Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Republican Nepal’s Royal Quandary

By Sanjay Upadhya

Five years after Nepal’s democratic parties and former Maoist rebels joined hands to abolish the 240-year monarchy, turning the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic, elements on both ends of the erstwhile alliance have begun voicing doubts on the wisdom of that decision.
Their comments come on the heels of growing indications that regional giants India and China, rivals for influence in the small landlocked nation they sandwich, might be working together to prevent instability from seeping into their own borders.
Massive and bloody popular protests in 2006 forced King Gyanendra to restore parliament and end his direct rule. The Maoists, who had waged a decade-long violent insurgency to abolish the crown before entering peaceful politics, eventually persuaded the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) to abandon their support for constitutional monarchy.
Elections in 2008 made the Maoists the largest party in the constitutional assembly, which formally abolished the monarchy. Their common adversary vanquished, political infighting intensified, leading to five prime ministers in as many years. The assembly failed to write a new constitution institutionalizing Nepal as a federal democratic republic, despite repeated extensions.
Facing mounting public criticism, Nepal’s key political parties earlier this year invited the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Khil Raj Regmi, to head a government of retired bureaucrats to hold fresh elections in November.
Many Nepalis doubt the elections would be held on time, given the deep polarization. Others remain skeptical whether another elected assembly could resolve the tough issues that stymied its predecessor.
Chief among them is the issue of federalism. The Maoists owed part of their success to effective articulation of the aspirations of Nepal’s dozens of ethnic and linguistic communities. These groups – at least 72 by official count – felt marginalized by what they considered a traditionally centralized polity symbolized by the monarchy.
Republicanism has created demands for separate states by many of these groups. Public debates on the model of federalism and the number of states Nepal needs have turned vociferous and protests have often brought the country to a standstill. A growing number of Nepalis now fear a fragmentation of the nation.
The prospect of several microstates in a geopolitically sensitive region has worried China and India. Beijing, long preoccupied with calming Tibet, which Nepal borders, fears destabilization from Nepal spilling all the way into Xinjiang. India, many of whose border states are larger than Nepal, worries of growing separatism within at a time when it is battling a raging Maoist insurgency of its own.
Although China has made significant inroads into Nepal, which India has traditionally considered its exclusive sphere of influence, there have been suggestions of cooperation between Beijing and New Delhi to stabilize Nepal in their mutual interest. Prolonged political instability, both New Delhi and Beijing seem to recognize, would allow extra-regional government and nongovernment forces greater room for maneuver.
In public, the imperative of stability is being expressed more candidly inside Nepal. Shashank Koirala, a leader of the Nepali Congress, conceded in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation that abolishing the monarchy had been a blunder. “There may come a time when the Nepali people might have to bring back the monarchy to save the nation-state,” he said.
Days later, Mohan Baidya, chief of the Maoist faction that broke away from organization that led the insurgency and who is perceived to be close to Beijing, spoke of a possibility of an alliance between his party and the former king. “Royalists are more nationalist than the other political forces,” Baidya said in a jibe at the perceived pro-Indian tilt of the major politicians.
These comments led former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, the chief ideologue of the main Maoist party, to demand the arrest of former king Gyanendra for alleged attempts to subvert the elections. The former monarch is on an extended tour of western Nepal where he is also distributing relief material to people affected by recent floods.
Opinion polls have shown a sharp decline in popular faith in political leaders. However, no survey has directly asked respondents on whether the monarchy should be restored.
Gyanendra ascended to the throne in June 2001 after the bloody palace massacre that wiped out much of the royal family. Although an official report blamed then Crown Prince Dipendra for gunning down King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other relatives over a domestic dispute before killing himself, suspicion long focused on Gyanendra, as the immediate beneficiary.
Before vacating the royal palace seven years later, Gyanendra rejected those allegations and dared those making them to prove his complicity. The two Maoist leaders who had directly accused Gyanendra – Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Bhattarai – both became prime minister but did nothing to reopen the case. This led many Nepalis to see political posturing in the allegations, allowing them to review their opinion of the former monarch.
During Gyanendra’s previous national tours – marked by inaugurations of temples and attendances in religious ceremonies – he has conceded that direct rule had been a mistake, while keeping open the prospect of a restoration of the monarchy. Leading politicians tended to ridicule the prospect of a return to monarchy. The fact that Bhattarai has now taken a stern tone also suggests that few of his peers may be considering that a laughing matter anymore.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Disturbing Admission Of Failure

