Print Edition - 2014-12-07  |  Free the Words

Home and the world

  • For the regional grouping to become more effective, Saarc member-states need to get their own houses in order
- Atul K Thakur
Home and the world

Dec 6, 2014-

A South Asia in concert is wishful thinking, given the state of affairs that exists between the Saarc member-states, an organisation that is full of ‘aspiration and desperation’. Amidst such intriguing bonds, the 18th Saarc Summit in Kathmandu ended with not much to show, especially given the buzz surrounding multilateral agreements ahead of the Summit.

Modi at Saarc

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaj Sharif initially displayed the egos of their domestic constituencies, eschewing even the formal of courtesies. Modi, having fewer choices, chose to cease diplomatic overtures to an estranged Sharif, who, until a few months ago, had almost turned into Modi’s friend. The rollercoaster of foreign policy, therefore, is more than a mix of soft imagination and photo-ops, especially when it comes to relations as historic as that between India and Pakistan.

For Nepal, Modi has been prompt in action. He did well on the sidelines of the Summit, pursuing bilateral matters. Technically, he achieved something else. It was intriguing to see the mass of people and some leaders from the Madhes resorting to demonstrations after Modi cancelled his trips to Janakpur and Lumbini. India’s new prime minister was unable to visit the places of his choice, limited as he was by how much time he had at his disposal and the bounds of protocol. A Madison Square-like grand show at Janakpur’s Barabigha Maidan would likely not have pulled crowds for investment or reignited the hearst and minds of the diaspora. Moreover, Nepal as a sovereign nation had genuine concerns about Modi’s planned public rally—things could have easily gotten messy.

Sometime ago, a Nepali diplomat told me—how lucky you are to have a proactive government in your country. Irrespective of how I felt, I allowed my mind to ponder on the general mood in South Asia, coming to the conclusion that ‘desperation’ has gripped this region and the people at large are not making choices; rather, they are in search of an ‘alchemist’ for survival. Noticeably, all Saarc member-states are passing through odd patches. With India, the case is little different but it would be wrong to deny that its polity is not undergoing an overwhelming sea-change.

The idea of Saarc was inherent in the notion that a regional multilateral platform would allay the interests of UN and others, providing member nations with a greater chance to come together and leverage through a common capacity. But with time, the fundamentals met with the effects of uncontrolled changes and hence, things seemed to fall apart before reaching any level of success. Thus it is hardly surprising that the recent Kathmandu Summit was able to make any effect, except for a photo-op for leaders.

Nepal domestically

At a time when the overall conception of Saarc is demanding an overhaul, its member nations need to come forward to play their roles. A beginning would be to reassess their own internal situations, which actually decides the fate of the tired Saarc. Nepali leaders, in particular, need to come in sync with their immediate priorities, as the democracy of the land demands a display of such sentiments.

Nepal needs the constitution immediately but sadly, there is no definite timeline for release. The faction-ridden political class hardly seems to be in tune with the masses—there is chasm that needs to be bridged. But a prerequisite would be the evolution of more mature polity. More than anything, Nepal today needs the streamlining of its democratic process and institution making, delayed for over two decades by an armed conflict and the ensuing political transition.

Certainly, sweating for nation-building will be a healthy exercise for the same crowd that demonstrated after the Modi’s cancelled trip to the Tarai. The demarcation between the ‘home’ and the ‘world’ should be clearly impressed upon the average person, so as to prevent the hijacking of Nepali democracy by a few elites in the form of populists. Nepal is living in a time when it needs to carry out actual work, instead of coming out in support of unidentified causes. The wisdom lies in making things simpler. Beyond the ideological churning, the aim should be to make Nepal a host for healthy multi-party democracy.

If the member-states’ internal situations are firm and stable, Saarc then is a well-structured platform. But as of now, the fact of the matter is that it promises too much and is able to deliver on too little. Thus, as usual, there is not much to show except for talk.

Thakur is a New Delhi-based journalist and writer

Published: 07-12-2014 09:05

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