November 5, 2011


[India’s cold shoulder to BRB, widely perceived as her “aapna aadmi” – her own man - in Nepal, has not been adequately covered or explained here. Though in part it has perhaps been overshadowed by the controversy over BIPPA, one may legitimately wonder why BRB was received at the airport by merely an official of the Ministry of External Affairs (his send-off was similarly dismissive) when both Madhav Kumar Nepal and Prachanda during their respective official visits in 2010 and 2008 were greeted at the airport by a minister of state.]

By M.R. Josse
With interruptions in publication due to Dasain and Tihar festivals, this column had not been able to deal with Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s visit to India. Without going over ground traversed by the Nepali media, a few fresh insights may be germane.

Bippa And All That

At the outset, what may be recalled is that while signature on the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) during BRB’s - Baburam Bhattarai’s - excursion caused a perfect storm within the Maoist party – one that, at the time of writing, has not subsided – it was supported by, so to speak, its ‘partner in crime’ the Madeshi leadership and by the business community, while being welcomed by the Nepali Congress Party - NC- for reasons that are hardly consistent with classical Maoist thought.

As far as the last aspect is concerned, one may note NC’s Ram Saran Mahat’s cutting comment that the BIPPA deal was welcome because it indicated that the anti-capitalist Maoist PM had, at long last, come around to accepting his party’s longstanding stance regarding foreign investment and the other trappings of globalisation.

Also memorable was Rashtriya Janashakti Party’s Prakash Chandra Lohani’s laconic but devastating comment in parliament that the Maoist party should henceforth be labelled as Modern Capitalist Party!

While congenital optimists expect that disputes and disagreements over BIPPA within the Maoist party will be sorted out by their long-delayed and repeatedly postponed Central Committee meeting beginning today, what also struck this observer as memorable was the following observation by a Left-leaning columnist of the state-owned ‘The Rising Nepal’.
“Before spreading a red carpet to the Indian companies here, Dr Bhattarai needs to explain as to how the foreign capital could pose (a) hindrance to boost (the) national economy 16 years ago and how it could be catalytic to the (sic) economic growth now. The people have every right to know about the changing ideological ground in the Maoist party.” Very true.

The reference to “16 years ago” – actually to 1996, the year the Maoists launched their so-called ‘people’s war’ – has to do with the 40-point charter of demands that the Maoists, represented by none other than BRB himself, presented to the then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in the form of an ultimatum, which, in the event, they did not honor. 

Prominent among them was that “domination of foreign capital in Nepalese business, finance and industry should be ended”, not to mention that “all unequal treaties including the 1950 Nepal-India treaty should be abrogated”; that the “Nepal-India border should be regulated and controlled”; that Gorkha recruitment centres should be closed immediately”; as also that “cultural invasion of imperial and colonial nature be stopped, including vulgar Hindi films, videos and magazines.” 

Finally, we now have advocate Balkrishna Neupane’s writ before the Supreme Court against BIPPA arguing that it ought to be scrapped as it has, among other anomalies, accorded India airspace rights in Nepal, on a non-reciprocal basis, in contravention of Article 4 of the Constitution. 

Indian Puzzle

India’s cold shoulder to BRB, widely perceived as her “aapna aadmi” – her own man - in Nepal, has not been adequately covered or explained here. Though in part it has perhaps been overshadowed by the controversy over BIPPA, one may legitimately wonder why BRB was received at the airport by merely an official of the Ministry of External Affairs (his send-off was similarly dismissive) when both Madhav Kumar Nepal and Prachanda during their respective official visits in 2010 and 2008 were greeted at the airport by a minister of state.

Similarly intriguing was that his scheduled courtesy call on Congress (I) chairperson Ms Sonia Gandhi was scrubbed, not merely postponed. Those following the visit were also impressed by the fact that Gandhi had been pretty active in public affairs after her return from New York following surgery, not to mention that she had, and has been, receiving foreign guests, including the King of Bhutan and his new bride. 

Although Nepali media representatives covering the trip had, pre-visit, been in raptures about the “enthusiasm and jubilation” in New Delhi over BRB’s impending visit, such a mood was invisible at the pubic level, as also virtually absent from the Indian media’s coverage screen!

Whatever was seen of it was limited to BRB’s former JNU contacts and a couple of Left-leaning politicos: even collectively they hardly constitute the general Indian, or Delhi’s, “aam aadmi” – general public! In fact, one has come to learn that at the luncheon hosted by the Indian business community for BRB the principal captains of business and industry were conspicuous by their absence. 

Revealingly, even the joint press statement released at the end of the visit does not credit BRB with the idea of an Eminent Persons Group to look into the 1950 Treaty, as one had been led to believe from Nepali media reports; the credit is shared between the “two sides”.

Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, one doesn’t have to scrutinize the joint press statement to realize that most of Nepal’s expectations were dumped into the “noted” or “will consider” slots to come to the conclusion that, all in all, BRB was offered a cold shoulder.

That, of course, raises the question: why? While only the principals and their close aides would have the answer to that conundrum, this observer has a few hunches which he would like to share with this column’s readership.

First, and foremost, BRB’s scaling down the significance of his visit to India to merely a “goodwill” one, which would not deal with familiar security-related issues that were at the core of the Indian agenda, must have miffed the babus and netas of the Indian establishment which, as all worldly-wise folk know, had carefully choreographed and coordinated BRB’s elevation to premiership, including that by engineering the support of the Madeshi Morcha.

