Sunday, November 29, 2015

The China Ca(na)rd

A distinctive feature of this year’s Indian economic ‘blockade’ is the sternness of Nepal’s reaction. The sitting prime minister and his principal deputies are becoming ever more creative and caustic in chiding New Delhi’s neo-imperial ways.
Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who, like party chief and premier Khadga Prasad Oli, has long been considered overtly India-friendly, sounds very much like he has defected to the extreme fringes of the left.
For his part, Maoist head honcho Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been conspicuous by his reticence in criticizing India, perhaps owing to the lessons he learned the hard way circa 2009. Yet his lieutenants in power and outside alike have reverted to the People’s War-era vilification of the Indians.
Nepal, moreover, has been strident in internationalizing the unjustness of the ‘blockade’ and its calamitous fallout, although nowhere akin to the Palestinians’ successes vis-à-vis the Israelis. Just the other day, Nepali armed police personnel arrested over a dozen Indian border guards entering our territory and made much about that before releasing them. That’s called progress.
From official pronouncements and public anticipation alike, the substitution of India by China as Nepal’s most important economic partner seems to have acquired national urgency.
This brings us to the other side of the story, which Maila Baje thinks is more gripping.
There is palpable nonchalance in India’s response to Nepal’s flashing of the ‘China card’ this time. Sure, there is some wailing across the southern border over how the Hindu nationalist government has pushed Nepal into China’s arms.
Much of the bellyaching, however, is restricted to the Indian media, which, if you can read the stitches on a fastball, is aimed at providing cover to the actions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The Indian opposition, too, has been making noises. But, then, they are in dire need of an issue.
Ambassadors of third countries in Kathmandu voice concern over the suffering caused by India’s actions. But when Modi issues joint statements during visits abroad and Nepal is featured, his hosts tend to agree with New Delhi as far as our Constitution goes. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, too, sounds a little flustered these days. The humanitarian situation in Nepal is a source of legitimate international concern, but so is the issue of inclusion. The responsibility to protect comes as a package deal.
All this must have induced the mandarins up north to squirm a bit. For them, Nepal has long served as a playground where they can irritate India at relatively low cost. When it’s show time, they have always advised us to remain in India’s good books. A one-time grant of petrol, arms to crush the Maoist rebels, 600 sacks of salt – we know the drill.
Can there be any doubt that Beijing is more anxious to prevent New Delhi from embarking on its own journey to the West, amid the United States’ pivot to Asia? Containment, encirclement, call it what you will, the barbarians must be kept at a distance. More importantly, they must not be allowed to join hands.
For Nepal, though, this episode has intrinsic redeeming value. While the south has long denigrated our assertions of national sovereignty as a brazen display of the ‘China card’, the north has left us wilting in the winds.
Let’s look at it this way: If the Chinese this time put their money where their mouth is, well, fine and dandy. If the ‘China card’ finally collapses, what have we got to lose? Our southern neighbor and friends farther afield would be forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of what we say and do as a sovereign nation and people.