Brig JS Rajpurohit (Redt), PhD
5th June 2021
While the world is grappling with the singular threat of COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal is fighting the enemy on two fronts; the pandemic on one hand and survival of her democracy on the other. China has reversed her stance of non-involvement to active influence in Nepal power play pre and post 2008 respectively. The 2015 elections onwards, Nepal has seen the fructification of the power strokes and micro-management of this small Himalayan state by the Dragon. Open borders and kinship relations over 1850 km of Indo-Nepal border has become a cause of concern. Why such a drastic change in our neighbourhood nation is a moot question?
Indian Support to Nepal
Nepal is a land locked country neighbouring India and both are inter-dependent on each other for strategic, diplomatic and economic challenges facing South Asia. The fact is evident by four visits of Mr. Narendra Modi, Indian PM to Nepal since he came to power in 2014 and equal number of visits of Nepal President, PM, Deputy PM and Army bosses. Many a committee from both countries have visited each other. Strategic relations of both countries are based on very strong pacts; India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, India-Nepal Joint Commission, support during earthquake of 2015, Indo-Nepal Battalion-level Joint Military Exercise SURYA KIRAN are to name a few. The 2015 earthquake in Nepal saw Indian Disaster relief assistance worth US$ 67 million, reconstruction package of US $ 250 million. The Government of India provided reconstruction package of US$ 1 billion as post-earth quake rehabilitation support. There are over 150 Indian projects underway in Nepal and aid of INR 1200 crore have been deployed. India is a major trade partner of Nepal with yearly export and import amounting to US $ 7.76 billion. However, recent times have seen new lows in relations between the friendly neighbours and Nepalese strategic shift towards China is a cause of concern for India.
Chinese Expansionist Policy in Nepal
Expansionist policy of China and smaller countries becoming economic stooges of China are now common debates in geopolitical circles. China has made economic inroads into Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh in South Asia and has projects in the making in almost all the continents. China is physically present in 39 African countries, South East Asia, South America and majority of European countries. Australia, and Central Asian Republics (CAR) too are facing the over load of Chinese economic influx. Nepal appears a very small miniscule project yet strategically very important one for China. It has been a long term well planned economic attack in Nepal where it has seized the opportunity with Nepal almost falling into its trap without realizing that the trap was set long back to counter India in Tibet and Man Sarovar region. Particularly post 2008, China’s ability to play the communist card amidst the rise of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been more evident. Over a period of time, NCP has gained control of Nepal politics and is now a ruling party. Change of power in 2018 and foreign direct investment-based approach is changing the dynamics in South Asian region. China’s growing clout in the politics and economics of Nepal has been visible, with negative repercussions for India-Nepal friendship. To counter the changes in the emerging domestic and foreign policy dispensation in Nepal, India has been making serious efforts to strengthen ties and rejuvenate projects in Nepal.
The damage to Pillar 11 at the Sino-Nepal border and later its removal from the site has left a major gap in the area, leading to China developing two villages in the area. Chinese army as of now occupies the villages and there are high chances of them being gradually populated by Han Chinese. What is dazzling is China’s ability to stab Nepal in the back, with activities like the one seen at the Sino-Nepal border, all the while building a deep-seated politico-economic relationship with Nepal, with strategic ramifications for the South Asian region. The regularity of high-level visits between China and Nepal and the goodwill gesture in terms of infrastructure development in Nepal and cross-border trade are testament of the times to come, which is indeed a matter of concern for India whether it will be able to keep up the pace and protect its interests in Nepal. With the rise of the NCP, and its deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the road ahead will not be easy for India, as far as preserving Indo-Nepal friendship is concerned. The anvil strike on Indo-Nepal relations has been the passage of new political map of Nepal that shows Indian territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiya Dhura as Nepalese territories.
Impact on India
All possible actions are in swing to maintain good relations with Nepal. Cultural ties have dominated the economic and social causes of Nepal. Possibly, India was not able to visualize the insiders’ view of their actual needs of the day. Winds of change in Nepal have either not been thought of by Indian strategic visionaries or they have played it low and considered that Nepal will always remain a good old friend. Alas! The future stores a different history of relations between the two nations. India, despite all her efforts, has fallen short in front the inroads by the CCP.
Realization appears to have dawned on India and efforts are visible on ground and attempts to regain the lost glory are underway. The only option left with India is to meet the challenge head on; and initiate suitable diplomatic, economic and social actions to win the hearts and minds of Nepal’s population. May be, it is time to rekindle India’s ancient and deep-rooted religio-cultural ties with Nepal, an asset that requires a vigorous action and will be instrumental in this context to prevent the dragon’s knock at India’s doors through Nepal.
* The author is a retired Brigadier of Indian Army and is a freelance writer
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are those of the author