Despite the much vaunted ‘familial’ relationship with Nepal, that country does not figure high in the Indian psyche. This means that, except for those who have had occasion to visit that country (it has rapidly become less of a tourism attraction over the past several years), there is little understanding of what has happened there over the past many years. The murder of the ruling family, the abolition of monarchy, the changed status from a ‘Hindu’ to a ‘secular’ country, the Maoist insurgency, the central role being taken by communists in national politics have not been able to overcome the general Indian’s attitude of judging that country on the basis of the ‘Nepali’ they know in everyday life – staunchly loyal, hard working, fun-loving and reputedly courageous – even if he is actually an Indian! So, Nepal has been taken somewhat for granted.
Unfortunately, that small and diverse country has become over the years the playground for big power politics directed at India. Pakistan has notoriously used it as a transition point for its terror campaign, while China has usurped its way into the politics with its largesse in the form of development schemes, trade and financial support. Nepalese governments, even those that have been temperamentally pro-India, have been happy to play the China card. The Madhesi troubles have also led to alienation of the ordinary Nepali with India.
China has called in its favours, resulting in the cartographic aggression undertaken by Nepal. This and the intrusion in Ladakh are China’s effort to answer India for its ‘adventurism’ in the South Pacific. There is a limit to how much China can leverage its economic clout in that region and it is increasingly using military force to intimidate those it considers ‘vassal’ and dependent states. The Indian presence, though minimally diplomatic, is enough to send the shivers up the Chinese spine, judging as it does other nations by its own standards!
When there are such huge stakes in play, Nepal is compelled to try and balance its powerful neighbours in the only way it can, by making one concession after another. This will obviously result, unfortunately, in a transformation of relations with India. The traditional relationship will need to be reconfigured, beginning perhaps with ending the anachronistic presence of Nepalese in the Indian Army. Checks also need to be imposed on the free movement across the borders of the two countries’ nationals. It must be noted that India today has better relations with Muslim majority nations like Bangladesh, Maldives, Indonesia, and Buddhist ones like Myanmar and Sri Lanka, than it does with ‘Hindu majority’ Nepal. It is time, now, to take two steps backwards before taking one forward.