Sunday, August 25, 2013

Perils of Trust Sans Verification

BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad
In seeking to defend his country against allegations of malevolent interference in Nepal, did a top visiting Indian dignitary end up confirming that the ostensibly pro-monarchy Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government actually conspired with the Nepali Maoists to turn the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic?
Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Chandra Prakash Mainali of Nepal Communist Party-Marxist Leninist – representatives of opposite poles in Nepali politics – raised the clandestine Maoist-New Delhi relationship during an interaction with Ravi Shankar Prasad, a leader of the BJP, in Kathmandu the other day.
A visibly exasperated Prasad countered: “What is the harm if peace prevails in Nepal and the terrorists accept the democratic setup?” Nothing indeed, if the Indian government had been upfront about it all along.
In reality, the myth that the BJP was solidly behind the monarchy was demolished long before the Maoist-New Delhi concord. (The Maoists, under the terms of the understanding, pledged to keep their anti-Indian rhetoric limited to that, while New Delhi continued to offer safe haven and covert political and diplomatic support to the rebels.)
True, the BJP-led government had invited King Birendra as the chief guest to India’s Republic Day celebrations in 1999. This gesture, it was felt by some Nepalis at the time, underscored India’s final acceptance of Nepal as a full and sovereign nation. Yet those making that claim conveniently forgot that Bhutan’s monarch had already been an invitee.
It was under BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that India’s intelligence agents leaked a report that Nepal had become a virtual Pakistani proxy in the latter’s undeclared war on India. Then came allegations that Queen Aishwarya somehow had a role in the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
After the 1999 Christmas eve hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi led to an embarrassing denouement in Kabul, where the Indian foreign minister personally escorted the captives the hijackers demanded New Delhi free, India stepped up all manner of pressure on Nepal.
And there was the biggie: the Narayanhity massacre of 2001. The initial Indian media reports, Maila Baje recalls, suggested that were that there were no surviving claimants to the throne (Prince Gyanendra, too, having been killed in the gathering). CNN and the western media, however, insisted that Prince Gyanendra was very much alive to provide continuity to the monarchy.
Reports circulating then had it that the American and British ambassadors, along with Prince Gyanendra, had proceeded to Pokhara from their scheduled trip to Chitwan after bidding goodbye to their fellow sojourner, the Indian ambassador, who returned to Kathmandu, oblivious of the Pokhara excursion.
The Maoists, who the Indian media had suggested had been poised to take over Narayanhity, then disappeared among the mourners. If India was angered by the western plot, it was likely to see the Maoists as its newfound ally. (Much would emerge from any future memoir by RAW operative Ravindra Singh, who later defected to the United States, but that seems a long shot.)
Nepal’s entire subsequent saga thus could be understood as the trials of a monarch who was not exactly power-hungry but confounded by the wider machinations under way down south. The precise extent of King Gyanendra’s awareness of these maneuverings, while not entirely known, can be appraised by his interviews with Indian journalists before and during his first state visit to India in June 2002 – the same period the Maoist-New Delhi understanding is said to have been reached.
That the BJP should be accused of such villainy by a perennially irate neighbor is probably a badge of honor for a party hoping to spring back to power next year. For us, the chronicle reinforces the perils of trust without verification.