Sunday, March 09, 2014

Last On The List But Still…

Having been rubbished after they first surfaced a couple of weeks ago, there is renewed talk that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may visit Nepal soon.
Before dwelling any further on the matter, Maila Baje thinks it would be worthwhile to paraphrase S.D. Muni, who recently contended that India’s Nepal policy has not always been the outcome of rational choices but of its interests which, at any given point in time, is shaped by the balance of forces among multiple stakeholders whose positions are often mutually incomprehensive.
Within those parameters, it may just be that Singh’s travel intentions hit a wall somewhere and someone just jumped the gun. Then others jumped in to keep the hope alive.
There is much to commend for a Singh visit. A luminary in the annals of Indian premiership, Singh is the only full-term head of government of his country not to have arrived here. (It’s doubly vexing that he has avoided us during his two consecutive terms.)
For many Nepalis, Singh has been the driver of our political changes. How much the Indian prime minister was really involved in the day-to-day policy making on Nepal remains unclear. His own role in the transformation of Nepal from a monarchy to a republic is murkier. The bet India placed on the mainstreaming of the Maoists seems to have paid off, especially after the second constituent assembly election.
To be sure, there are some in the Indian establishment who want to see state-to-state relations between India and Nepal further erode and would hope Singh stayed away for that precise purpose. Then, there are others who favor a restoration of a more traditional relationship with Nepal, perhaps even the kind that existed with Singh’s arrival at the helm.
Clearly, India’s Nepal policy, much like Nepal’s own political evolution, remains in a state of flux. Still, from the cacophony illustrated by Muni, Singh has been able to craft a policy coherent enough to be implemented by Nepalis.
Doubtless, Singh’s successor will retain the ability to shape events in Nepal – both in perception and reality. Whether he/she will be able to do so with similar elan remains in the realm of the unknown. Soft spoken yet erudite, Newsweek once described Singh as “the leader other leaders love”. Forbes said he was “universally praised as India’s best prime minister since Nehru”.
For all the praise, Singh has been castigated for being “weak”, a “puppet” and even a mere “seat-warmer”. Still, it’s hard to deny that he has earned a special place in the hearts and minds of many Nepalis. As finance minister, Singh epitomized India’s emergence as a rising economic power. Then, as prime minister, he capped India’s advent as a strategic partner of the sole superpower. In recent years, Singh has managed to all that without alienating the other Asian giant. If Singh’s successors manage to stay the course, Nepal, India and China might just be able to do business together.
For a country whose prime minister is expected to make India his/her first foreign destination, it is surely galling that India’s head of government should make Nepal his last. But, then, look at the upside. Singh would find it hard to erase the memories of his last foreign trip in power, wouldn’t he? When your guest has such lasting memories – if little else – you have shown yourself to be a good host. Now, don’t say that doesn’t feel good.