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Informal Visit Of Indian Foreign Minister

Issue February 2018

Informal Visit Of Indian Foreign Minister

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


“Don’t anticipate right results doing wrong.”


Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj flew in on Thursday, February 1, 2018, and flew back on Friday, February 2, 2018 spending an overnight in Kathmandu, and completing the fast-track talks with the political leaders, the prime minister, and the president. Why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi needed to send his foreign minister and have talks with the leaders in Nepal just before a new set of ministers is taking over the power from the caretaker government of Sher Bahadur Deuba is the question widely asked in the Nepalese media? The simple and quick answer is Modi wants to keep Nepal with the Indian sphere of influence as it has been in the past. The prime-minister-in-waiting KP Oli in the past as the prime minister of the nine-month-term government had practically broken up the Indian influence for a short period strongly standing up to the heavy hand of Modi in imposing the merciless blockade trying to suffocate Oli and the almost 30 million Nepalese in 2015. Thanks to the Oli’s strong stand on the Indian bully, his party and Oli have a success in getting the first majority party in provinces and at the center. In a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, India congratulated Nepal for successfully holding the elections, and hope these elections will be the milestones in the development of democracy and in having political stability.


As it was an informal visit, India did not need to receive any formal invitation, and so needed not to keep up the protocol of going through the foreign ministry. So, only, Minister of State Udaya Shumsher and Indian ambassador in Kathmandu went to receive Sushma Swaraj at the international airport in Kathmandu. It does not make sense to make voices against not having the presence of the officials of the foreign ministry while the Indian foreign minister had talks with the Nepalese political leaders. It also was not the slap on the Prime Minister Deuba holding the portfolio of foreign minister, as some political analysts like to portrait. So, the visit of Swaraj was perfectly well done and probably she achieved what she had to.


Swaraj’s rather her boss Modi’s main concern has been the possibility of losing Nepal from its grip; in the political science, it is called the ‘sphere of influence’. The unwise decision of Modi to teach the then Prime Minister KP Oli one or more political lessons imposing blockade on Nepal practically for choking Oli obviously for forcing him to agree on the amendment to the newly promulgate Constitution of Nepal in 2015 to suit the needs of the Madheshi leaders had pushed Nepal almost out of the Indian ‘sphere of influence’ inviting the strong influence of the northern brother, and failing in the Modi’s foreign policy in the region, as Nepalese and Oli survived the Modi’s embargo for almost five months. Thus, Modi learned a good lesson than teaching Oli a one.


After the provincial and federal elections, the Left Alliance emerged as the majority seat winner in both the provinces and at the center, Indian Prime Minister Modi immediately made a telephone call to Oli and Prachanda and congratulated them for the success in the elections and even Prime Minister Deuba for successfully holding the elections even though the Deuba’s party had disastrously got defeated in the elections. Modi even made a provisional invitation to Oli stating, “I would like to see you as a prime minister as soon as possible in New Delhi.” A few days ago, Modi also made a telephone call to Oli and repeated his desire for seeing Oli as a prime minister in New Delhi.


Probably, the direct call of Modi did not make any dent on the mind of Oli. So, he needed to send his Foreign Minister Swaraj to Nepal to have direct talks with Oli. Modi’s concern was that if he were to lose Oli from his grip Modi might need to face China on the border as he has been doing now in Doklam at the border between Bhutan and China where the border forces of each country has been facing each other. India could send its border force to face the Chinese without even informing the Bhutanese administration following the agreement India has with Bhutan. The Bhutanese administration could not have the diplomatic relation with China without the consent of India.


Even today while Swaraj was in Kathmandu, the Chinese ambassador in Nepal was traveling along the southern border area in Nepal. Some news and views on the social media ‘facebook’ had even stated that China would not tolerate Indian encroaching on the Nepalese territory, the Indian encroaching on the Nepalese territory has been widely reported in the Nepalese media, and even Prime Minister Deuba had said to the group presenting the memo to him against the Indian encroaching on the Nepalese territory that he would not allow anybody to encroach on even an inch of the Nepalese territory.