Viewed from an Indian perspective that downplay of India’s expectations by someone whom they had banked so heavily so must have truly rankled in the official Indian breast!
Secondly, the fact that BRB’s announced interest in an official visit to China, or in receiving Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Nepal shortly, made conspicuously days before he set out on his Bharat ‘yatra’, must have blown some very heavy-duty fuses in the North and South Blocks. In Shakespearean language, the prevailing mood could then presumably be accurately summed up as “Et tu, Brutus...”
That apart, Indian officialdom could hardly have been dancing the ‘bhangra’ when they heard BRB not merely extolling his party’s association with CCOMPOSA, a banned organisation of South Asian Maoist parties/outfits, but actually going on to recommend the need for a “revolution” in South Asia (read India) – presumably along lines of the Maoists’ in Nepal!

My guess would be that officials monitoring BRB’s movements and utterances would have been foaming in the mouth at the gauche breach of the ground rules of hospitality and diplomatic etiquette. And if that were not enough, they could hardly have been delighted, either, to read in the ‘Hindu’ daily, on the very day of BRB’s arrival, his homily about the need to discard the British colonial legacy, a subtle if accurate castigation, among other things, on India’s policy vis-a-vis her neighbours.

Indeed, the only ‘gain’ for the Indian side, from their point of view, was formalization of BIPPA – but that too has only raised anti-Indian phantoms of domination and/or hegemony in Nepal, hardly the expectation from her “aapna aadmi”!

Lastly, what must have been even more galling for India is to see that Prachanda has now been entrusted by the BRB-headed coalition to fly off with a team to the United Nations headquarters in New York for a meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to muster support for an integrated development plan for Lumbini, the Buddha’s hallowed birthplace – a proposition that, one understands, is not looked up with favour by the movers and shakers in Luyten’s Delhi.  

It is, of course, quite a different matter that such a plan is deeply flawed, not only because the mission is to be led by a leader of a movement that, unlike the Buddha, took up arms but also because the Maoists are not exactly the most appropriate for the job: why not a well-known or venerated Nepali Buddhist scholar who would have no political axe to grind?

Besides, let us not forget that Ban is not a Buddhist but a Christian, as also that the UN is a secular organisation that is not naturally given to promoting religious sites as a matter of policy.

Stand Up

Finally, since in the public perception today is that the Maoist party is splintered into three segments – Maoist, Socialist, and Capitalist – the public needs to collectively ask: will the real Maoists please stand up?

That query assumes great significance in that the voter should know what he/she is voting for; the ever shifting/divisive Maoist stands are yet another argument why the CA cannot be endlessly extended. The Maoist party today is not the same as the one that contested the 2008 polls!

[The hope is that an increase in trade will feed into wider trust between the two countries and help them resolve major flashpoints, like the disputed Kashmir region, although a solution to this problem has proved intractable for decades.]


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's most troubled foreign relationships have improved in recent months, its top diplomat said on Saturday, pointing to upcoming trade talks with New Delhi and broad agreement on regional security goals with Washington as evidence.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in an exclusive interview with Reuters, said negotiations to normalize trade with India would allow progress on other issues between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.

"I think it's broadly agreed that we need to make some simultaneous progress on these issues," she said.

Trade has long been tied to political issues between the neighbors, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

The hope is that an increase in trade will feed into wider trust between the two countries and help them resolve major flashpoints, like the disputed Kashmir region, although a solution to this problem has proved intractable for decades.

"But there has been a great improvement in the environment," she said. "I think we can move forward."

She strongly denied that Pakistan was not committed to finalizing Most Favored Nation (MFN) status for India, as alleged by an unnamed Indian government official on Friday, who said Islamabad was "backtracking" on the issue in the face of domestic opposition.

"There is absolutely no question of backtracking of cabinet approval of trade normalization with India," she said. "I want to completely dismiss any indication that there's any retraction on what we said."

Pakistan announced it would upgrade India to a most Favored nation on Wednesday, a move that would help normalize commercial ties by ending heavy restrictions on what India is allowed to export across the border.

Wednesday's announcement was trumpeted on both sides as a milestone in improving relations shattered by attacks by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai in 2008. Formal peace talks, known as the "composite dialogue," resumed in February.

Khar said the two countries' commerce secretaries would meet in mid-November to hammer out the details of the trade agreement, but that there was no lack of commitment to the agreement itself.

"The cabinet very clearly gave them a way forward, which is trade normalization with India," she said.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani also rejected the charges of backtracking in comments to reporters in Lahore on Saturday.

Less than one percent of India's merchandise exports are sold to Pakistan, in terms of dollar value, but in September a joint statement pledged to double bilateral trade flows within three years to about $6 billion.

Lasting peace between the two countries is seen as key to stability in the South Asian region and to helping a troubled transition in Afghanistan as NATO-led forces plan their military withdrawal from that country in 2014.

Khar said relations with the United States were also on the mend, with "a complete convergence of stated interests" on Afghanistan.

"Nothing would make us happier than a strong government in Afghanistan," she said. "I look at the last few weeks, and relations with the U.S. have been generally positive. It's basically the operational details to agree on."

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan have been pressing Pakistan for years to tackle the Haqqani network, a powerful insurgent group which says it owes allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, but has traditionally been seen as close to Pakistan's spy agency.

Pakistan denies supporting the Haqqani network and attributes its lack of action against the group to the fact that its army is already overstretched fighting Pakistani Taliban militants and others.

At an Istanbul conference in early November focusing on stabilizing Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official said that Pakistani action against the Haqqani network did not necessarily need to be military.

Instead it would include "ensuring that intelligence doesn't go to the Haqqani network" and "that they don't benefit from financial resources or flow of finances."

@ The Himalayan Times