The title borrows from a Bollywood movie to ask: Why is Mr Modi Angry with Nepal? This is the million-dollar question in the minds of millions of Nepalis and friends-of-Nepal. And there are no easy or satisfactory answers. What happened that should prompt Delhi to practically declare war on Nepal with the current blockade, cripple her economy, cause untold misery to the average Nepali, destroy the concept of SAARC bonhomie, and see his own popularity – which was sky high in Nepal just a few months back indeed twice that of any Nepali politician – plummet to below zero?
Yes, the new Nepali constitution 2015, essentially 1990 minus the King plus the blood of some eighteen thousand killed and rife with contradictions, was ramrodded through parliament in a week with obscene haste just so that Oli could become prime minister, Cash Maoists come back to power and Mr Sushil Koirala become president (which he failed to because of his own political stupidity). But that is for disgruntled Nepalis like yours truly or Dash Maoists kept out of the process, un-reconstituted monarchists and other fringe ethnic parties to worry about and hardly something that warrants such drastic measures as a blockade by a friendly neighbour. Delhi’s actions have given life anew to anti-Indianism in Nepal that is more pervasive than ever before and will live on for a few generations moreinto the future, putting a windfall diplomatic bonanza onto the laps of the Chinese. Given that the American have outsourced their South Asia policy to Delhi, and Europeans having followed the coat-tails of the Americans on this count, Euro-Americans will also have to suffer collateral diplomatic damage, more so given the deafening silence of their media and agencies on this blockade (unlike when the King was being demonized in 2005/2006).
Events on the ground have left the plausible deniability of Indian diplomacy in tatters. Delhi Babudom is famous for over-smart word play that they in their narcissism think convinces everyone when in reality everyone is laughing behind their backs. Think of the first nuclear bomb explosion by India which Delhi denied and said was only ‘the implosion of a peaceful nuclear device’. Adding salt to this insult to all peaceniks and Buddhist the world over, the code name given to this acquiring of a mass destruction weapon was ‘Buddha is smiling’. The 13-month long 1989 blockade of Nepal was only a ‘trade and transit impasse’. Despite the cynical adage that a diplomat is a man who lies abroad for the good of his country and despite their use of innuendoes and understatements, the effectiveness of diplomats lies in their credibility. By obstinately insisting that there is no blockade when their own agencies are told by their higher ups not to fill tankers in Barauni, or not to let trucks through places in Kakadvitta or Mahendranagar where no agitation was happening on the Nepali side, or to strip search returning migrants and vehicles for hours on end at the border pileup, or to put up secessionist video rants of hired Madhesis on their official websites, Indian diplomacy has assured not just Nepalis but the SAARC neighbourhood as well that their words cannot be trusted.
Why such self-inflicted damage? There are many hypotheses floating around, none of them wholly satisfactory. One is that Nepal’s Loktantrickster big party leadership promised Modi that Nepal’s Hindu identity would be preserved, that the word secular would not be inserted into the constitution; and they failed to do so. This hypothesis does not make much sense. First, the word secular has been inserted but with a strange definition that “secularism essentially means protecting Hindu (‘sanaatan’) traditions”, which should bagan (Ig)Nobel prize for those who drafted this constitution for unbelievable creativity, and also assure the Hindu fundamentalists on both sides of the border enough ammunition to go on a warpath to preserve that unique definition. Moreover, if Modi can swear an oath on an Indian constitution that is secular (in the more-or-less correct sense of that word), why would he have to go to this extent, ruining his reputation in the process, to get rid of it in a country that is not his own?
