Sunday, May 25, 2008

‘Greater Nepal’ Or ‘Chindia’?

In our quest for emancipation, Nepalis surely didn’t expect to become inhabitants of a 21st-century equivalent of a trust territory. Especially not when the country got its first modern glimpse of the map of “Greater Nepal”. Yet “Chindia” could be what the future holds.
The United Nations Trusteeship Council, which was formed to ensure that non-self-governing territories were administered in the best interests of the inhabitants and of international peace and security, terminated its operation when Palau became a member of the world body in 1994.
The Nepali variant, administered by our two powerful neighbors for precisely the same reasons, is predicated on the departure of the UN Mission. That imperative, more than the empowerment of the Nepali people, was behind the urgency of holding the constituent assembly elections. China and India had resolved to deal with the poll outcome bilaterally. The Maoists and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum made this arrangement much easier.
The Americans were forced to explain how they never considered the Maoists to be another Al Qaeda. But, still, Washington can’t come out of a prickly watch-and-wait mood. The gaze must extend beyond our northern and southern flanks.
Did all that rhetoric about “Sikkimization”, “Bhutanization,” and “Fijification” turn out to be a ruse? “Chindia” came about at such a pace that it is pointless to argue over whether name predated the notion or vice versa.
China and India are not about to divvy up Nepal the way the victorious powers did Germany after World War II. Nor will they establish their respective zones of influence separated by the Mahabharat range. A joint commission on Nepal, if one ever materialized, would probably get a benign name within the larger mechanism governing Sino-Indian partnership.
So where does all this leave us? Within the confines of the Sino-Indian partnership, of course. Belatedly, Nepalis have come to recognize how the relationship between the world’s two most populous nations is underpinned by a complex mix of cooperation, competition and confrontation. With third parties out of the region, Beijing and Delhi can focus on their complementarities as well as conflicts.
Admittedly, Indian concerns over Chinese motives in South Asia have acquired greater candor in recent months. Still, the Indian establishment cannot criticize China the way it does the United States. The Indians, it seems, have taken that time-tested Chinese adage close to heart: It’s far easier to deal with the “distant barbarian”.
If the Indians were to sign on to a U.S.-led campaign to contain China, they know they would have to proceed with prudence. Amid India’s coalition politics, mainstream communist parties have ideological affinities that impede decisive action when it comes to China. New Delhi, moreover, knows the Chinese establishment is unlikely to have a wing beholden to, say, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The imponderables would influence our course. For now, Chindia has come to rest squarely on the Maoists. Prachanda’s decision to assume the premiership, reversing his pre-poll claim to the presidency, stemmed from these regional dynamics. Beijing obviously saw Dr. Baburam Bhattarai for what much of Nepal did: someone with close ties to India. And proximity, in an unequal partnership, tends to heighten susceptibility to pressure.
Clearly, depriving Dr. Bhattarai the opportunity to lead the government was not enough here. Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” have effectively checkmated Dr. Bhattarai in the party. This way, the Maoists believe they have bolstered their position to become agents of equidistance. The Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists, in their estimation, would be well advised to reconcile with this new reality.
Both, however, have a far greater grasp of geopolitics to sit back and let the Maoists run the show. Ideology as well as expediency could make it easier for UML to construct a northern wing. Considering Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s actions and utterances over the past two years, the Nepali Congress may be quite capable of springing a surprise or two.