Saturday, July 26, 2014

Between Babudom And Netaland

After obliquely chiding us – for all of a day – that he might have no time to visit Nepal immediately, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is officially slated to come calling early next month.
Although the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government finds itself mired in controversy over New Delhi’s latest proposals on harnessing our waters, Modi himself is the beneficiary of the doubt. It probably took a day for the man to realize that.
Those proposals, which are perceived to tighten India’s already asphyxiating grip on us, were purportedly drawn up and communicated during the fag end of the Manmohan Singh government. Moreover, as former water resources minister and engineer Dipak Gyawali suggested in a recent TV interview, the entire episode – its secrecy as well as revelation – may be a plot by India’s bureaucratic establishment to subvert any positive thrust Modi might be contemplating vis-à-vis relations with Nepal.
Gyawali concedes that his apprehensions might turn out to be nothing more than political conjecture. Surely, events will have the ultimate say there. But, Maila Baje wonders, can we afford to wait?
The Indian bureaucracy will zealously guard its ‘privilege’ to conduct relations with Nepal, which a cursory examination of recent Indian commentary reveals. Those cautioning Prime Minister Modi against listening to anyone besides the architects of the post-April 2006 framework invariably happen to be ex-babus institutionally or individually involved in the process. Particularly apprehensive at this juncture are elements once associated with India’s intelligence agencies, today populating academia and other ‘non-government’ perches.
By now, Nepalis recognize that we are living under the post-monarchy vision the Research and Analysis Wing began framing in the 1960s. It took a while for the spooks to persuade their political bosses that the palace was the problem, as far as India was concerned. The bureaucracy salivated at the prospect of widening its jurisdiction. The halfhearted faith of the Indian political class in babudom’s prescription has been evident from the outset.
The successor regime in Nepal has not proven itself capable to correct the purported flaws of the palace. It’s not just that Nepal has failed to fall in line. Too many bidders with too deep pockets are proliferating from all directions all the time.
RAW and its narrow band of benefactors, struggling for a success story after Bangladesh and Sikkim receded into the background, are intent on making sure this process lingers on. At some point, as they see it, the collective will of the Nepali nation must succumb.
The political class in India, who enjoyed the respite provided by babudom on a vital frontier as they articulated their great-power aspirations, has a different psychology. True, they don’t want to know the details of covert operations as long as the analytical and operational players produce the right results. But they certainly don’t want to have to clean up the mess in full public glare.
The former monarch, who has bucked the chronological record of his ancestors, cannot be expected to keep doing so forever. His son has publicly ruled himself out of the succession, thus sparing the people much disquiet. The grandson is still too young to be anointed the royal successor in a way that would carry much meaning in either side of the debate.
Normally, this should be something worrying Nepali royalists. But you get a sense that the architects of our destiny down south are more petrified. The restoration of the monarchy is a prospect that lives on in Nepal not because of some nefarious design of the disempowered royals and courtiers. It does so because of the inability of the successor regime to establish itself as a viable successor amid Nepal’s geostrategic precariousness. RAW officers – current or former – already have a fair idea of what they are up against here. When direct beneficiaries of India’s covert policies – such as our Maoists – begin demanding that Indian politicians should drive their country’s policies toward Nepal, you can imagine the extent of the babus’ collective mortification.