However, none of the Nepalese leaders including the prime minister did not think it right to talk about the media reports on the Indian encroaching on the Nepalese territory. Even the prime minister that did say that he would not allow anybody to encroach on even an inch of the Nepalese territory did not say anything about it to the Indian Foreign Minister Swaraj when he held talks with her at his Baluwatar official residence in Kathmandu. All the concerned Nepalese State officials except for the public and the media have opted not to talk about the border issue, which must be the first great achievement of Swaraj to keep Nepal in the India’s tight grip.


After NC and its president also Prime Minister Deuba lost the provincial and federal elections, India has no option but to court Oli and his colleague Prachanda to keep its grip on Nepal. As long as NC and its leaders are in power India has no problem of losing Nepal from its grip. They are faithful to India very much as NC’s birthplace is India, and its founding fathers were educated in India and even some of them participated in the “Quit India” movement in 1940s.


Whenever NC leaders were in power they heavily favor India often ignoring the northern neighbor China. Recently, the media reports have it that the Chinese have complained that the Deuba administration has not shown any interest in the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway. Not long ago, the Chinese team had made a quick pre-feasibility survey on the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway, Kathmandu-Pokhara, and Pokhara-Lumbini; thereafter the Nepalese administration has ignored to contact the Chinese administration for any follow-on work.


Strong and life-long anti-Indian politician Narayan Man Bijukchhe has charged the Deuba government with letting India encroach on the Nepalese territory. He has said that whenever the NC leaders came to power India always encroached on the Nepalese territory. He has been speaking about the current media report on the India encroaching on the Nepalese territory.


In response to the invitation India sent to Nepal for participating in the BRICS meeting as an observer, when the then Prime Minister Prachanda sent NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba to participate as an observe in the BRICS meeting held in Goa, India in 2016, Deuba did not miss to attend a meeting in which the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile was present provoking the strong reaction of the Chinese government to it. Then, Dr Ram Sharan Mahat said that the picture of Deuba sitting in the same row as of the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile was photo-shopped.


In 1990 when Girija Prasad Koirala came to power as an elected prime minister after the reinstatement of democracy ending the despotic panchayat rule, his administration sold and liquidated the Chinese-aided factories and companies. His administration liquidated the Kathmandu-Bhaktapur trolley bus service, sold the Bansbari Leather and Shoe Factory, Harisiddhi Brick and Tile Factory, Bhaktapur Brick Factory and so on in the name of the economic liberalization causing tremendous loss to the State and losing a large number of jobs in the country. All these factories are made with the Chinese grant for the people of Nepal.


Chairman of CPN-UML KP Oli graciously met with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj immediately after her arrival in Kathmandu. His fellow party leaders such as Ishwor Pokharel and others accompanied Oli to meet with Swaraj. Oli and Swaraj also held one-on-one meeting, too for about 45 minutes. What they have talked about did not leaked to the media, yet. Oli also held a reception in honor of Swaraj in the evening. She did not have a chance to meet with former prime ministers and CPN-UML leaders such as Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal.


Next day, Swaraj met with Chairman of CPN-Maoist-Center and had one-on-one talks for about 45 minutes, and then she went on meeting with the prime minister, and the president. Those meetings were more formalities than for any concrete results. So, naturally they talked about strengthening the Nepal-India relations. They were rather courtesy calls, and meetings. Swaraj also met with the Madheshi leaders of Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, and Federal Social Forum Nepal.


Deputy Prime Minister also Chairman of one of the Rastriya Prajatantra Parties Kamal Thapa did not have a chance of meeting with Swaraj this time. The media reports stated that Thapa boycotted a reception held in honor of Swaraj in order to avoid seeing Swaraj but it is highly likely that Swaraj did not bother to meet him as the Thapa’s party has been left disgustingly insignificant after the provincial and federal elections.


The Indian establishment had always bullied the Nepalese leaders in the past.


When the then king Birendra had a little conflict with the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, India closed all the border entries except one causing tremendous sufferings to the Nepalese. The then Prime Minister Marich Man Singh had to bring fossil fuel by planes in 1980s. Reportedly, Rajiv had told Birendra, “If you lose your crown you will lose it forever. If I lose my position I can come back.”


