Nepal is not India’s 30th state. India must not seek to turn it into one. If successive governments had even as much as begun to appreciate these simple and eternal truths, India and the Himalayan republic would have been spared the spectacle of their leaders trading charges in public and the bilateral discourse degenerating into acrimony.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Neighbourhood First Policy is in tatters and recent developments in Nepal only confirm that. New Delhi has erred, as in the past, in assuming that Kathmandu’s interests shall necessarily align with its own; it can be a strategic goal but not an end in itself. What its actions and utterances over the past few weeks have achieved is to provoke a section of the Nepalese political voices to make it known to anyone who would care to listen that, to quote Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, “We cannot bow down before anyone’s pressure or persuasion. It is a matter of our conscience and self respect”. It follows a similar remark made by him a few days ago when he said that Nepal wants to be a good friend of India but “not the yes man”.
While New Delhi may have legitimate concerns about the short- and long-term impact the promulgation of the new Constitution in Nepal could have on its permanent interests, it would do well to raise them discreetly with its Nepalese interlocutors rather than by issuing press statements that leave no one in doubt about its intentions. There are a range of options available to bring someone around without having to flog them in full public glare.
As has been written in these columns before, “India’s propensity or predisposition to cherry-pick political leaders or political parties is counter-productive in that it immediately sets off one against the other and invites avoidable comparisons between rival protagonists” (Modi’s India must stop cherry-picking friends; issue 39, 19 September 2015). New Delhi must avoid the temptation of pursuing an interventionist, prescriptive foreign policy.
India must let Nepal be, just as it should all its other neighbours.