By Sanjay Upadhya

In their eagerness to cede power to a ‘non-political’ election government, the architects of our headlong plunge toward a ‘new Nepal’ have admitted failure. That is a disturbing development on multiple levels.
Sections within the erstwhile Seven Party Alliance and the breakaway Maoist group -- representing the ideological core that drove the ‘People’s War’ -- have denounced the move as having been driven by foreign hands. The fact that the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninists seemed to have wilted overnight after ridiculing the idea lends credence to the critics.
Within both major parties, moreover, there are constituencies strongly opposed to the idea of the chief justice leading the government. A section of the Madhesh-based parties, too, has opposed the move from a different direction.
These critics deserve greater attention than those questioning the constitutionality of the move. After all, many of those criticizing the development from a constitutional vantage point are willing to accept it as a needed political outlet. Constitutionalism, in any case, has long ceased to govern the political process.
A political outlet that departs from the parties’ familiar shenanigans may be more attractive to the general public. And this is where things get scary. The foreign elements influencing our affairs hitherto got to shoot from the shoulders of traditional politicians. A ‘non-political’ government runs the risk of providing cover to both the foreign hand and the political parties.
It is hard to believe that the parties advocating such a government would be ready to cede the initiative. The prospect of political brinkmanship by proxy is real, especially when the parties can now consider themselves a step removed from direct responsibility.
The road-blocks to the promulgation of a new constitution will not have been removed by a mere change in the nature of the government. A ‘non-political’ government may be better able to hold credible elections. Yet the parties will have incentives to delay such elections if they perceive adverse conditions to their individual organizations. The parties that were not part of the April 2006 Uprising may see a better chance of earning the trust of the electorate. New realignments could underscore the shifts the public has undergone in these seven tumultuous years. In such a case, political stakeholders other than the principal parties might seek a say in the mechanism overseeing the election government. That would be more than enough to the currently predominant parties to stave off elections. Clearly, a prolonged transition is not in Nepal and Nepalis’ interests. Who, then, stands to benefit?
Unfortunately, the principal political parties seem to have absolved themselves from the responsibility to provide an honest answer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