Rajiv’s mother also Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had bullied the then Prime Minister Kritinidhi Bista to report her what he had talked to the Chinese authorities when he visited China in 1960s. Prime Minister Bista removed the Indian Police force from the northern border points in Nepal.


India built the hilly highway linking Kathmandu with the Nepalese border town Birgunj in the late 1950s requiring a whole day to travel from Kathmandu to Birgunj despite Nepal already having the blueprint for the short distant and fast track highway between Kathmandu and Hetauda.


Some people on both sides of the border between Nepal and India like to say Nepal and India have brotherly and sisterly relations, culturally and religiously tied together forgetting Nepal have the similar relations with the northern neighbor, too. Nepalese in the north have the similar culture and religious ties with the people living across the border to the north. The language they speak, the religion they follow, and the custom and culture they have are similar. So, Nepalese have equally good religious, cultural and social affinity with both the northern and southern neighbors.


Indian Prime Minister Modi must have sent his foreign minister to Nepal for soothing the Nepalese leaders that have been belligerent to each other particularly the prime minister and the Madheshi leaders with KP Oli that had been deadly against amending the constitution to suit the Madheshi leaders. Political disturbances in the neighboring country are not in the interest of India. So, Modi must be very concerned with it on top of the possibility of Oli facing to the north, and making China to have more influence on Nepal than India.


Oli with the support of the Madheshi leaders could have the two-thirds majority in the parliament to amend the constitution. So, for Oli it is not a big deal to have the two-thirds majority required for amending the constitution. So far, Oil has not discarded the head-on confrontation with the Madheshi leaders. Whether Oli would be flexible about amending the constitution after the visit of the Indian foreign minister remains to be seen.


Another reason why Swaraj came to Nepal might be to enforce the Indian strategy of disgracing the Nepalese top leaders and then making them vulnerable to the Indian dictation diplomatically called advices. Whether Oli will be caught in this snare the Indian establishment has set up remains to be seen.


Oli’s mission as a prime minister should be to keep Nepal as independent as possible balancing the influence of both the neighbors. Oli could do so opening the road and railway route and trade route through the territory of the northern neighbor to make Nepal not entirely dependence on the southern neighbor only. To this end, Nepal needs to open as many border entries on the northern border, and to expedite the railway and road link with the northern neighbor.


In addition, Oli needs to open up Nepal for the Chinese investment much more than Nepal has today. Nepal has Indian vegetable vendors, fruits vendors, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers and so on. Nepal could not expect to have Chinese in these occupations but Nepal could have Chinese traders and storeowners and so on.


Even the international community has accepted Nepal is in the sphere of influence of India. So, the international community did not speak out against the Indian sanctions imposed on Nepal in 2015 even though about 30 million Nepalese suffered from the shortage of fuels, foods and medicines, and Nepal lost the opportunity of making the economic progress for that year. Only USA did speak out mildly after a few months.


Oli needs to save Nepal from any such situations that might occur when the Indian establishment is displeased with Nepal for one reason or another.


Oli is apparently moving downhill because of his reportedly weak stand on the Nepal-India relations as reported in the local media websites. Oli has apparently invited Swaraj to visit Nepal for more detailed talks when he had a telephone conversation with Modi, the news on stated on February 3, 2018. The news on stated that Oli has apologize to Swaraj for what has happened in the past whereas according to the news on, Swaraj has said to Oli, “Let us learn from the past events.” Thus, Oli has been squeezed.


Oli did not participate in the Republic Day ceremony held at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu on January 26, 2017 rather he went to Pokhara to attend a local event. Up until then Oli’s stand on India had been strong enough for the voters to support his party and him, too but his subsequent activities and what the news on and have stated are true then Oli has abandoned his strong stand on India and then probably, he would be another pro-India politician.


After the return of its Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj from Nepal, the Ministry of External Affairs, India in a statement issued in New Delhi has congratulated Nepal for successfully holding the local elections, provincial and federal elections, and expressed its confidence in that these elections will be the milestones in the development of democracy and political stability, the news published in “gorkhapatra” on February 4, 2018 stated.


February 4, 2018

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