The Left Alliance of communist parties, which won a massive victory in the Nepal elections, had many things going for it—charismatic leadership, robust party machinery and enthusiastic cadres, appealing development agenda and promise of political stability after a turbulent political decade which saw 11 prime ministers. However, the overarching reality is that the communist parties brilliantly rode the wings of Nepali nationalism.
The crescendo of nationalism can almost entirely be ascribed to the flawed Indian policies. Paradoxically, the hindutva ideology exacerbated the latent anti-Indian feelings in that predominantly Hindu country. The forces that mentor Modi government prescribed a constitution proclaiming Nepal to be a ‘Hindu rashtra’. However, the Nepalese constituent assembly went on to adopt a secular constitution. The consequent rift deepened as Indian diplomacy became rancorous and aggressively manipulative—playing the ‘Madhesi card’ to undermine the constitution; patronising and dumping politicians and playing them against each other; inflicting hardships through economic blockade to humiliate the government, and, finally, orchestrating a ‘regime change’ in Kathmandu.
Instead of being on the right side of history when Nepal took baby steps towards democracy and constitutional rule, Modi government played the spoiler’s game. The rift morphed into widespread resentment against perceived Indian hegemony. No doubt, the Left Alliance successfully tapped into it. The Indian discourses blithely overlook this harsh reality by superimposing on it a ‘China narrative’ to cover up our flawed policies. The Nepal elections were never really an India-China turf battle.
Nepal began turning to China following the blockade in 2015. Again, while in the past, Beijing invariably counselled Kathmandu to harmonise with Delhi whenever friction appeared—there were nasty rifts at times, such as the 18-month long economic blockade imposed by the Rajiv Gandhi government. It is no longer persuading the leadership in Kathmandu to turn to Delhi for mentorship. But then, there is the larger context of downhill slide in the Sino-Indian ties under Modi government and its adversarial mindset towards China.
China’s Nepal policies are essentially riveted on the stability of Tibet. Nepal has been the corridor through which Tibetan militants supported by foreign powers infiltrated China to undertake subversive activities. Therefore, Beijing is a stakeholder in promoting a stable, effective and friendly government in Kathmandu that is receptive to China’s core interests of national security. In reality, though, Nepal’s communist leaders are anything but ‘anti-India’, and our foreign and security establishment knows it better than anyone.
It is far from the case that an apocalyptic situation has arisen today. But, the propensity to look down on Nepal as a rentier state is no longer tenable. Our elite should realise that the message from Nepal is that the people who rejected feudalism a decade ago have now conclusively turned their back on hindutva as well.
The newly elected government will feel the pressure of accountability and good governance and the communist leaders are already speaking the language of friendly relations with India. Therefore, the success of Indian policies lies in shifting from the security-oriented logic towards leveraging interdependency stemming out of relative factors of advantage that India has, by virtue of its cultural links and geography and the economic underpinnings.
India must fundamentally rethink its concept of wielding ‘influence’ over neighbours. Our leadership must introspect why the Christian groups of Nepal known as Mandelis voted en bloc for communist parties. And, why the Muslims among Madhesis in Nepalgunj no longer root for India.
Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat.