The Modi ripples

Published On: June 6, 2019 01:00 AM NPT By: Narayan Manandhar

When two elephants make love, the Tibetans get squeezed out from India and, it will not be a matter of surprise if the problem is shifted to Nepal

Even before election results were officially out in India, there was a rush among Nepali politicians to congratulate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the victory of his party in the general elections. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Nepal Communist Party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, NCP leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and leader Ram Chandra Paudel and RPP chief Kamal Thapa all lined up to bestow a kind of palm greasing to please Modi. Such is the grace or disgrace of Nepali politicians. They are very much aware that without the blessings from the South it is near impossible to pursue their political career here. 

A small gathering of Modi fans even celebrated BJP’s victory by taking out a rally, sharing sweets and having a candle light dipawali in Birgunj. It is reported that Tarai-based political parties are particularly happy to see Modi’s return to power. If that is so they must be twice happy to see S Jaishankar inducted as India’s foreign minister. In the days to come, it will not be a surprise to Oli, if Samajbadi Party pulls out of the government. One can also read deceptive smiles in the faces of pro-Hindu fanatics. They are expecting BJP’s tacit support to restore Nepal as a Hindu state and with this they are expecting the unexpected—the return of the Hindu monarchy. This is the single reason why we are having high level decibel noises in the streets of Kathmandu, in the garb of religious, youth or civil society movements.  

It cannot be a sheer coincidence to have comrade Dahal reasserting himself as the PM in waiting, in a local TV program, on the very day Oli left for New Delhi to attend Modi’s oath-taking ceremony. There is a Nepali folklore seeking a link between cry of a jackal and chicken gone missing. A political analyst even doubted the program could be a planned move at the behest of India. Alternatively, it could be a subtle message transmitted to the south block before Oli seeks their rapport. Dahal’s statement has triggered a verbal duet between CPN double heads. Oli did not spare a moment to react to the statement right from New Delhi that too, in a satirical note saying his government is expected to fall, not within a year, but within few days. Upon his return, at the airport, otherwise media savvy PM did not even bother to have a press meet.  

Nakabandi to notebandi

During Modi’s first tenure, Nepal experienced a kind of political turmoil that had never been felt in the history of Nepal-India bilateral relations. First, there was nakabandi (unofficial blockade) just to be followed by notebandi (demonetization). If you say Nepal-India relations were at the lowest ebb during his tenure then Modi visited Nepal four times, almost a record number that no other Indian PM had ever made. Probably, following the love-hate relationship with India, it will not be unwise to say Modi is simultaneously projected as a hero and a villain in Nepal.           

With landslide victory, it is widely expected that this time Modi will be even more assertive and will take even more dramatic steps than he had during the first term. Many are expecting Indian politics to take a different turn during coming five years. The election itself was contested, not as parliamentary elections but as presidential elections—contested between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Writing in Aljazeera, Pragya Tiwari asserted “Indian democracy is not under threat merely because majoritarian forces are gaining ground. Majoritarian forces have gained ground because democracy has been under threat.” One can fairly imagine possible impacts of the majoritarian forces here in Nepal. With near total dependence of the economy and (also politics) on India, Nepal is poised for another round of political whirlwinds. 

Ripple effects

The first repercussion comes from bleak future of SAARC. Nepal, being the presiding chair plus housing a permanent SAARC secretariat, will definitely be dragged into Indo-Pakistan tensions. The news of the Nepal Police arresting three Pakistani citizens for carrying fake Indian currency notes with a face value of Rs 76.8 million at the Tribhuvan International Airport on May 25 could not be taken as an isolated incident. The news like these put Nepal into a difficult situation. PM Modi’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’ now extends far beyond SAARC. With the rising tensions in India-Pakistan relations, the future of SAARC is very much dark. Nepal now has to juggle between SAARC, BIMSTEC and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).    

The second repercussion in Nepal-India bilateral relations comes from the report prepared by the EPG that has been kept pending by Modi. There is a rumour that PM Modi is not happy with the report. If this is true, the report itself could be a bone of contention between two countries.   

Third, nationalism in Nepal is often equated as taking strong anti-India stand. This is the single reason why we are, knowingly or unknowingly, made to drift toward China. But with the rise of pro-nationalists in India, how pro-monarchists, pro-Hindu but with extreme anti-India sentiments are going to reconcile their interests with the rise of strong nationalist forces in India will be worth watching.   

Betting on Tibet

Fourth, as the saying goes, “when two elephants make love or fight it is the grass that gets trampled.” Same goes with China-India relations and its impact on Nepal. It is one thing for comrade Dahal to bluff that he is equally popular with Modi and President Xi Jinping. The reality is different. A kind of relations we seek from China is totally different from the kind of relations China seeks from us. Reopening of Tatopani border point, severely damaged by 2015 earthquakes, vindicates this fact. 

If China has any political interest in Nepal, it is with the Tibetan refugees. Recently, Aljazeera reported that there has been a dramatic reduction in Tibetan refugee population in India from 125,000 to 85,000. When two elephants make love, the Tibetans get squeezed out from India and, it will not be a matter of surprise if the problem is shifted to Nepal rather than to the US, Canada, Germany or Switzerland. Having just visited India and offered an invitation to Modi to visit Nepal for the fifth time, Oli must be contemplating a visit to China or eagerly waiting to receive President Xi in Nepal. But this is not going to solve his problems. The bombings by Biplav or the high decibel oppositional noises produced by the civil society members or insidious moves to split his recently unified party are not going to distract him. His distractions are of a different kind now. 

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