Thursday, April 05, 2012

Majesty Of Meddle And Muddle

Two dramatically divergent Indian expositions of New Delhi’s approach, attitude and outlook on Nepal were on full public display this week.
Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad affirmed a steadfast policy of non-interference. “India and Nepal are equal and sovereign states, and in keeping with the spirit of non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs, India does not have preferred electoral outcomes, preferred ruling arrangements or favourites among political parties,” the ambassador said in his address to a seminar.
Professor Sukh Deo Muni, a veteran Indian scholar on Nepal, gave a sharply contrasting view. Diving straight into a subject of current curiosity, Muni emphatically ruled out the possibility of the restoration of the monarchy. With far greater confidence, Muni predicted that a new constitution – in one form or the other – would be promulgated within the May 27 deadline.
Ambassador Prasad’s remarks do not merit too much space here. As his country’s top diplomat in Nepal, he could have said little else on such an emotive issue for Nepalis.
At one level, Professor Muni’s assertion, too, should not arouse too much attention. By most accounts, he was among the prime drivers on his side of the border of our 2006 political change. As such, he could scarcely acknowledge the failure of that enterprise.
Muni has spent a lifetime studying and explaining Nepal. There was a time he could be seen spending hours in and around Panchayat-era official media institutions, where many chiefs complained of being badgered by his incessant albeit probing inquiries. For some, it became natural to wonder whether there might have been more than met the eye to his role as an academic.
Years later, when Muni ended up serving as India’s ambassador to Laos, there were many Nepalis who speculated on the many calculations that might have gone on in avoiding his posting in Kathmandu.
Muni’s views on the Nepalese monarchy have changed with the times. His chapter “The Dynamics of Foreign Policy” in Nepal: An Assertive Monarchy, published in 1977, paid glowing tribute to King Mahendra’s practical achievements on the front, while recognizing the “evolutionary” contributions of B.P. Koirala.
In his 2009 book, India’s Foreign Policy: The Democracy Dimension, Muni gives a candid account of how India sought to overcome its monarchy-versus-Maoist dilemma, influenced no doubt by his own advocacy of turn Indian policy subsequently took. (One does sense in some of Muni’s recent pronouncements an abiding personal admiration for King Mahendra.)
In period since April 2006, Maila Baje understands that Muni has been under much pressure from powerful quarters in his country to explain how his analyses and assertions about the Maoists, particularly vis-à-vis their attitudes toward New Delhi, could have been so off base. In a sense, this is a do-or-die time for him.
The hubris with which he approached his mission this week has been breathtaking. He invoked the Indian government, bureaucracy and the people in opposing the restoration of the monarchy, almost expropriating to himself supernatural powers that even his mystical surname would barely entitle him to.
Apparently, Muni seems to know everything that transpired during the latest series of meetings between former king Gyanendra Shah and Indian leaders. Essentially, he seems to have read the mind of every personality and institution involved in every level of official deliberation on Nepal. And he seems to have read the mind of every Indian, religious, secular, culturally attuned or strategically minded. Indeed, whether the monarchy will ever be restored in Nepal is something that the country’s own domestic realities and its geo-strategic imperatives will determine – something the former king as well as the people fully understand.
What tops everything, however, is Muni’s assertion that a constitution of some kind will be promulgated within the deadline. That might be the case, but to what effect? At a superficial level, it would vindicate the stand taken by Muni and his ilk. But a constitution delegitimized by a dubious process unable to address an expanding sense of real and manufactured victimhood can hardly be to the benefit of Nepal or its neighborhood.
It is perhaps this realization deep down that explains Muni’s harsh words for our current political leadership.