenship rights’. Naturally, he offers no specifics of his alleged “discriminatory provisions”, as there is none. ‘Kathmandu has always ruled Terai as a colony,’ he echoes the Madhesi activists’ rhetoric. Therefore, if not handled prudently, ‘civil conflict in the Tarai may lead to its secession’ is his warning. Or is it a yearning?
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org