Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dignity As A Diplomat’s Refuge

In his agonizingly belated response to allegations of New Delhi’s mounting interference in Nepalese affairs, Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood put up a fascinating defense. “I will not dignify the question with an answer,” he told a Kathmandu-based Indian reporter.
The question related to the claim by Chandra Prakash Mainali, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist, that the Maoists’ last-minute decision to break a pact with the communists to propose Ram Raja Prasad Singh as president had come under Indian pressure. That, of course, was before the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) broke its deal with the Maoists to support the Nepali Congress’ Ram Baran Yadav for the highest office of the land.
Mainali claimed that the Maoists had nominated Singh under pressure from India, which had become disenchanted with Koirala. Koirala had realized that India was trying to turn him into another Lhendup Dorji, who as prime minister of Sikkim played a key role in the merger of the Himalayan nation with India, according to Mainali. Once Koirala began to resist New Delhi’s pressure, he was no longer acceptable.
Sood’s rejoinder was bound to be viewed in the context of India’s predominance in charting Nepal’s future after the collapse of the royal regime in April 2006. His predecessor, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, had made Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s official residence virtually his second home.
Mukherjee was rewarded for his accomplishments in Nepal with ambassadorship to Britain despite unsavory allegations swirling around his spouse, which the Nepalese media considered too scorching to cover. Still, Mukherjee’s tenure paled in comparison to that of his immediate predecessor Shyam Saran, who subsequently superseded 10 people to become foreign secretary.
Sood’s persona preceded him to Kathmandu. His nomination hit the headlines after months of speculation that Jayant Prasad was getting the job. Prasad, the son of another controversial Indian ambassador, Bimal Prasad, would have set a record in his own right. But Sood’s resume seemed more compelling in view of the task at hand.
Having wrested Afghanistan out of Pakistan’s sphere of influence, Sood assertively landed in Kathmandu with a brief to score an encore. He blew his horn a little too stridently. Even before presenting his credentials to Prime Minister Koirala, Sood embarked on a series of high-profile meetings with Nepalese politicians.
He must have gathered from his briefing books, that, as far as straight talk vis-à-vis the Indians goes, Mainali is a class of his own. He criticized the November 2005 12-point pact between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists. Weeks later, he said his concern was only over some “procedural matters” and then pledged full support to the accord.
Months later, Mainali accused the Indian establishment for flaring up the Terai crisis, claiming that the top representative at the Indian Consulate in Birgunj was personally disbursing millions. The Indians did not have a Nepal policy, he went on. They just wanted concessions from Nepal and were using the Terai crisis as a bargaining chip.
A couple of months later, Mainali excoriated ruling alliance leaders for allowing the Nepali Congress’ Amresh Kumar Singh to attend a meeting. Singh, who shot to prominence after the fall of the royal regime, remains the modern-day avatar of Bhadrakali Mishra. Mishra, it may be recalled, arrived from almost nowhere to join the Rana-Nepali Congress government in 1951 and ended up alienating almost every party and politician well into the 1990s through his southward proclivities.
With this record of intrusiveness, what else but dignity could Sood have invoked to deflect the issue?