Another hypothesis is that he needs to show he is siding with the Madhesis to win elections in Bihar. We only need to wait a week to see if this stance produced any more votes for the BJP; and win or lose, if this indeed was a strategy, whether the Tarai blockade will be lifted after the Bihar elections since its purpose will have already been served one way or the other. The flaw in this argument is that out of the country’s 75 districts, in the 22 districts of the Nepal Tarai in which live half the country’s population, live not just the Madhesis but all the 124 caste and ethnic groups of Nepal. The murderously rivalrous caste Madhesis in total constitute only 17% of the population and Tarai Dalits some 3%, making a total of about twenty percent. The largest ethnic group of the Tarai, the Tharus who are 7% donot consider themselves Madhesis, indeed they say there is only the Tarai and calling it Madhes is ‘Yadavization of the Tarai’. Nor are the Tarai Muslims, who are about 4% with a lot of them saying they were safer in Hindu Nepal than under so-called secularism, particularly sympathetic to this Yadavization. Why would Delhi antagonize 80% of Nepal’s population, including 30% other ethnicities who live in the Tarai, to side with discredited Madhesi leaders who lost the last elections because of their corrupt past history? It certainly does little credit to Modi and his clean image.
Another hypothesis that presents better plausibility is that all this is the fallout of an undercurrent in-fighting going on in Indiabetween an IAS/IFS Babudom weaned on Congress culture and the newly emerged political class in the form of the grassroots cadre-culture RSS/BJP. During the former’s rule, set in motion by ‘the last Englishman to rule India’ Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s neighbourhood policyespecially in its declining years under Sonia Gandhi, was not fed by its spooks and Babus (as are those of any regional or international super-power) as much as led by them. Indian Babudom is just a continuation of the East India Company bureaucracy, sharing the same ethos and security paranoia. What the BJP’s resounding rise under Modi represented is what Lord Meghnad Desai in his regular Indian Express column has called the rise of the political subaltern; and Modi’s new neighbourhood policy was an indicator of that subaltern, almost civilizational, assertion. It promised a neighbourhood where India put primacy not on security but on development; and it received wide-spread support because the neighbours believed they could latch onto the Indian growth engine and lift themselves up as well. Sadly, says this hypothesis, it lasted no longer than the Gujral Doctrine as the spooks and Babus re-asserted themselves with their security (read paranoia and Sino-phobia) doctrine and jettisoned the development paradigm. Why and how they managed to do that will be speculated upon by many endlessly in the years ahead.
An early hint came just soon after Modi came to power: he seems to have told the spooks and Babus not to confab with Nepali politicians, that only politicians would talk to politicians. We saw the result of that policy shift when the ‘medical pilgrimages’ of Nepali party leaders to Delhi stopped altogether until recently when former PMs Kangressi Sher Bahadur Deuba and Cash Maoist Prachanda as well as Oli confidante Pradeep Gyawali were openly invited by Indian political leadership. What he said to them and what they promised him, Nepali voters have not been told. But the weak link in the chain of that policy lay on the Nepali side: the political masters of New Nepal did not have any substantial political connections in Delhi, they only had spook connections and they continued to listen to spooks instead of building political bridges with the new Indian masters. Sushil Koirala standing anew for prime minister (and losing) when he said he would not and Baburam Bhattarai suddenly quitting the Cash Maoist party he was instrumental in building seems to have told Modi that Nepali politicians have no political panache and are only capable of being dictated to by intelligence agency as pawns, and thus – says this hypothesis – so be it.
With this hypothesis is its twin, the mobilization of Nepal Army against Madhesi and Tharu agitators in all the 22 districts of Nepal prior to the promulgation of the constitution, something that had not been done even in the early days of the Maoist insurrection. Anti-communist as the BJP is, it frightens them that an UML-Maoist led government in Nepal, with a communist UML prime minister, home and defence ministers and president as well as Maoist speaker of parliament and former Maoist commander as vice-president, believers that they are in one-party dictatorship, could easily declare the current highly contradictory constitution unworkable and/or un-implementable, disband the parliament and impose indefinite military rule in Nepal. Now that is something the rest of us Nepalis have to genuinely worry about: it is not something for which Modi has to counterproductively declare an economic war against this poor, severely earthquake-damaged country.