India’s sharp power in Nepal

Kundan Kumar Jha


History of Nepal-India relations can best be described in terms of asymmetry. The influence exerted by Indian establishment in Nepal can be generalised in relation to a newly emerging concept in international relations, i.e. sharp power.

Concept of sharp power is new. It was for the first time used by US scholar Joseph S. Nye to describe new attitude of influential states in conduct of their external affairs. Sharp power includes the tactics of pressure, bullying and deception as means to control international affairs.

This new concept in international relations maintains that emerging influential states use power both in the form of coercion and persuasion at the same time. Nepal- India relationship of late has offered grounds to justify the existence of sharp power in Asian order as one of the major techniques to gain strategic benefits in asymmetric relations.

The post 2015 Nepal- India relationship has suffered largely because of India’s continuous engagement with mainstream politicos in Nepal. India’s cunning and deceptive interest was thrown into sharp relief when India’s Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Nepal on the eve of promulgation of constitution of Nepal. During his visit, he tried to persuade the then Nepal government not to promulgate constitution citing major flaws in state’s foreign policy aspirations.

Nepal, however, remained firm over its stand and ultimately denied Indian request in delaying the promulgation of much awaited constitution. India followed this by imposing economic blockade, further escalating tensions between two states. India’s sharp power was witnessed as it never called it an official blockade and also denied the claims of blockade made by Nepal in front of international community. India cited reasons of unrest in Madhes as the reason for them to be cautious about sending Indian vehicles carrying goods and necessary supplies to Nepal. The Indian blockade lasted for four months and damaged economic growth in Nepal which was suffering the devastating effects of the mega-earthquake.

India still remains reluctant in reviewing Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1950 despite the Nepali members in the Eminent Persons’ Group advocating for necessary changes. India says that it respects Nepal’s sovereignty but unfortunately it has always used sharp power in dealing with Nepal most of the time.

When Nepal signed agreement with China to become part of Belt and Road Initiative, Indians complained that their security has been compromised.

In a recent development, however, India has promised to help Communist-led alliance in development projects and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered CPN- UML Chairman KP Oli to work in partnership for common prosperity.


Madhes remains an important factor in ties between two countries. But Madhes has become a tool with which India wields sharp power in Nepal. India has convinced Madhesis to become a part of coalition government under the leadership of KP Oli to ensure Indian voice in Nepal’s political arena. The Madhes-based faction had earlier announced that they would not become a part of the government unless constitutional amendment is guaranteed but in a political u-turn they seem have been convinced to join the government as per India’s desire.

India’s Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, is on a visit to Nepal. Her visit carries various implications and is seen to be yet another untimely high-profile visit when formation of a new government is just around the corner. India takes future government under ‘pro-Chinese’ Oli a major threat to its interests. China’s growing influence will surely dominate Swaraj’s dialogues with top brass in Nepal. Any undue Indian influence on the new political order will only hamper Nepal’s interest in the long run.

History clearly indicates that India has failed to deliver most of its promises. These promises remain mere symbolic and worryingly deceptive in nature. India will for now offer economic and political help to Nepal but there is a chance that it will ultimately turn out to be its bargaining tool. The sharpness of Indian interest has to be realised by Nepal and the country should be attentive in balancing ties with both the giant neighbours.

Nepal should welcome India’s Foreign Minister openheartedly but should also be aware about her intentions. India can always help Nepal for long-term development but Nepal should remain sceptical about any Indian interest that may hinder Nepal’s stability and prosperity.

The writer is a student of International Relations.

Published on 1 February 2018