Friday, February 12, 2016

Carefully Planned Joint Operation?

Associated Press Photo
India’s border ‘blockade’ ended just the way it had started: without glitz. So the next logical question becomes: What difference did it make?
We’re no closer to a Madhes-friendlier Constitution. Heck, even many of the sponsors of the protests in the southern plains – a direct consequence of which was the ‘blockade’ – were surprised by the swiftness with which the barriers came down on the Raxaul-Birganj border.
One anonymous source was quick to lament how India ditched the Madhesis, who, he admitted, had taken responsibility for the closure to give cover to New Delhi. Perhaps it was no coincidence that news of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s joint audience to our southern protest leaders got more ink, paper and air time in India than on this side of the border.
Those braving on insist that the protests would continue until an inclusive Constitution is achieved. Fine and dandy. But with the protest leaders’ credibility in tatters, that’s a tall order. In C.K. Raut, New Delhi has found someone more attractive to hobnob with and taken the game to a new level.
That’s why Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli avoids exuding any kind of triumphalism, despite his defiance during the early days of the crisis. Sushil Koirala’s death may have provided the public platform for the Indians to show that everything was fine all along in its relations with Nepal. Still, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj brief condolence visit – at the head of an all-party delegation – will have to be read in ways other than the most direct, if any significant meaning is to be derived vis-à-vis events that might be unfolding. After all, our prime minister still insists that he will do everything to ensure that Nepal would not have to hang its head in shame during his upcoming official visit to India.
With the bar set so low, a point made from the outset in this space becomes relevant. Was the Indian ‘blockade’ a carefully planned and meticulously executed joint operation intended primarily to call China’s bluff in Nepal?
Until 2006, Nepal was accused of flaunting the ‘China card’ so vulgarly that the supposed wielder – the monarchy – had to be dispensed with. Republicanism, however, ended up giving the Chinese greater foothold here. Worse, Beijing seemed to be laughing out the loudest. That in-your-face brashness from the normally reticent mandarins was uncharacteristic against the backdrop of a republican regime in Nepal driven by New Delhi on the backs of mostly pro-Indian political forces. In muted whispers, Nepali politicians, in an out of office, could be heard sharing their exasperation with the exigencies of engaging with assertive interlocutors up north averse to making any real concessions. What were the Chinese really up to, the Indians must have wondered?
It was time for both New Delhi and Kathmandu to find out. Well, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist leader Rabindra Adhikari summed it up best: “A quake-ravaged country faced blockades from the south, north at the same time.”
China, Adhikari pointed out, did not bother to reopen Tatopani when it was clear that delivering aid through Kerung was impossible given the lack of infrastructure there. Beijing, Adhikari went on, probably buckled under Indian pressure and stopped short of providing all possible help to Nepal.
Evidently, Adhikari is being charitable. Bahadur Shah, Bhimsen Thapa, Chandra Shamsher Rana and Birendra Shah all went through the frustration Gyanendra Shah and Pushpa Kamal Dahal continue to feel.
If the Chinese have anything up their sleeve in response to the latest turn of events, it has to be something better than reunification of the Dahal and Mohan Baidya Maoists.