Former Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee
News analysis: India should ignore criticism of its Nepal policy, continue what it's doing
Nine years after people power ousted an entrenched monarchy and brought an armed insurgency into mainstream politics, eight years after an interim constitution, two elections to a constituent assembly, followed by seven years of frustrating debates where politicians reverted to their addiction to squabbling.
It took a devastating earthquake to force a sense of urgencyto complete the exercise ........ a nightmare of violent agitation .... ramming through a flawed document by the tyranny of majority and reneging on promises in writing to the marginalized, Madhesis, Janajatis and Dalits. ...... a Terai in turmoil. Agitation and police/army response has claimed more than 40 lives. .....
Some 60,000 troops are deployed in the Terai, more than half the strength of the Nepal army, more than ever deployed against the insurgency...... Agitations in 2007 and 2008 led to a written agreement signed on February 28, 2008, which guaranteed an autonomous Madhes, representation in security forces and state organs proportionate to their population. There was no ambiguity in the commitment.
I was witness to the discussions and the final draft........ the gerrymandering of the boundaries of the seven states, to reduce Madhesis and Tharus to a minority in 12 of the 20 existing Terai districts ..... India should ignore the fulminations of armchair analysts, parachute pundits, and continue what it is doing: Point out to Nepal's leaders that we're concerned solely because instability in Nepal directly affects us across an open border. That an end to the violence must take place through a dialogue with the Madhesis, Janjatis and the Dalits. We should continue engaging with leaders on both sides, making our concerns clear, underlining that while we hold Nepali sovereignty paramount, we have legitimate concerns based on our unique relationship. ....... it was the same leaders behind whom India stood rock steady when they fought for democracy, sought support and got it in full measure. We haven't, even in our cold statements pointing out our unhappiness at the shape the constitution has taken, hinted at asking Nepali leaders to agree with us as quid pro quo for
our aid, the billion dollar credit, and other projects. ....... This isn't the time to give in to
the 'teach-Nepal-a-lesson' hardliners.What is needed is a calibrated response, mindful of Nepal's dignity but firm in our resolve to protect our national interest. We have leverages in plenty, but must use carrot and stick judiciously. We should strengthen voices in Nepal who stand for a truly inclusive constitution. The 'China' card will doubtless be played by those stubborn in the pursuit of their interests, and may test our diplomacy, but we should ignore the pinpricks of anti-Indian rhetoric that's sure to come up in Kathmandu. ...... Former PM and Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai has admitted mistakes. Perhaps the agitation and India's principled position are bearing fruit? We don't know yet, but must stay the course. .....
The writer was ambassador to Nepal between 2004 and 2008