Sunday, August 16, 2015

Broader Import Of A Cross-Border Tale

Philosophically, Anil Jha hit the hammer on the nail. Okay, sort of.
India would be solely responsible if the putative Constitution of Nepal did not guarantee rights to the country’s Madhesi population, the chairman of Nepal Sadbhavana Party told a recent programme organized by the Sitamadi Media for Border Harmony across the southern border in Bihar.
Speaking on the topic “New Constitution for Nepal and State of Relations between India and Nepal”, the former minister accused India of being nonchalant towards the plight of our Madhesi population.
Now, that would be news to most non-denizens of the region. But, then, who are we to know, right? “We are aware that India has great stakes in Nepal,” published reports quoted Jha as telling the attendees. “India’s say holds greater importance in Nepal. What [India] wants happens in Nepal.”
Nothing earth-shattering in those assertions. The refrain has had a menacing echo since 1950, if not before. However, Jha’s critics imply that he brazenly invited India’s intervention at a time of such prodigious political fluidity here.
But, pray, haven’t we already crossed that bridge? The 12-Point Agreement India forged between the mainstream parties and the Maoists in New Delhi in November 2005 and its copious offspring have precipitated an eight-year-long experiment that only its architects and signatories see as having continuing relevance. Thus, the show must go on.
Collectively, every Nepali should hold India responsible for our mess. According to the Pottery Barn rule, which Colin Powell famously invoked before George W. Bush on the consequences of his planned military action in Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” If everything is stuck on federalism, secularism and republicanism, then let the architect take care. 
Which begs the deeper question. Was Jha, by narrowing India’s culpability to a region, providing India cover? After all, we don’t really know where New Delhi really stands on the post-quake agreement that paved the way for the apparent breakthrough our leaders have been touting every day.
Add to the above the fact that the full geopolitical import of the Lipu-Lekh controversy has yet to emerge. Although Nepalis initially seemed annoyed by China’s sudden propensity to emulate India and play territorial mischief in Nepal, anti-Beijing sentiments have not spiraled to levels many in New Delhi must have expected.
Instead, there seems to be some realization that China, by that agreement signed during Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi’s visit, might have succeeded in inserting itself as a legitimate party in Nepal’s territorial disputes. Given Beijing’s growing assertiveness in Afghanistan following the drawdown of the American military – and Beijing’s unexpected lack of inhibition in publicly asserting its interests in that landlocked state – Nepalis could be in for a new kind of tripartite political compromise.
For that to happen, though, we need the current experiment to run its course. Meanwhile, it would be imprudent to dismiss the comments Jha made in Sitamadi at a forum avowedly linked to border harmony.