Diplomatic Eye-EP 20

Nepal-India relation: Manifestations and expectations? (Video)

[Part : One]

Diplomacy is essential to advancing bilateral and multilateral relations among countries. It’s critical to weigh the positive contributions diplomats have made to Nepal-Indian relations. Equally important is to go deep into any potential harm their involvement in domestic politics may have caused.

Should diplomats become involved in a sovereign nation’s domestic affairs. Before dispatching ambassadors on their diplomatic missions, how do the government brief them?

In this episode, I try to address these issues. References are extracted from a few books, including “India and Nepal: An Exercise in Open Diplomacy” by Shriman Narayan, and “A Life in Diplomacy” by Maharaj Krishna Rasgotra.

My readings of various books from diplomats including those mentioned above have imparted the learnings that certain diplomats actually contributed to the improvement of relations between Nepal and India, while others exercised coercive diplomacy. Some others have encouraged political instability and dabbled into areas essentially internal.

Along with the issues raised earlier, a few clear additional questions come up in the current situation:

  • What prevented Nepal and India’s bilateral relations from progressing positively?
  • Who has the responsibility? politicians, diplomats, or both?
  • Are ambassadors and political figures increasingly losing their credibility?
  • What are the conditions that make it difficult to trust political figures and diplomats?

Here I provide a contextual overview of the relationship’s highs and lows under various regimes. This episode discusses two examples.

Open diplomacy in action: the era of King Mahendra
From November 20, 1964, to December 17, 1967, Shriman Narayan served as India’s ambassador to Nepal. He writes openly in his book about how his experience in Nepal left him firmly convinced that, going forward, modern notions of diplomacy would give way to sincerity, truthfulness, openness, and goodwill in order to rebuild a better world order in which the interests of all countries, no matter how big or small, would be upheld by enduring principles.

Ambassador Narayan was deployed to Nepal at a time India was still recovering from the aftershock of the war it had fought with China in 1962, hence there were real concerns regarding perceived threats from China to India.

According to Amb. Narayan, the presence of hundreds of Chinese technicians in the eastern Terai during the construction of a section of the East-West Highway by China constituted a genuine threat to the security of India’s northern frontiers. Before this, Nepal had asked India to start building the East-West Highway, but India had refused to reply to its repeated demands. As a result, Nepal had to contact China, who quickly accepted its proposal.

Aware of India’s concerns, King Mahendra asked China to pull out of the eastern section of the East West Highway and start over with a new road survey somewhere in the middle of Nepal. When Narayan told Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri about this, he naturally felt immensely relieved of the profound fear. Narayan said that this was a very welcome move for India.

Amb. Narayan further claimed to have convinced his government to take up a significant section of the road, approximately 450 miles long, and build it quickly over the course of the next ten to fifteen years in compliance with the wishes of the HMG of Nepal.

In Ambassador Narayan’s departure speech, King Mahendra was quoted as saying, “I know that your services are required in various spheres in your own country,” and continued, “But, so long as you were here, I was free from worries in respect of Indo-Nepal relations.” “With all of your distance in Gujarat, I trust you will still be interested in Nepal’s welfare” (p.108).

Diplomat’s Dilemma: Indira Gandhi’s Instructions to MK Rasgotra
Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra, often known as M. K. Rasgotra, was an Indian diplomat and scholar who served as India’s 12th Foreign Secretary from 1 May 1982 to 31 January 1985. From December 8, 1973, to October 17, 1976, during King Birendra’s regime, he served as India’s ambassador to Nepal.

In his autobiography, “A Life in Diplomacy”, Rasgotra states that Nepal’s political, economic, and open-borders connections with India would need to be completely restructured in order for it to become neutral. The idea of the Zone of Peace, that King Birendra proposed was quickly endorsed by China and Pakistan, indicating that they had been consulted beforehand. However, India was not consulted according to him.

Rasgotra points the finger at the country’s leadership of Nepal, saying they are not reconciled to the geography of their country.

His message in the book is that a nation’s internal and external policies that are designed without consideration for the physical constraints of its location would inevitably lead to complexes that make even India’s cordial welcome uncomfortable.

Although he says, “Both Nepal and India have to find a better modus vivendi between them,” he doesn’t say how.

Above all, we must comprehend the nature of the briefings given to Indian ambassadors prior to their deployment on diplomatic missions in Nepal.

MK Rasgotra was given the following instructions by Mrs. Indira Gandhi:

 “Nepal’s rulers cannot be trusted, they say one thing and do the opposite. I do not like that. They are not our friends. I am sending you there because you know them. See what you can do to mend matters. But be firm in dealing with them” (p.297).

How can we hope that the relationship between Nepal and India improves if the newly appointed ambassador is being inducted in this manner?

In summary, I wholeheartedly concur with Ambassador Shriman Narayan’s assertion in his book that India and Nepal ought to deepen their cultural, political, and economic ties out of mutual benefit. For centuries, they have been inextricably linked by history, geography, and economy. For the greater good of the regional populace, it would be advantageous for both nations to strengthen their ties even more. India and Nepal must adhere to their own political and administrative structures without any interference. For the errors they have made, there should always be room for improvement.

The foundation of the partnership need to be the “Panchasheel” spirit. Both nations’ diplomats and politicians ought to learn from their mistakes in the past and move forward.