History, geography, religion and culture have bound Nepal and India into an extraordinary relationship. While many Nepalis actively participated in India’s Independence movement, New Delhi too has played an important role in the political evolution of its landlocked northern neighbour.
These elements of affinity, exacerbated by asymmetries in area and population are, however, responsible for the rancour underlying the uneven relationship. Many Indians, like most Nepalis, are also exasperated by the resentment this proximity has produced. Preconceived notions and outright prejudices have tightened this embrace of estrangement. New Delhi’s ‘big brother act’ has been stifling for many Nepalis. This was more pronounced when Nepal got painted red with the incessant battering of the Maoist rebels and was split between monarchy and republicanism.
This book takes an unconventional approach to India-Nepal relations. Devoid of the abstractions of the academic tomes that fill up bookshelves, this volume also steers clear of the detachment of a historical account. The book draws from a plethora of documents in the public record though it also relies on the author’s personal experience.
The provocative title encapsulates the crisp message: How independent India has virtually adopted British colonial policies towards Nepal. By elucidating the misgivings and follies that have long constrained the relationship, the book sets out to explore the inherent possibilities.
Sanjay Upadhya is a Nepalese journalist specializing in the country’s politics. Raised and educated in the United States, Thailand, India and Nepal, Upadhya was a Fulbright Scholar at New York University from 1993 to 1996.
In a career spanning over two decades, Upadhya has worked for, among other organizations, The Rising Nepal, The Times (London), Inter Press Service and Khaleej Times (Dubai) and has reported from United Nations headquarters in New York City.
Upadhya, who holds masters degrees in journalism and business administration, has appeared frequently on BBC World Service television and radio as a commentator on Nepalese political affairs.
Author of hundreds of commentaries and analyses in English and Nepali, Upadhya contributed a widely quoted chapter on Nepal’s political evolution to "State of Nepal," published in 2002 by Kathmandu- based Himal Books. He also wrote a chapter on Nepal-India relations in the context of South Asian political and security dynamics for The India Doctrine, published in 2006 by Ohaka-based Bangladesh Research Forum.
The rapidity of political developments in Nepal since April 2006 has, among other things, reinforced the traditional centrality of India in the affairs of its tiny northern neighbour. For the third time in 56 years, New Delhi almost single-handedly led initiatives to pull the landlocked Himalayan nation from the precipice. Unlike its initiatives in 1950-51 and 1989-90, India this time had to grapple with its own internal com- plexities before it could set a course. With mainstream political parties back in the saddle in an uneasy alliance with former Maoist rebels, a new process of peace and reconciliation has been inaugurated. The Maoists, who waged a decade-long bloody insurgency to overthrow both the monarchy and parliamentary democracy, have climbed down to accept a multiparty republic. The monarch, stripped of virtually all powers, is awaiting the ultimate democratic test-the verdict of the people on the relevance of an institution that has been virtually synonymous with the state. The road ahead is fraught with profound uncertainties as the principal domestic players grapple with mutual distrust as well as growing popular expectations.
The United States, Britain and other European states exercising influence in Nepal have conferred on India the primary role in fostering peace and democracy in the country. China, India’s traditional rival for influence in the strategically placed nation, too, has quietly conceded New Delhi’s preeminence. But India continues to confront a multiplicity of imperatives. The monarchy, political parties and the Maoists each enjoy extensive support in influential constituents in India. Indian institutions like the military and the bureaucracy, for their part, are conditioned by their own priorities of continuity and stability. The foreign policy establishment, infused by New Delhi’s quest for greater global influence, cannot forsake the idealism emanating from India’s status as the world’s largest and most populous democracy. The task of balancing democratic ideals with security imperatives will continue to vex Indian planners and policymakers.
