July 16, 2014


[There should not be any hesitation on the part of India to encourage and assist a small country like Nepal holding tremendous natural resources to go its own way towards the upliftment of its people under the system it chooses, of course, without giving any room of fear and concern to other’s security. For a poor country like Nepal the only way to raise the living standards of its people and take them out of persistence poverty and destitution is by optimum utilization of its natural resources. People of Nepal are now fully aware of this reality and they are not prepared to compromise on this single most key to future prosperity. Nepal was forced to give in unwillingly on its major resource—several projects relating to water resources, in the past.]

By Kirti Nidhi Bista*

The period following the Second Jana Andolan of 2006, which brought a monumental change in Nepal’s modern history, has been fraught with contradictions. There are disputes over the issue of federalism, secularism and system of governance. In fact the confusion on these issues led to the demise of the first Constituent Assembly. It is expected that the new constitution in-the-making will answer most of these questions, ending the current uncertainty and disorder. However, it cannot be expected with the kind of leadership today that a national agenda, commensurate with a new constitution reflecting the aspirations of all the people of Nepal, will come anytime soon.

It is the duty of the people’s representatives to clearly outline this national agenda that is aimed at the wellbeing of the people.  Nepal’s recent past (twenty five years) gives a dismal picture of country’s over dependence on others, mostly foreign individuals and nations, for the development of every sector -- be it governance, economic and social development or exercise of sovereign rights as an independent country. Sadly again, it has occurred despite the change of governments led by every major political party of different ideology and perspective. Failure to carve out national agenda based on country’s national interest and successive implementation has turned it into a poor country in spite of profuse natural endowment and rich cultural heritage. Will the present political leaders continue to remain oblivious of Nepal’s downward spiral thus making it impossible to revive the nation?

No country anywhere in this world has been able to move forward in the path of progress and prosperity without a clear objective and subsequent goals. For a country like Nepal that has taken a transformational challenge, similar to the emergence of a new state, the national agenda must be given full focus and every effort has to be employed in the attainment of national plans so derived. Some of the critical agendas are obvious: Promulgation of a new constitution that should clearly specify Nepal’s identity covering its system of governance, development model, social justice as well as its role in the regional and international affairs. To steer the country in the right direction, other equally important issues such as national security and stability, utilization of national resources, relations with friendly countries, particularly its neighbors, must be paid full attention to.  Let us try to reexamine Nepal’s relations with its closest neighbor India from a fresh perspective.

The essence of bilateral relations is based on mutual trust and understanding that India and Nepal enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s. The level of trust and understanding was so excellent that the Indian Prime Minister of the time, Indira Gandhi, took time out to pay an official visit to Nepal in 1973 despite the removal of Indian military missions and check posts from Nepal in 1969. Prior to that, after India and Pakistan entered into war in 1971, I was consulted about the likely involvement of China in that war that gave Bangladesh her independence. At no time in that period was there any disruption of dialogue between India and Nepal. In fact when I paid a state visit to India in 1972 (barely two years after Nepal’s action on the removal of Indian military mission and check posts) she showed an unprecedented gesture of attending a reception hosted by the Nepalese Embassy in my honor. I had been making continuous efforts to convince her that Nepal’s relations with China would in no way harm Nepal’s excellent relations with India rather it would help in the long run.

It might be relevant here to recall President Nixon’s initiative and policy to establish bilateral relations with China. As a preparation to that event, Vice President Agnew had visited Nepal to see whether Nepal would be able to help in the US’s mission as Nepal was one of the close and dependable neighboring countries of China as well as a trustworthy friend of the United States. Ultimately the US chose Pakistan as a favorable country to carry on with the preliminary work for contacts with China. In fact the friendly agreement reached between China and the US was not only historic but also far-reaching for ensuring global peace and stability. It might be interesting to note here that at one time United States of America and People’s Republic of China were so hostile to each other that one branded the other as enemy number one and was prepared to go to any extent to finish the other. The Korean war was a glaring example of the hostile environment of the time.

However, it must be reckoned that the situation changed in the 1970's wherein hostility turned into productive friendship in an unexpected manner. If a new beginning of cooperation and friendship can be established between two countries after a long period of distrust and hostility there is no reason why friendly countries cannot work together to build trust and confidence for the betterment of their people.

For India and Nepal, with the kind of relationship firmly built up on social to economic ties since ancient times, there is no reason or excuse whatsoever to be content with the present state of relationship which is less than cordial due to certain grievances of Nepal and wrongly placed policy of India. Obviously the onus to improve this unwarranted state falls on the shoulders of mighty India.

There should not be any hesitation on the part of India to encourage and assist a small country like Nepal holding tremendous natural resources to go its own way towards the upliftment of its people under the system it chooses, of course, without giving any room of fear and concern to other’s security. For a poor country like Nepal the only way to raise the living standards of its people and take them out of persistence poverty and destitution is by optimum utilization of its natural resources. People of Nepal are now fully aware of this reality and they are not prepared to compromise on this single most key to future prosperity. Nepal was forced to give in unwillingly on its major resource—several projects relating to water resources, in the past.

