Jaishankar’s visit symbolizes India’s sharp interest in Nepal
Kundan Kumar Jha
Nepal-India relations is always taken with keen interest by international actors surrounding South Asia. The centuries-long relationship has suffered multiple ups and downs throughout its history. India has, however, enjoyed privilege in the relationship. Nepal’s asymmetric dependence on its southern neighbour has meant patron-client relationship exists.
Foreign policy of India in this regard plays a crucial role in defining its relationship with Nepal. India prioritises relationship with Nepal which ultimately satisfies Indian interest in playing in safe and politically vulnerable territory of Nepal. The recent development in Indian political arena has seen India Prime Minister Narendra Modi become the strongest ever elected leader in the country. India thus looks strong and competent to counter threats that challenge its national interest. India has strengthened its foreign ministry when Modi included former foreign secretary S. Jaishankar into his cabinet as minister of external affairs (MEA).
Jaishankar is a veteran Indian diplomat. But he shares sour relation with Nepal. In 2015 Jaishankar was foreign secretary of India when he visited Nepal on the eve of promulgation of Constitution of Nepal. He was heavily criticised for his immature decision to directly intervene into internal issues of Nepal. He remained at the centre of policy making regarding Nepal with administrative charge of Indian ministry of external affairs. Today when he is in Nepal as head of foreign ministry in India it will be interesting to see his tactics and policy for the Nepali state.
The government of India upon its re-election in 2019 has not come up with special plans for immediate and influential members in the neighbourhood. Jaishankar remained almost silent on issues related to Nepal after his latest responsibility but his sharp interest was earlier sensed when Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilambar Acharya was almost denied to visit him officially for months in New Delhi.
The desperation from Nepali side was evident as they desired to sort out past agony through dialogues and diplomatic ties. The Indian minister, however, remained reluctant officially to find time for the Nepalese Ambassador. While many scholars and former diplomats opined their own theories to define India’s interest in Nepal post formation of new government in India it will be very interesting to see how Jaishankar will frame Nepal in his official visit.
Nepal must remain on its toes to counter sharp strategies that Indian foreign minister might look to implement in Nepal. The visit of Indian foreign minister calls for questions as it cannot be one without hidden interest. Nepal looks politically stable at this moment but with recent developments and ideological faction among top leaders of communist parties the visit may affect political stability in Nepal.
Indian government will not fail to promise mutual co-operation and aid assistance but history clearly indicates India has failed to deliver most of its promises which remains symbolic and deceptive in nature. India will for now offer economic and political assistance as soft power dynamics of Indian foreign policy but will ultimately turn out to become its bargaining tool in case Nepali leaders fall into the trap. The sharpness of Indian interest has to be realized in order to assure new Nepali decision does not provoke sentiments of other influencing partners of Nepal.
The stage is set for Nepal to welcome foreign minister of India openheartedly but they must be able to recognise what changes the visit might persuade. The newly adopted constitution provides ample space for Nepal to adjust India into its development scheme but they must remain skeptical about allowing any such interest of India which can hinder Nepal’s economic goal.
Even if Nepal has not been able to make dynamic changes to its existing foreign policy aspiration they have remained neutrally non-aligned to any other state in recent times. The visit of Indian foreign minister may allow multiple scopes for such interpretations if we remain unprepared for strategic trap that might be presented to the Nepali government. The past experiences of Indian foreign minister in Nepal calls for more responsible attitude towards Nepal.
Nepal must carefully consider any decision that it makes with Indian establishment because history suggests Nepal has failed miserably and it has hindered growth of the Nepali state both regionally and globally. Jaishankar carries along with him loads of experience in serving Indian interest globally, hence Nepal must be alert about Indian interest encroaching upon Nepali interest.
The visit of Indian foreign minister comes at a time when things in foreign policy making looks evenly settled for Nepal. This phenomenon will allow plenty of space for India to play into slow paced foreign policy goals of Nepal. While India will look to impose its regional sentiment on Nepal it depends on our vision and desire to look beyond India’s interest and safeguard our own interest through intelligent diplomatic measures. India’s foreign secretary will be sharp and Nepal must ensure that he will not impose his own interest.
The writer is a freelancer.
Published on 21 August 2019