Discussing Kathmandu Dilemma: Resetting India-Nepal Ties

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Centre for Social Inclusion and Federalism (CESIF), Nepal organized a discussion on Ranjit Rae’s Kathmandu Dilemma: Resetting India-Nepal Ties which took place on 25th October, 2021, at The Soaltee Kathmandu. Discussant panel included: noted author – Amish Mulmi; Assistant Professor – Apekshya Shah; eminent scholar, Prof. Dr. Lokraj Baral; former Prime Minister and Chairperson of CPN- Maoist, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda); professor and chairman of CESIF Nepal – Vijay Kant Karna, and the author himself, Ranjit Rae.

Event Details

Venue: Megha Hall; The Soaltee Kathmandu
Time: 2 PM – 4:30 PM, followed by reception
Number of Participants: 80 which included intellectuals, politicians, former diplomats, and journalists.

To watch the full video follow the link here.

Key Issues

The discussion mainly focused on retying Nepal-India relations. Author Rae expressed his great passion and interest towards India-Nepal relationship, which was the motivation behind writing this book. He felt that India-Nepal relation at the moment is sub-optimal and there lies a huge potential ahead. It is very important to understand each other’s perspective to have a harmonious relationship as it is the only way to move forward. He highlighted the need to base the relationship on economic foundation, not just cultural, in order for a progressive future together.

Amish Mulmi emphasized on India’s soft power to strengthen the diplomatic ties between India and Nepal. He stated ‘cricket diplomacy’ as an example for India to strengthen the relationship with Nepal especially amongst its youth.

Apekshya Shah highlighted that, poor implementation of India-backed development projects, failure of SAARC in promoting economic growth and untapped hydro power capabilities of Nepal have been detrimental to Nepal’s economy. She points out that, failure to resolve the conflicting issues through diplomatic dialogue has led to hardening of positions of Nepal India post-2015. Thus, uninterrupted diplomatic dialogue is crucial for Nepal-India ties.

Professor Lokraj Baral highlighted the lack of an India-policy in Nepal as Nepal’s biggest shortcoming in managing its international relation and foreign affairs with India. He opined that the open border’s proper regulation can strengthen Nepal-India diplomacy.

Former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) argued that it is justified for a small country like Nepal to be in constant fear of domination and fear of encroachment of land from powerful and big nations, which is omnipresent all around the world. However, Nepal needs to be wary of baseless nationalist movements and rumours in order for it to mutually benefit from the cooperation with its neighbour.

Finally, Moderator and Former Ambassador, Vijay Kant Karna emphasized the culture of seeking help from India and then accusing them of micromanaging Nepal. He talked about the psychological and emotional baggage of void nationalism amongst Nepalis, which has in turn has hampered its diplomacy with India.

Details

Ambassador Ranjit Rae opened the book discussion by addressing the seminal transformations that have taken place in Nepal in the last two- three decades. He praised Nepal by stating that while other countries have taken 100 of years for such a transformation, Nepal did it in 20-30 years. He understood the complexity of the transitional phase and respects Nepal’s efforts in the same. He admired Prachanda’s role in the transformations that have taken place in Nepal which also happens to be one of the important elements of his book.

On answering as to why he wrote this book, the speaker states that, he has a great passion and interest towards India-Nepal relationship. He feels that the relationship is sub-optimal and that there is a huge potential that lies ahead. He states that, India-Nepal relationship is complex in nature, however both the countries share an intimate bond. Ambassador Rae through this book wants to inform the public about the complexity and the psychology of India-Nepal relationship which renders misunderstanding time and again. Highlighting such key-issues is important in strengthening India-Nepal relationship.

According to the speaker, Indians are fond of addressing “Bhai Bhai ka rishta” with Nepal not realising that this is a sensitive issue for Nepalis. Nepal, on the other hand, wants a balanced relationship with India, and not be limited to “Bhai Bhai ka rishta”. The question then arises, does India have an unbalanced relationship with Nepal? If it is unbalanced then how would India balance it and what will be the implication of this new balanced relationship? In order to avoid such contentious question, the speaker suggests that India needs to be mindful about using the idioms while talking about its relationship with Nepal. The speaker also suggests that it is very important to understand each other’s perspective to have a harmonious relationship as it is the only way to move forward.

The Ambassador emphasised on looking into the future and suggests ways to build the foundational ties between India and Nepal especially in the era when rapid transformation is taking place worldwide. According to the speaker, both the countries need to base their relationship on economic foundation which is the need of the hour and not just on the cultural aspect.  The speaker suggests that both the countries have to develop their region and sub region as a common interconnected and interdependent economic space where all benefit from the collective growth. For his to happen, India and Nepal must create a condition through connectivity, through exchanges, through development of hydro-power and regional supply chains.