People of Nepal are stricken with perpetual grief when they see Nepal’s water flowing constantly in the Indian side but are confronted with parched earth on their side in dry seasons from the so-called joint projects with India. The Koshi and Gandak projects had been constructed with the hope that both sides would be able to benefit from such friendly joint ventures, but the outcome is obvious. Lacking proper knowledge and expertise, and just opened up to the outside world, Nepal had relied heavily on India to guide it on economic front. That was in the earlier periods when India had also just started to come to grips to power as an independent nation whose only development experience came from the British colonial times.

Given the goodwill and extensive people-to-people relations that the two countries enjoy, any situation could be brought under control and taken to the right direction if the mistake, however unintentionally, committed in the past, and posture taken due to defective assessment of the potential of any country big or small was realized at the right time. With sincere efforts made, a new door would have definitely opened for strengthening not only bilateral relations and making it productive but also contributing to regional and international peace, security and development. Both India and Nepal should have come forward with open mind and without prejudices much earlier to create an ideal relationship that befitted them.

However, it pained the Nepalese people to see that the earlier Indian governments, before Narendra Modi coming to power, did not think it necessary to change its mindset and had been trying to monopolize the entire water resources of Nepal to India’s maximum benefit. To the Nepali side it appeared that India did not care to know the growing pains of the Nepalese people stricken with poverty. It is widely taken that a poverty stricken country can be congenial to crime, violence and even terrorism. So with the continuance of such kind of deplorable condition in Nepal, how can India be free and safe from its concerns of security and rightly so? It needs no further explanation. So, it is also the right time for the new Indian leadership to change its outlook towards Nepal.

With the emergence of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the most powerful political party recently elected by a comfortable majority led by fearless, outspoken and committed leader Narendra Modi there cannot be any other time more opportune. This is the proper time to assess Indo-Nepal relations from a fresh perspective and contemplate on its future prospect. More than diplomatic nuances as well as the usual coercive tactics there should be a straightforward discussion between the two independent and sovereign neighboring countries treating each other in a dignified way as equals. The bright future of both nations depends on being able to create an environment of cooperation and understanding that alone can build mutual trust and confidence.

This is also the most favorable time for Nepal to get India involved in its economic development through proper and just use of water resources for irrigation and generation of hydropower that should benefit both the countries immensely. As China and India are not only competing between themselves but also internationally, they can also think of making Nepal a sound bridge for their ever-increasing bilateral trade and commerce. It is also relevant to refer here that there was a time when Nepal had only two small hydropower projects at hand, Trishuli and Sunkoshi, and they were undertaken and completed by India and China. The power generated from these two plants served the Nepalese people well.  Why not involve India and China today for generation of hydropower that is so much needed in both India and Nepal?

Nepal is full of abundant natural resources—perennial water source, rare herbs of high medicinal value, fertile land, and most of all, its hard working people from mountains to hills to Terai plains. Nepal’s potential is well recognized by India as well as China besides its important geo-strategic place in South Asia.

China is willing to invest billions of US Dollars in this sector like in West Seti hydropower project already approved by the Nepalese government and such ventures would not only help Nepal but also India. With Modi’s friendly disposition to China, it will be much easier for Nepal to handle the situation and move forward in its march to peace, stability and development. Today China and India are not only competing but also cooperating with each other to enhance their economic relations and settle the long-standing border problem by negotiation.

Given the air of skepticism on proper utilization of Nepal’s water resources hanging between Nepal and India this is no time to think about a long-term plan of utilizing it comprehensively. The time will be ripe to venture on such long-term projects when Nepal and India reach the level of trust and confidence in their relations as in the past (1960s and 1970s). The Mahakali multipurpose project endorsed and passed by the parliament in the dead of the night some fifteen years back despite strong opposition from the people of Nepal, particularly some sections of political parties and civil society activists, has not moved an inch. So the need of the hour is to implement that project as soon as possible in a manner that will turn out to be beneficial to both Nepal and India from power and irrigation point of view. India, as a corrective step to past agreement, should not hesitate to compensate for upper riparian country’s water flowing to India for irrigation purposes free of cost. With the completion of this project it will also help the most backward western areas to develop.

It is about time that the present Nepalese leaders made their own decision and prioritized Nepal’s agenda. The most backward and underdeveloped western parts of Nepal must get top priority for ensuring the overall stability and preventing unwarranted activities to flourish there as a result of poverty and unemployment. If India is eager to take up another mega hydropower project in Nepal to satisfy its growing energy needs to keep up with the pace of economic development then the Karnali project should be offered to it. There is no point in fiddling around with sensitive projects such as Koshi high dam where the Nepalese hydropower experts have maintained their stand that the project is detrimental for Nepal. In short, more than anything else, it is the national interest that should not only be preserved but also duly advanced in cooperation with neighboring countries on mutual trust and understanding.

* The author is former prime minister of Nepal.