Nepal India relations have been described differently by different people from both sides. Many call it ‘unique’. Some call it ‘special relations’ while there are many who resent such adjectives being used to describe the bilateral relationship. But there seems to be an element of romanticised view of the relationship always, especially in Nepal, as there has hardly been an effort from this side to have the relationship reviewed and upgraded within the realms of realities.
Gandhi’s India—an India that is just and treats its neighbours with respect, an India that may want to act benevolently at times, an India that does not flex its muscles in the neighbourhood, and an India that does not quite demand reciprocity—quite often is the referral point when most Nepali leaders feel that India only has an obligation to ‘give’ to Nepal. Stretching arms with begging bowl has often been the political culture that successive Nepali governments have preserved and followed over a period of time. Naturally, national dignity and pride become the first casualty of such behaviour on the part of the state.
As the formal bilateral relationship enters its 60th year—considering signing of the 1950 treaty of Peace and Friendship—the two countries seem more confused about its nature and dimension. There are people in both countries at the policy making level who believe the 1950 treaty is ‘unequal’, there are also voices in favour of massive regulations of the open border –something considered unique feature of the bilateral relationship—and play down something called ‘roti beti ka sambandh’. India’s security perception places Nepal on the list of countries with high possibility of its territory being used by anti-India forces including terrorists and fake currency smugglers.
In the context, India seems willing to go for a review of the 1950 treaty asking Nepal to decide the nature of change, modification or improvement it wants in that, something Nepal is still vague about. Some of the provisions in the treaty and associated arrangements including India having the final say on import of arms by the government of Nepal, and Indian companies having priority rights on major developmental contracts are definitely in detriment to Nepal’s interest in the current era of global competition. Similarly, some Indians hold the view that the treaty is unequal in the sense that while Nepalis have the right to buy and own property in India, that reciprocity has not been granted to the Indians in Nepal.
While the provisions of the treaty can always be reviewed –and in fact they need to be—the irritants in the bilateral problems can largely be attributed to attitudes that the treaty does not confer on officials or agencies of the state. That is at least an open assertion in Nepal. Indian authorities’ open involvement in Nepal’s politics is something that is making the south unpopular here. The fall of monarchy—an agenda that India put forward while bringing the Maoists and seven political parties under the 12 point agreement—has also brought China in Nepal in an unprecedented scale. India’s perception so far that it can cause any happening in the north may still be valid, but where it has gone wrong is the fact that the consequences may not exactly be what India wants. Nepal obviously will not go, and cannot go against its vital interests and of India or China, or for that matter of any country, unless they directly clash with its own national interest.
There is a growing perception here that India wants to extract undue concessions from Nepal at the time of crisis, especially from a regime about to fall. The signing of 1950 treaty with Mohan Shumsher when the regime was facing a popular mass protest—all that in full knowledge and support of India—is cited as an evidence even today. It was repeated in 1990 when S K Singh came to see King Birendra with Rajiv Gandhi’s proposal that India be given priority rights over Nepal’s water resources compared to other international bidders, and that it accept India’s vital security interests over Nepal. Such perceptions need to be addressed while two countries sit to decide how to take the relationship further. And of course, that has to be matched by suitable conducts on the part of peoples, especially representing the two states. Nepal and Nepalis should be clear that they need to discuss business with India, and that Gandhi’s values are as alien to India as to the rest of the world while discussing the bilateral issues. A nuclear India and an economically fast growing India may not mind deploying more Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) along Nepal-India border and create a distance between the peoples of two sides bound by geography, history, culture and language if that’s how it will feel safer and secure.