India’s Nepal policy after Prachanda’s elevation to Prime Minister

India’s policy towards Nepal should be viewed as a friend and trusting neighbour rather than a bully

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda’s ascent to being the Prime Minister of Nepal on August 3 has come at an opportune time for India. Unveiling ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke through the tradition when he invited the heads of state of all bordering countries for his swearing in ceremony. The case of Prachanda is unique in the sense that he has had a blow hot-blow cold relationship with India in the past. In that sinusoidal curve of blow cold in the latest phase, it was in all probability that India catalysed his ascendancy, miffed as it was with his predecessor K.P. Sharma Oli.

If Monroe doctrine is the bible to international relations, then India’s moves with Nepal do not fit into this framework at all. Put simply, Monroe doctrine dictated to the European powers in the early part of 19th century that the USA would brook no interference in its politics and no further colonisation could take place. This was one of the factors that helped the US emerge as a hegemon in the 20th century. A landlocked country like Nepal situated in the northeastern part of India and sharing a long 1850 Km border with India should in all probability be a client or a satellite state of India.

India for its part has been blamed by Nepal for being too overbearing. Consider this—during the devastating Nepal earthquake in May 2015, in spite of $1 billion help and the speed with which it was rendered, India was left red faced when it reminded Nepal about this during Nepal’s new constitution. India’s response of advising Nepal to address the concerns of all by which it meant Madhesis (people in the southern plains of Nepal) irked Nepal to no end. Nepal accused India of interfering in its affairs and nonchalantly went ahead and enforced the constitution. India retaliated by blockading Nepal that resulted in critical supplies being denied, chief among them being diesel.

Meanwhile, the then PM of Nepal, K.P.Sharma Oli was consistently battling his opponents as his own position was getting weakened. The main charge against him by Prachanda was his inability to give political stability.  Prachanda, who was the PM from 2006, had to step down in 2008 due to his differences with his army chief. He blamed India for this. The wheel has now come full circle. Prachanda has become the PM courting India’s help. The charge that India has acted like a big brother trying to meddle in Nepal’s domestic politics is not without substance. In 1989, India imposed economic sanctions on Nepal for importing military equipment from China. Nepal has not forgotten this.

As a result of feeling dominated, Nepal does what a weak power normally will do—seek a stronger power’s help, which in this case is China. Nepal feels that by doing this, it can keep India in check. Now, it is for India to get its Nepal policy back on track after some misses in the recent past. Assistance in the form of infrastructure building will go a long way in assuaging Nepalese. The actions must be seen in the form of friendly help rather than a big bully. Only this would help cement India’s Monroe doctrine.

Guru Aiyar is Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Stars over Everest 2 by Sam Hawley licensed from Creativecommons