This latest reaffirmation of India’s primacy has not pleased many Nepalis, who are traditionally suspicious of New Delhi’s motives. For an influential section-entrenched in officialdom, academia and the media-the shadow of their southern neighbour extends farther into the past. Ironically, a nation that never formally became part of the British Empire continues to wobble under the Raj. Indian freedom fighters cast off the colonialists but faithfully upheld British policies on Nepal. In fairness, some Indians have acknowledged the inherent inequity of this inheritance. Sadly, they are a small minority. For many others, Nepal has already veered too far away from India’s orbit. Worse, for still other Indians, New Delhi’s acquiescence in United Nations involvement in Nepal’s peace process could fuel demands for similar intervention in their own internal conflicts.
Sceptics in both the countries have little choice other than to acknowledge the evolving realities that the country is going through. Unless India is prepared to annex Nepal and pay the heavy international, military and material costs of subduing a fiercely independent-minded population, an accommodation will have to be found within the confines of history and geography. Nepal, too, will require a similar prudence on its part, unless it is ready to forgo the other benefits that would almost certainly end once it repudiated the political, diplomatic and security dimensions of the existing relationship it has with other countries. The search for an accommodation will not be easy for either country. By juxtaposing complementarities with conflicts, the process can perhaps be made less gruelling.
In the beginning, neither country can take the other for granted. Amid the deep-rooted scepticism of India’s motives among ordinary Nepalis, unforeseen events can trigger sudden flare-ups. At other times, passions will likely recede, allowing complacency to set in on both sides. Anti-Indianism cannot be explained away as some collective persecution complex gripping the Nepali psyche. From New Delhi’s perspective, it may seem tempting to cast every assertion of Nepaliness in that pejorative, but that would only pile up new resentments. Nepal, on the other hand, cannot wish away the preponderance of security imperatives inherent in India’s foreign policy. If New Delhi cannot expect to subordinate all other aspects of the bilateral partnership to security, Kathmandu cannot hope to be selective in choosing areas of cooperation. In this sense, relations must be continually debated in light of emerging realities. This debate must proceed more energetically outside the traditional preserve of political polemics and academic exploration, unconstrained by the urgency to establish easy analogies and test new hypotheses.
One way of promoting understanding at the people’s level is through a review of the history of Nepal’s politics since its emergence as a state in 1768 and how the British Raj and, subsequently, independent India have influenced issues, ideas and individuals. Chronologically, consistent patterns and underlying attitudes are discernible which have defined the Nepali mindset. As someone who has had the opportunity to observe and analyse this complex interplay of events, ideas and personalities taking place in the small kingdom of Nepal, I have attempted to weave a general narrative.
This account lays no pretensions to academic singularity. Nor does it intend to break new ground through exclusive access to hitherto hidden material. The volume does not intend to provide an erudite policy prescription, either. I have attempted to amplify India’s role in the evolution of Nepal’s political experience, based mostly on material available in the public domain. My primary purpose is to cut through the rhetoric and recriminations and clear the way for a rational debate on what will continue to be a highly complex relationship. I hope to explain to Indian readers the roots and realities of anti-Indianism in Nepal. Among my compatriots, I hope to encourage a more dispassionate understanding of why India has acted in the way it has.
I have drawn extensively from personal experiences with a few prominent political players in both countries and involvement with ordinary Nepalis and Indians. I have benefitted from my association with a wider group of South Asians that share Nepalis’ grievance with India as well as their admiration for the world’s largest democracy. Coming from a family that has, over five generations, either participated in or endured the vicissitudes of Nepal’s political evolution, I have made full use of personal notes, references and other materials.
Within these parameters, the approach and analyses-along with proclivities and prejudices therein-are entirely mine. For contextual clarity of key events, policies and pronouncements, I have tried to provide authoritative references. I have liberally quoted from media and academia from around the world to amplify the wider resonance of Nepal’s point of view. Where my own views and opinions have predominated-and they certainly have with considerable robustness-I have undertaken the liberty in full recognition of the solemnity of the subject.
I would like to thank the editors and staff ofVitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd. for their encouragement and support in bringing out this volume. I would not have been able to complete the manuscript without the patience and understanding of my wife, Ranu, and children, Jay and Nilu, who yielded immeasurable time and attention they were entitled to for family pursuits.
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