In our court

  • The absence of national-level think tanks to work on issues of national interest was deeply felt during Modi's visit

Aug 12, 2014-

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day formal visit to Nepal began with a tremor of unfathomable scale and ended with a positive aftershock in Nepali society in general and political, diplomatic and economic circles in particular. Modi’s address to the Constituent Assembly (CA) brought about a paradigm shift in the Nepali anti-India psyche and instantly created a positive attitude towards India. His well-calibrated and articulated deliberation to the CA of about 45 minutes was flawless. It provided a much needed message to parliamentarians and meaningful assurances to Nepalis. At times, Modi looked like a teacher taking a class and the parliamentarians like students learning their lessons.

Modi mania

Modi’s bold and impromptu decision to step out of his motorcade and reach out to the people watching him created euphoria among the crowd. People were eager to shake hands with him and take photographs. This put Modi’s security personnel in a difficult situation. But in no time, Modi managed to win the hearts of the Nepali mass and became the talk of the town, resulting in slogans like ‘Har Har Modi’ and ‘Ghar Ghar Modi’. An opinion piece rightly discussed his visit under the headline ‘Mayabi Modi’.

Modi’s visit was very successful in many respects, both at a personal as well as state level. Modi did the best possible. And his biggest accomplishment was wining the hearts and minds of the Nepali people in favour of India and doing away with the negative perceptions Nepalis hold about India. This kind of subjective success is no easy thing to achieve. Modi left with assurances and open-ended avenues for engagement and cooperation with Nepal in various areas for the betterment of both nations.

Deficiencies reflected

Nepal thus needs to identify, seize and capitalise on such an opportune moment. The government must get to work and take the lead in keeping the best interests of the nation at heart. Any hurdle that might compromise the national interest must be crushed, but at the same time, efforts must be made to garner consensus on national issues.  

At this point, the deficiency of a  National Security Policy and the absence of think tanks at the national level to work on important issues like water resources and other matters of national interest is deeply felt. So it is high time that we take our business with India very seriously. We cannot waste time and opportunity by squabbling over petty egos, personal and party interests. There has been much talk already. And leaders often get away with irresponsible rhetoric devoid of accountability and without fearing the consequences. Going by experience, it looks as though our leaders and the work culture of politically adulterated bureaucrats is less likely to change in the days to come as well, unless the ‘Mayabi’ Modi mantra works on them.

During his visit, the Indian PM both disappointed and encouraged many by announcing his support for a democratic, federal and republican Nepal. But he disappointed many more by not mentioning a single word on secularism.  Modi’s advice to Madhesi leaders, along with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s blunt remarks about demands for a Hindu state and logical remarks on issues of Madhesi deprivation might not have pleased some quarters of Nepali society. Even so, we better learn from them and reflect on a better way to represent the nation.

Taking things forward

One very important statement conveyed during Swaraj’s Joint Commission meeting was that the Indian side presented itself as an ‘elder brother’ rather than a ‘big brother’; and this can be taken as a milestone in Nepal-India relation.  

On the Nepali side, the very amateur action of bodily pulling Prime Minister Sushil Koirala by the escorting Minister of Information Minendra Rijal was diplomatically obscene. It simply revealed our deficiency in learning protocol and the very basics of diplomatic culture.

After Modi’s visit to Pashupatinath temple and India’s gift to the Pashupati  Area Development Trust, it becomes our moral responsibility to show perceivable change to this heritage site. Modi will be coming back to Nepal to attend the Saarc summit and has expressed a desire to visit Lumbini and Janakpurdham. As a good gesture, we should add value to his wishes by planning visits to Muktinath and Barahakshetra as well.

To sum up, the Modi visit has opened up new possibilities for Nepal on political issues, such as the 1950 treaty and the border issue. On the development front, it opened up avenues on the sharing of water resources and the commitment of assistance on various sectors besides a soft credit line of one billion dollars, which will suffice to develop several hydropower projects. Hence, when the Indian PM visits Nepal for the Saarc Summit, we must be fully prepared with as many prospective projects as possible on water resources, infrastructure and development, joint ventures and other areas of cooperation for the benefit of both nations. We should be able to present a wishlist of Indian -aided projects as well. It is time to make the best of this opportunity. Doing so, we can change the future of Nepal. But it all depends on how we perceive, comprehend and act on these opportunities. Modi has played a ‘HIT’ game and the friendly ball is now in our court; how we play it will decide our future prosperity.

Bhandari is a Brig Gen  (Retd.) and secretary of the Nepal Institute for Strategic Studies

Published: 12-08-2014 08:36

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