Interview

Images of Kathmandu meetings instantly reach Delhi: Deep Kumar Upadhyaya

Deep Kumar Upadhyaya returned to Nepal Sunday evening after the government recalled him from the post of Nepal’s Ambassador to India all of a sudden. His tenure as the envoy lasted for 13 months even if he was appointed to serve the post for four years. He showed proactive diplomacy at the time India imposed economic blockade on Nepal. Lokaantar team reached Upadhayaya’s residence at Bhainsepati for an interview centring on ambassador recall episode and other contemporary issues. During the 70 minutes long interview with DhrubaHari Adhikary, Bimal Gautam and Sushil Panta for Lokaantar, Upadhyaya commented on Nepali leaders’ immaturity but refrained from giving negative comments against Prime Minister KP Oli. Excerpts of the interview:

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How did you feel when you heard that you were recalled?

I was prepared for it. A political appointee, I had been thinking about my exit after regime change. But I had been doing my best to tide my country over the difficult situation. I felt there were some misunderstandings between the government and me. My resignation call appears to be a consequence of intolerance.

Did you feel uneasy hearing this decision?

I did not feel bad for myself but I had tried my best to arrange our President’s visit to India and fought till the end to stop cancellation of the visit. But an ambassador can merely advise; it is up to the government to decide. I was hurt to know the cancellation notice served to me late. President’s visit should not have been cancelled. Indian President had invited our President to the dinner. We initiated this visit and cancelling it gave a wrong message. Reasons for cancellation hold no water.

Did you get any hint of recall before cabinet finally decided it?

Yes. I have friends in the Cabinet. Those friends told me that the prime minister did not hear them out and also that I was not in fault. UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda and even senior CPN (UML) leaders have said that this was prime minister’s sole decision.

What is your reaction to allegations against you?

Nothing has been alleged against me in the letter sent by Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This accusation does not feature in Cabinet decision as well. I told journalists before returning to Nepal that I request anyone to prove allegations against me. I am ready to quit my public life if proven wrong. There is no point in levelling false charges against me.

You have been charged with trying to topple the government.

I cannot comment what others say about me. I have asked the accusers to prove their accusation; otherwise apologise to me.

Is Prime Minister KP Oli prejudiced against you?

I would not put it that way. I am all for having inter-party relations. All politicians are my friends.

Do you think you are a victim of conspiracy as you were recalled before time?

I am not a civil servant. I was mentally prepared for the recall. But I thought I would quit only after the country sees through the crisis.

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You had fulfilled your responsibilities during your tenure, hadn’t you?

I had not done anything untoward. But there is a serious accusation against me. I was shown as if I were betraying my country and I was involved in sedition. Government is not an automatic machine that changes position with the flick of a switch. It appears that the government is afraid of its own shadow. You should ask them about truth of the matter.

You were accused of going somewhere with Indian Amabassador Rae.

This is a figment of someone’s imagination. Rae and I were supposed to meet near Mahendranagar to promote tourism in Bardiya National Park but it eventually got cancelled. This old incident has been blown out of proportions. Despite all this, I am not interested in taking this episode too far. Doing so will worsen bilateral ties.

You used to say that India’s economic blockade was no blockade at all?

You have to understand my situation at that time. I was in a huge stress. There were signature campaigns and flag-burning campaigns against India. Indian officials used to record Nepali leaders’ inciting speech on their mobile sets. All sensitive meetings in Kathmandu immediately reach Delhi. I, however, used to tell them positive things. They used to show me video clips and say that I was indeed positive in cementing ties.

Was that indeed a blockade or not?

This was precisely my contention with Indian establishment. I used to tell them to either formally announce that they had imposed blockade or completely lift it. I asked them, “Why are you making ordinary people suffer?”

We too made some mistakes. Our leaders spoke some undiplomatic words against Indians which hurt them. They were ready to forget all bitterness and they said that they would respect our decision.

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Did India get angry when Nepal extended hands to China?

Rather than being angry they stated Nepal’s geopolitical reality. One third of supply comes from India. One Indian newspaper even wrote that Upadhyaya is such an ambassador in Delhi who threatened India. I told Indians that they should not force us to look towards China.

I also asked our politicians time and again not to speak out irresponsibly in sensitive matters. The condition of road to China has become pathetic after the earthquake and using Chinese route for supply of goods entails many problems.

What was India’s intention in asking Nepal to postpone constitution promulgation date?

You have to understand the background. Indian PM Modi’s two visits to Nepal and his prompt response to earthquake rescue managed to break the ice in ties between two countries. India thinks that it is an integral part to Nepal’s peace process. Nepal itself had invited India to mediate in its peace process. Only at the end India felt that it was ignored when Nepali leaders promulgated the constitution despite Indian objections. Things would have been different if it had been promulgated after ten days.

But some said that the constitution would not have seen the light of the day if it were promulgated after 10 days?

That is illogical argument. Constituent Assembly members responsible for the promulgation had four years of time. This argument shows that they were not confident with themselves.

What did India want in Nepal’s constitution regarding Tarai? Does it have interest in federalism and citizenship?

I don’t think so. I asked Indians not to be obsessed with Madhes. It took me a long time to convince them about Tarai’s reality. We too committed errors. We had to make English translations of the constitution quickly. Small things can damage diplomatic relations. Now they have understood many things regarding our constitution.

Has Indian interest in Madhes been addressed after amendment in constitution?

Amendment has made things better.

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Indian Home Minister said that India is interested in the safety of 10 million Madhesis in Nepal. Why does India divide Nepalis as Madhesis and Pahadis?

Singh has clarified that he did not say those things. India is concerned about cross-border crimes and counterfeit currency among other things. Many Nepalis are in India and they live there like native Indians. We too formed a citizenship team and gave citizenships to Madhesis. Both countries have interpersonal relationships.

Indian PM Narendra Modi is a hardcore Hinduist. People understand that he wants to reinstate Nepal as a Hindu state.

Anyone under the oath of the constitution cannot express their personal emotions. But we should understand that Modi wants a peaceful, stable and progress-oriented Nepal.

Why is PM Modi angry with Nepal, then?

Nepalis cannot decide for themselves. Indians are development-minded and they worry that Nepal does not follow the path of development. We gripe about India reducing its aid to Nepal but the reality is that we cannot fully spend our budget. There is perpetual instability in the country. Both India and China agree that stability and economic prosperity is in Nepal’s benefit.

What is Indians’ take on Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track and Nijgadh International Airport?

Look. I know inner things about it since I used to be Tourism Minister. There are matters of air space. Building an international airport near Indian border is a tricky matter. At times the aircraft has to be held in the sky and Indian air space has to be used. That is why we have to have good relationship with India.

Pokhara does not have this problem. We can use our own air space in Pokhara but we cannot force ourselves into Indian airspace. An aircraft can enter Nepal from Delhi through Bhairahawa. This arrangement, made after long negotiations, has saved fuel and time. Indians had stopped this route arguing that their air force base is in Gorakhpur which is near Bhairahawa. But they made the base semi-commercial and allowed us to use that route. It is up to us to settle these things but we are revel in making matters worse.

A version of the interview appeared in Nepali Edition of Lokaantar.

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