On answering the question as to why did the speaker name his book “The Kathmandu Dilemma”, he expressed that the book is actually “The Delhi Dilemma” – the dilemma that India faces while dealing with Nepal and the dynamics of foreign policies. Through this book, the author has attempted to show how decision making takes place in India; the kind of engagement and interaction that happens and how policy makers try and arrive at some common policy to reach an objective. Thus, the Kathmandu Dilemma.

Finally, he concludes by describing the cover of his book and how the picture of the clouds represents a “nuanced relationship” between India and Nepal. He maintained that India would like to have a cloudless relationship with Nepal. Further, the picture of the mountains depicted the major transition that Nepal is undergoing and its impact on the India-Nepal relationship. He wants this book to be seen as forward looking – not to be the scores of the past but build a positive foundation for future.

Amish Mulmi opened the book discussion by stating that the book is “timely, relevant and most importantly one of the deeply engaging books on Nepal by an Indian diplomat.”  He states that, India-Nepal relationship is special, especially because of the way the border is structured; how peoples from both the countries moves across the border and the way they interact with one another. Thus, Nepal’s geography and the intimate ties with India means that Nepal have to forge a future with India and vice versa and this book tells the readers the ways to do so.

The speaker understood the dynamic of both the countries and states that in the recent times it has been increasingly evident that there are foundational shortcomings. These shortcomings are being realised from both the sides – Kathmandu and Delhi. According to the speaker, in recent times India has focused on connectivity which has been excellent but at the same time, India has witnessed weaknesses from Nepal to execute the connectivity. He supported this statement by quoting a recent example of Jainagar Railway where the absence of legal framework and policy delayed the operation of the railway. While taking about the shortcoming from the side of India, the speaker stated that, India also needs to start acknowledging that a major section of Nepali population consists of youth, under forty. India must try to understand the aspiration and wants of Nepali youth and link the Indian economy accordingly. He further suggests that, India must utilise its important weapon which is ‘soft power’. According to the speaker, if India focuses on ‘cricket diplomacy and starts supporting grass roots cricket development in Nepal, this may strength the relationship between Nepal and India and especially amongst Nepali youths.

The speaker concludes his speech by stating that, the policy and objective from both the ends must be well defined and clarified from the beginning. Until and unless we don’t ideate the strategies and objectives, we will continue to have issues and it will show up every now and then.

Apekshya Shah, opened the book discussion by stating that for someone who reads interstate relations, this book is a goldmine of information to understand the complexity of the diplomacy. She stated how the framework in which diplomacy operates varies from situations to situation on the basis of common understanding and occurs mostly behind closed doors given the sensitive nature of the interaction.

According to the speaker, the writer has effectively summarised the complex and the intimate relation that Nepal-India share. The author has stressed on the need to develop an over reaching economic vision to reinforce Nepal-India relation as well as linking that to the larger region initiative such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) or BIMSTEC. According to the speaker, as a developing landlock country, Nepal has seen its growth attune to the rise of its neighbour, particularly India, given the nature of arrangement between the two economies and geography. Poor implementation of India-backed development projects, failure of SAARC in promoting economic growth and untapped hydro power capabilities of Nepal have been detrimental to Nepal’s economy. The speaker further maintained that, the Tri-lateral corporation on water and energy issues between Nepal, India and Bangladesh is overdue, especially for Nepal as the two countries are the only viable market for the surplus energy. It is a matter of concern for Nepal that despite producing surplus power it has not been able to export it. Thus, as rightly acknowledged in the book, India needs to works towards ensuring that its neighbour benefits from India’s economic growth for the relationship to be mutually beneficial.

The speakers maintains that, given the increased of role of media and social media, the two countries need to be cautious of the impact non-state actors have begun to play in diplomatic relations. As it is evident from the growing anti-Indian sentiments among younger generation of Nepal. Thus, she urged that the people to people ties and the social cultural link that binds the two countries are the strength of Nepal-India ties which needs to be preserved and cherished. In addition to that, Nepal’s other foreign policy goals should be viewed in respect to its development and growth aspirations by India.

She concludes her discussion by stating that Nepal India relations have gone through a turbulent times in recent past, and failure to resolve the conflicting issues through diplomatic dialogue has led to hardening of positions post-2015. Thus, uninterrupted diplomatic dialogue is crucial for Nepal-India ties; which this book suggests as well as provides suggestions.

