Monday, June 28, 2010

Chicken Soup For The Meddling Soul

At times, the comparisons must be getting too uncomfortable for Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood. He enjoys nowhere near the power of his legendary predecessor, Chandreshwar Prasad Narayan Singh.
Okay, maybe he does. It’s just that Sood doesn’t monopolize matters the same way. For one thing, the Great Meddler didn’t have to contend with the Americans, Europeans or the Chinese.
Today politicians in power do everything to woo Sood to stay there. Those outside castigate him eternally. And those who want back in are more liable to see attacks on Sood and his establishment as the surest path to success.
The newspapers have been after him all along. Even supposedly friendly ones are at it now. The Indian government’s federal-state administrative rigmarole makes for a weird inspection procedures on newsprint and pretty much everything, but our aggrieved media house goes public – and gains sympathetic amplification
Sood is Nepal’s new king, the Wall Street Journal blog, "India Real Time", suggested the other day, quoting the sentiment of some journalists. “[Sood] can meet the prime minister anytime he wants and call the ministers and give directions,” one scribe from the affected newspaper was quoted as saying. “That’s far beyond what any normal diplomatic protocols allow.” As if that’s a privilege only the Indian ambassador enjoys these days.
The media house thinks India is paying back for having leaked Sood’s letter demanding that Nepal grant India the contract to print the machine-readable passports both for security and financial reasons. (What about the payback India expects for the 12-point agreement?)
It was reported that the Indian Embassy had had a hand in forcing a change of ownership in the said media house a couple of years ago. Perhaps the beneficiaries have been enticed and emboldened by far more powerful patrons? Again, all this may be a red herring for some real scoop in the days and weeks ahead. But the media, here, is merely a footnote in the larger story.
When news came in that Sood was being sent to Nepal instead of Jayant Prasad, the son of former ambassador Bimal Prasad, there was an air of anticipation. In Afghanistan, he was credited with ensuring the turnaround from an incorrigibly pro-Pakistan nation to one more conducive to India. An expert on disarmament, Sood’s tenure could have had special relevance in Nepal. He is among the few Indian deputy chiefs of mission who continue to be talked about in Washington.
Yet during his tenure, Nepal has slipped significantly – and certifiably – away from India’s orbit. Every time the American ambassador acknowledges China as an equal stakeholder in Nepal, Sood’s superiors must seethe at their man on the ground.
But His Excellency may draw some comfort from history. Some of his predecessors have risen to become foreign secretary, while others are still consulted for their expertise on the country. Given Sood’s uneasy ties with Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, it might be helpful to review C.P.N. Singh’s brush with B.P. Koirala.
“It is said openly in Katmandu that the ‘real ruler of Nepal today’ is Indian Ambassador Sir C. P. N. Singh,” The New York Times had reported on December 16, 1952. Indeed, B.P. Koirala was so upset about Singh’s behavior that he demanded his recall as a precondition to improved Nepal-India relations. B.P., of course, had a personal grudge. First, he saw Singh catapult an obscure man called Bhadrakali Mishra as a Nepali Congress member in the coalition cabinet led by Mohan Shamsher Rana.
Mishra instigated B.P. to quit the cabinet en masse on the ground that he would automatically be invited to lead a ‘homogenous” Nepali Congress government. Instead, King Tribhuvan asked Matrika Prasad Koirala. B.P. never forgave Singh for preventing him from becoming Nepal’s first post-Rana premier.
When the Nepali Congress won the first general election and King Mahendra showed no sign of inviting him to form the new government, B.P. had learned his lesson well. While seeking Jawaharlal Nehru’s intervention with the palace, B.P. was careful to display due deference to the then Indian ambassador. It worked.
When the Indians tried reminding B.P. of that “favor”, especially during his talks on his way to and from Israel, Koirala ascribed his position purely to the people’s mandate. (How Nepal’s political history may have evolved had Subarna Shamsher Rana become Nepal’s first elected premier, as many in the Nepali Congress had desired, is worthy of deeper analysis.)
C.P.N. Singh found that the exertions of office would not go unrewarded. Back home, he became governor of Punjab. As B.P. prepared to assume the premiership, Singh was serving as ambassador to Japan. Amid B.P.’s incarceration, exile and infirmity, Singh would go on to head the Reserve Bank of India and serve as governor of Uttar Pradesh.
As for the legacy of interference, Singh lives on through his daughter-in-law’s television broadcasts into Nepal. The odds are Sood will have his payback – with interest.