Explained: Why RAW Chief’s Visit To Nepal And Meeting With Prime Minister Oli Is Much Ado About Nothing

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Oct 23, 2020 05:38 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: Why RAW Chief’s Visit To Nepal And Meeting With Prime Minister Oli Is Much Ado About NothingNepal Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and Director of Research & Analysis Wing Samant Kumar Goel.
  • There was nothing unusual about the meeting. This was Goel’s second meeting with Oli in a little over a year.

The short and sudden visit by the Director of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) Samant Kumar Goel to Kathmandu on Wednesday (21 October) and his meeting with Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli has kicked up an unseemly controversy in the Himalayan country.

Goel landed in Kathmandu with nine other officials in a special Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft and held meetings with not only Oli, but also heads of security agencies in that country including the Nepal Army chief, and other politicians.

Oli came in for sharp attack from his party colleagues as well as opposition politicians and some civil society members for his “secret meeting” with the head of India’s external spy agency.

Oli’s rivals in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), including former prime ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal termed the meeting as “improper” and “objectionable” and demanded that the details of the discussions be made public.

The fact that the Oli-Goel meeting at the Prime Minister’s official residence at Baluwatar lasted for more than two hours till nearly midnight added grist to the rumour mills.

The Indian delegation, comprising senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), also held separate meetings with Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai and Madhesi leader Mahantha Thakur.

Oli’s press adviser Surya Thapa issued a statement on Thursday stating that Goel made a “courtesy call” on Oli and the two discussed various measures to enhance Indo-Nepalese ties and how to resolve pending issues through dialogue.

Nepal’s former defence minister and senior NCP leader Bhim Bahadur Rawal said that the timing and manner of the meeting was “inappropriate”. NCP central secretariat member and ex-foreign minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha demanded that Oli reveal details of the meeting.

Unnecessary Controversy

But there was nothing unusual about the meeting. This was Goel’s second meeting with Oli in a little over a year — he had met Oli in July last year soon after taking over as the RAW chief.

That visit last year was at the invitation of the chief of Nepal’s National Intelligence Department (NID) which is RAW’s counterpart in that country.

The primary purpose of Goel’s visit, which happened at the invitation of the Nepal PMO, was to mend ties between the two countries. The visit also set the stage for the visit of Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane to Nepal early next month.

The RAW functions under the direct supervision and is a part of the PMO, and is thus closely involved in all overseas initiatives by the PMO.

Deputing the RAW chief on quasi-diplomatic assignments or to discuss sensitive issues with leaders of other countries is nothing out of the ordinary.

Goel, a 1984 batch IPS officer of the Punjab cadre, is considered to be an expert on South Asia, especially Pakistan. He was closely involved in the planning of the Balakot air strike last year.

It is learnt that Goel was sent to Kathmandu with the brief to convey India’s concerns and conditions for normalising Indo-Nepalese ties which got damaged by Oli’s jingoism since May this year.

Goel has considerable experience in international affairs and was RAW station chief in London. He also successfully carried out a number of sensitive assignments in some other countries.

The criticism of Oli’s meeting with Goel by the former’s party colleagues could be, according to sources in Kathmandu, due to the fact that the RAW chief did not meet them.

That Goel met opposition politicians, but not the leading lights of the NCP, could have riled the likes of Dahal, Nepal and Khanal.

But Goel’s visit was to discuss some sensitive issues bedevilling Indo-Nepalese ties and not a political visit that required him to meet all major politicians.

He met Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba and Janata Samajbadi Party chairman Baburam Bhattarai to know the minds of the major opposition parties on tentative steps both the countries are planning to normalise ties. Deuba is the leader of opposition.

Bhattarai, a former prime minister who was once a colleague of Dahal in the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), is the chairman of Janata Samajbadi Party, the largest Madhesi party.

Bhattarai is, thus, a very important political persona in Nepal. Bhattarai is also close to many in India’s political establishment.

India wants to set ties with Nepal on a firm footing to make it immune to changes in the country’s political leadership.

For that to happen, a consensus on some basic ground rules to govern bilateral ties needs to emerge across political divides in the Himalayan country. Goel’s talks with Deuba and Bhattarai need to be seen in that light.

What also needs to be kept in mind is that deputing heads of intelligence agencies to other countries on quasi-diplomatic or delicate assignments is practised by many countries.

The CIA director, for instance, is often deputed by Washington to other countries on specific missions.

The squabbling leaders of Nepal’s ruling NCP need not, thus, be over-sensitive to the meeting between Oli and the RAW chief.

Especially since they, too, held confabulations with Goel’s predecessors when they were occupying the PM’s post.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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