Professor Lokraj Baral talked about the misunderstandings that generated between the two countries amidst the drafting of the constitution. He expressed how we should not have anti-Indian sentiments because of the mind-set of the few. He argues that, emotions and diplomacy never go hand in hand. He states that, when leaders don’t have an agenda and objective, they sell the sobbing stories to gather public sentiments. Nepal does not have India policy, when dealing with India, this is one of the biggest shortcomings from the side of Nepal. Lack of policy is also increasingly evident while dealing with the border issues.  Prof. Baral is of the opinion that, open border can never be closed but should rather be regulated.

Former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) opened the book discussion by congratulating the author for showing the courage to write about such a complex issue concerning India-Nepal relationship. According to the speaker, this book has created a wonderful opportunity for both the nations to re-build their relation and understand each other’s’ perspective. The book also provides numerous suggestions to way forward.

The former Prime Minister maintained that, the author has written the book from the Indian perspective, which is justified considering the fact that he has been an Indian Ambassador to Nepal. Thus, while reading the book, Nepali audiences must try to analysis the text from Nepal’s perspective and not India’s. He further states that, the author has mentioned every small to big details about India-Nepal relationship to the best of his knowledge and has covered important topics like history, geography, culture, economy, development including the emotions and psychology of the Nepali people. Citing the incident of Hrithik Roshan incident which took place in the year 2000, the speakers stated that, rather than understanding the truth of the situation, few people in Nepal were easily provoked and are blinded by emotions. People deliberately vandalised the public property and caused violent public disturbance by making the situation worse in the name of defending the integrity of nation, said the speaker. The speaker then tried to analysis the psychology of the Nepali people when it comes to defending and defining nationalism. He argued that, it is justified for small country like Nepal to be in constant fear of domination, subjugation and fear of land encroachment from powerful and big nations. Such fear endures provoked nationalist movements and protests in Nepal. Such psychology is prevalent not just in Nepal but throughout the world. Thus, the speaker argued that, such psychology of nationalism is a consequence of years of historical and cultural baggage including the geographical location of Nepal. However, Nepal needs to be wary of baseless nationalist movements and rumour’s in order for it to mutually benefit from the cooperation with its neighbour. On the other hand, it is also important for both the countries to understand the psychology of one another as well as the reason for having such mental attitude, in order to build a balanced, friendly and harmonious relationship.  He argued that, at this point it is also pertinent to analysis the psychology of Western Cultural which has played a major role in influencing India’s history and culture. He urged that, we have to once again analyse the positive and negative consequences of the British influence in India. Thus, at this juncture, it is important to look beyond conflicting positions to understand the interests of others that drive their behaviour. The speaker is certain that this book will spark a debate amongst the intellects of Nepal and India. Nevertheless, he hopes that the debate brings a positive role in strengthening the relationship between the nations.

The speaker stated that, the book has an elaborative chapter on Maoist insurgency- how it begin and the reason behind it. The book also provides a clear narrative on comprehensive peace accord and the twelve-point agreement. The speaker is thankful towards the author for breaking the myth and false narrative generated by certain segment of Nepali society that “Maoists are the creation of India and are financed and trained by the Indian government.” The author has disproved this theory backed by evidence and fact, for which the speaker is immensely grateful. He talked about peaceful leadership and a major political transformation which took place in Nepal due to the effort of the Maoists backed by the comprehensive peace accord.

The speaker stated that, this book is a progressive and forward looking which covers wide range of social and political issues between Nepal and India and a must read amongst the intellects. The book has provided clues to solve the existing differences between India and Nepal and ways to improve the relationship based on mutual respect for ones another’s sovereign state’s goals and ambitions.

Ambassador Vijay Kant Karna opened the book discussion by quoting Pratap Bhanu Metha- political scientist. He said “nationalism is a poison being used by the authoritarian leaders to exploit the sentiments of the common masses for their political and authoritarian gain”. Ambassador Karna, then talked about how Nepal accuses Indian government for micro managing Nepal, but in reality, it is Nepal who has sought help from Indian embassy time and again. As Nepal till date has not been able to define nationalism, it has blamed India for every little dispute that has occurred internally. He further stated that, every little to big problem in Nepal takes the centre stage of nationalism and becomes an interest of the state. We have a habit of connecting every internal tension with the issue of nationalism which should not be the case. He talked about the psychological and emotional baggage of the nationalism amongst Nepalis and argued that, such ideology has hampered Nepal’s diplomacy with India.

The speaker when talking about connectivity with India, argued that, even though China’s influence is increasing all over the world, for Nepal, the economic connectivity with China can never be similar to that of India as trade with Nepal is not China’s priority. Nepal looked upon China as an alternative to India but still Nepal was unable to conduct meaningful trade despite signing the Trade and Transit Agreement (TTA).

Lastly, the speaker talked about regulation of border and border management with India as closed border is not a viable option at this juncture. At the same time, Nepal and India shares a unique cultural and religious tie which is one of its kind.

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