Modi Took India Nepal Ties To A New Level, But We Are Now Back To Square One

Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla

Oct 23, 2015, 11:45 PM | Updated Feb 22, 2016, 03:53 PM IST

An interview with Nepal ambassador to India H.E. Deep Upadhyay on the recent turmoil in Indo-Nepal ties.

Caught in thick of misunderstanding between India and Nepal over amendments to Nepali constitution, Deep Upadhyay appeared visibly upset but sought the solution in truth. He recently shared his anguish, hope and belief in truth with Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla. Excerpts:

SS: I was going through my last interview with you in July. You had said that India and Nepal are related through roti and beti. Also that India PM Modi is quick and inspiring, and Nepal will try to match with his steps and complement expectations. Also, that Nepal will ensure there will be no communication gap. How has this snowballed to such a situation that India and Nepal both are holding grudges against each other? Prachand said that Nepal is not India’s yes man.

DU: I am so sad because I had come here with a different mission. I am not a career diplomat. A person from the socio-political field, I naturally mingle with leaders across political parties. Addressing Nepal’s parliament, PM Modi had spoken very high of bilateral ties. So I came here on the advice of my leaders that we should build upon the warmth. The irony is that I remained in dark. I have been asking myself the same question….See, India had always maintained that Nepal is free to make a constitution on its own. After all it is for Nepal to decide what it wants.

Whatever way Nepal wants to go, India kept itself far away from the process. Also, that Nepal should try to evolve or develop, frame such a constitution as may represent all sections of society. Ab hum to isi mein rah gaye. I have come here with a mission to develop, improve our already culturally, historically established ties with India. Hailing from the tarai region, I am aware of the problems and contradictions. I know the solutions too. Just as Indian parties have their political dynamics, in same way parties in Nepal also have inner dynamics. There are some isolated voices in every party. Unless we understand and appreciate it, the intended result may not be achieved. There are some cries in the wilderness too.

SS: It is but natural.

DU: Yes. None of my advice was sought or heeded. I am sad at that.

SS:Your advice.

DU: The Ministry of External Affairs here (India) didn’t ever share anything with me.

Indian foreign ministry didn’t communicate with you at all.

No. Don’t write it as my grievance or grudge against the MEA. But I have my analysis.

They (MEA, India) didn’t tell you anything.

No. Until it was too late, almost at the end, when special envoy (Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar) was to visit. Otherwise, it might have been managed well. I have always believed that there is only one truth. There can never be two truths. If we speak the truth and follow a path of truth, the problem can be correctly diagnosed. The solution can also be found. The root of the problems. When arms struggle began in Nepal, India almost withdrew. Nepali delegations kept visiting India. But India didn’t send anybody to Nepal either at the political level or bureaucratic level. Not even a meeting was convened.

Modiji changed everything. He not only infused personal energy into dynamics but also swung it to such a high level that Nepal was unable to match his brisk step and great expectations. Indo-Nepal entered into a new era. There couldn’t have been even an iota of negativity. Mismanagement of this current matter has messed it up… Modiji had a clear vision about Nepal. There are several groups of interest among Madhesis. Several parties operate in this Tarai region. I hail from Tarai. Elections have been held twice in the region.

The elected representatives can’t be ignored. We can’t challenge either the mandate of CA. I am sad that it was not appreciated. However, both sides are in touch trying to undo an avoidable damage and misunderstanding. Human beings are blessed with a mind and conscience that can learn lessons from mistakes and correct itself. If Nepal has committed a mistake, it should realise. If India has committed a mistake, it should realise. Matter ends. A beautiful future beckons us both. Nepal is a wonder. Modiji had said it everywhere. Nepal is the only country where the terrorists, militants surrendered their arms on their own. Terrorism, fundamentalism have sapped trillions of dollars across the world. Politicians living by guns have bowed to the might of ballots.

Not only that, they engaged with others to write a constitution. It is a huge leap. India’s relation with Nepal has been very warm, almost like a guardian. India has treated Nepal as one of its own. Whatever lacunae it finds in Nepal’s constitution, it will be corrected. Several laws need to be passed. Now constitution needs detailed studies, letter by letter, for a correct impression. A studied conclusion will then give a fair judgement, whatever that may be. What I come to know in the public domain at present is nothing but hearsay. If a lacuna is found, or a section of people feels under-represented or alienated, there will be a process to correct after a proper consultation. No constitution is a veda or Purana that can’t be amenable to amendments. We need to counsel such rampaging elements not to rock the boat now as are misled by hearsay. The rumour mongers have a field day. Denial of citizenship, under-representation etc..

Are these false?

Absolutely false.

That Madhesis, Tharu group are denied citizenship is false.

Absolutely false. Only a woman born on a foreign land but married to a Nepali is dis-entitled to top posts.

It is only just and fair.

It is an internationally followed practice.

In any case, Nepal, a sovereign nation, is free to make its laws.

A foreign man can naturally become a Nepali citizen after 15 years.

Could Nepal not have waited for more as urged by India for the protests by the disgruntled populace to dissipate?

We did stop for three days. But no person from the disgruntled populace turned up for a talk. The agitation had led to a complete paralysis for one month and a half. If the agitation had been suspended, the administration would have limped back to normalcy, we could have waited for longer than three days. We could have waited for seven days, ten days. But none came to talk even, what else could we have done? After all, the constitution has been in the process of making for last seven years. Everyone was going around a circle. Now that the process had started, nobody wanted to waste time without any reason.

So you didn’t think it wise to wait longer.

No, no. We grew doubtful. If they had sat with us to talk, the matter would have moved further.

They didn’t turn up at all.

No. They didn’t. It snowballed into a major problem. All is not yet lost. Several laws need to be passed. People are sovereign, not the parties. Boundaries are the most sensitive. The problem is that the parties, defeated in the elections, are trying to dictate. In one way, the earthquake drilled better senses into several heads. The leaders believed they might not get the second opportunity. Also, the Constitution might never see the light of the day, adding to further anarchy. So, we have come up with a beautiful constitution.

See what has happened. India and Nepal have been inalienable like an organic body. Generations of Nepalis have served in Indian Army. Studying in different colleges across India, they have participated in Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement during the freedom struggle. Late Honourable Chandrashekhar, former Indian Prime Minister used to say that we can never pay back Nepal for the contribution of its leaders to the freedom struggle and that of its youths to the Indian army.

What is the cause of this gap of communication?

When the 12-year treaty was talked about or whatever, India stopped engagement with Nepal. It opened up instead to the certain party, certain individuals within a party and established the relationship with them. It did have a bearing on Indo-Nepal ties. It is the cause of this problem, if we go back to yesteryears. After all, Nepal can’t survive without India. Surrounded by India on three sides, we have our life link to India only. The fourth side was destroyed in the earthquake. Modiji’s vision was to take the Indo-Nepal ties to an international market level. India also stands to make a lot of money through business in Nepal. So my immediate worry and concern is to patch up, repair and take the ties to untold level. I regret from the bottom of my heart that it should have not happened.

Are you in touch with Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar?

No. I am in touch with MEA but not with him (S Jaishankar) at the personal level. But when he visited Nepal as Modiji’s special envoy, whatever happened with him there was wrong. Because the special envoy was not just an envoy but the Govt itself.

Did Nepal commit any mistake there?

From what I hear here, the special envoy was ignored when he arrived in Nepal. Or he may have felt slighted. Or he was not accorded as much importance as he may have expected. This is all, isn’t it?

It was also given a Chinese spin here. It was alleged to be done at China’s behest. Also that when India was busy rehabilitating Nepal, China was quietly manipulating Nepal’s policymakers and constitution process (into its favour) against India. What do you think is a correct view?

Yes, I have also read a few stories about it. There may be several groups of people in Nepal with different allegiances to different countries – whether it is US or China. The parties may be free to follow an opinion, in whichever direction or in favour of whichever country they like. But when it comes to walking the talk, no party in Nepal can do without India. India should also engage with a party, not an individual. It should appreciate political dynamics in Tarai. No party will like to lose votes in politics. China’s influence is impossible. We are surrounded by India on three sides. What will China do? No one will work for an impossibility. Why waste energy, time thinking about an impossibility? I am ready for a debate. Nepal and India are linked heart to heart. No party in Nepal can change it.

So China syndrome is misplaced. Baseless.

Yes, it is not true. You follow me, don’t you? All India should do is to establish relationships with a party not an individual within a party. That will not help either India or us. Besides, India should a comprehensive view of Nepal as a whole country. It should not go down into micro details like fringe disgruntled elements.

India’s borders with Myanmar etc. are a different matter. Do you want Indo-Nepal border issues to be taken to that level? Nobody will agree at any cost. Otherwise, international forces will spoil everything.

If you appreciate India’s concern why did Nepal not address it?

Absolutely. Nepal should indeed have appreciated India’s concern. But India’s concern was not known to us until in the end when it was too late. Had I known, I would have helped. Seven years have passed since Nepali constitution began to be framed. Heaven won’t have fallen if it had extended by ten days. It was misunderstood. We will have to learn a lesson not to repeat it in future.

It can still be sorted out.

Absolutely. I must solve. We shall. The God will also bless us with a shared destiny. We have shared present, past and future too. Sometimes I wonder if it is due to inauspicious planetary movements. It was just a bad day or a bad week. Nothing to worry. Indo-Nepal ties will only improve before long.

The author is a senior journalist and columnist.

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