चीन-भारत भू-सामरिक होडबाजी माझ नेपाल

— सञ्जय उपाध्याय

वृद्ध १४ अौ दलाई लामाको अवश्यंभावी अन्त, विश्व भर छरिए बसेका तिब्बती शरणार्थी समुदायमा व्याप्त असन्तोष एवं स्वतन्त्र तिब्बत अान्दोलन प्रतिको बढ्दो अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय समर्थनले सो हिमाली मु्द्दालाई अन्तर्र्ाष्टि्य समाचार बनाई राख्ने निश्चित छ।
दलाई लामा र उनका दशौ हजार समर्थकलाई बिगत अाधा शताब्दी देखि शरण दिइरहेको भारतले तिब्बत मुद्दालाई चीन सितको आफ्नो सिमा बिबाद सुल्झाउने तथा वृहत द्धिपक्षिक सम्बन्ध सुधार्ने क्रममा सौदाबाजीको तुरुपका रुपमा खुलेरै देख्न थालेको आभास हुंदैछ। यस अवस्थामा दुई एशियाली महाशक्ति राष्ट्र बीच च्यापिएको तथा करिव २०,००० तिब्बती शरणार्थीका घर बनेको नेपाल अझै महत्वपूर्ण क्रिडास्थल बन्ने देखिन्छ।
कम्तिमा नेपालका परिप्रेक्षबाट तिब्बत मुद्दा एउटा भौगोलिक क्षेत्रको स्वतन्त्रता, एउटा संस्कृतिको मुक्ति, वा एउटा जीवनशैलीको सराहना भन्दा भिन्न कुरा रहेको छ। यस क्षेत्र बाह्य शक्तिहरुलाई आफ्ना बिभिन्न स्वार्थ सिद्ध गर्न् थलो रहि आएको यथार्थको साक्षी नेपाली इतिहास बसेको छ।
तिब्बत मुद्दाले नेपालमा एक बिशिष्ट मनोवैज्ञानिक आकार ग्रहण गरेको छ। दलाई लामा तथा उनको संघर्षलाई सबैभन्दा सहानुभूतिपूर्वक हेरिरहेका नेपालीहरुकै पंक्तिबाट तिब्बतमा चीनियां आधिपत्य कायमै रहोस भन्ने चाहना राख्ने धेरै मानिस भेटिन्छन्। कतिपय नेपालीहरुमा स्वतन्त्र तिब्बतका कारण आफ्नो मुलुकले चीन सँ‌गको प्रत्यक्ष सिमाना गुमाउने चिन्ता रहेको पाइन्छ। त्यस्तो अबस्थामा नेपालमा अहिले नै थेग्न नसकिने गरी भइरहेको प्रत्यक्ष र परोक्ष भारतीय हस्तक्षेप अझ बढ्ने डर धेरैमा  छ।
नेपाल-चीन सम्बन्धको केन्द्रमा तिब्बत रहिआए पनि यी दुई देश बीचको अन्तरक्रिया तिब्बतबाट प्रारम्भ भएको थिएन। यो सम्बन्ध चीनका भिक्षुहरुको मध्य एशियाली मार्ग हुँदै ब्यापक गंगा क्षेत्रमा बुद्ध धर्म सम्बन्धी दस्तावेज र विधि-संग्रहको गरिएको प्रत्यक्ष खोजी बाट सुरु भएको हो। इस्वी सातौ सताब्दीमा शक्तिशाली तिब्बती राजा स्रङ चङ गम्पोले ‛विवाह-द्धारा-शान्ति’ भन्ने कूटनीतिक सिद्धान्त बमोजिम नेपाली र चीनियां राजपरिवार बाट एक-एक रानी भित्राएका थिए। यी दुइ रानीहरु आ-आफ्ना माईतीबाट तिब्बतमा बुद्ध धर्म भित्राउन मद्दत गरे जसले गर्दा नेपाल र चीन बीच सिधा हिमाली बाटो खुल्ने आधार बन्यो।
धर्म र ब्यापार हिमाली नाकाबाट वारपार गर्दा गर्दै शान्ति र सद्भाव कमजोर पर्न गयो। भारत माथि बेलायती सूर्य चढ्दै जाँदा नेपालले तिब्बत संग दुइवटा युद्ध गर्यो जसले नेपाल माथि चीनियां सैनिक हमला निम्त्यायो। नेपालले शान्तिका लागि गरेको सन्धिका आधारमा चीनको पैत्रित्व स्वीकार गर्यो भने चीनले नेपाललाई तेश्रो शक्ति विरुद्ध सैनिक संरक्षत्व दिने बाचा गर्यो। नेपालले उक्त सन्धि अन्तर्गत पा‌ंचपांच बर्षमा चीनका सम्राट समक्ष अर्जी र सौगातयुक्त प्रतिनिधिमण्डल पठाउन थाल्यो।
सन् १८१४-१६ को नेपाल-अङग्रेज युद्ध सम्म आइपुग्दा चीनले नेपाललाई सैनिक सहयोग गर्न अस्वीकार गर्यो। नेपाललाई पराजित गरि एकतिहाई भूमि खोसी सकेर पनि चीन-नेपाल सम्बन्धको प्रकृतिका बारेमा अङग्रेजहरु अलमलमै परिरहे। यसले गर्दा दक्षिण एशियामा बेलायती ‌उपनिवेशको जालो फैलिदा नेपालले आफ्नो स्वतन्त्रता कायम राख्न सफल भयो।
सन् १८५५-५६ मा तिब्बत संग तेश्रो युद्ध लडेको नेपालले १९०४ मा तिब्बतीहरुलाई अङग्रेजी ‌आक्रमण बिरुद्ध सहयोग गर्न इन्कार गर्यो। तत्पश्चात बेलायती सेनाको फिर्ती गराउनमा नेपालले महत्वपूर्ण कूटनीतिक योगदान गर्यो। तर त्यो कूटनीतिक सफलता धेरै दिन टिक्न सकेन किनकी जर्जर अबस्थामा पुगी सकेको चीङ साम्राज्यले नेपाल माथि आफ्नो आधिपत्य रहेको सूचना अङग्रेजहरुलाई पठायो। त्यसमा गम्भिर आपत्ति जनाउदै चन्द्र सम्सेर राणाले अङग्रेज सरकार संग सल्लाह गरि चीिनयां सम्राटलाई अर्जी र सौगात पठाउने प्रचलन नै बन्द गरिदिए। यसरी चीङ् सामराज्यको पैत्रित्व स्वीकारी सौगात बुझाउने विदेशी मुलुकहरुमा नेपाल अन्तिम हुन पुग्यो।
तिब्बतमा आफ्नो ब्यापारिक वर्चस्व कायम राख्न तथा आफ्नो स्वतन्त्र अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय अस्तित्वको परिचय दिन नेपालले सन् १९१२ मा बेइजिङ र ल्हासा बीच चीनियां फौजको फिर्तीका लागि सशक्त मध्यस्तकर्ताको भूमिका खेल्यो जस पश्चात् तिब्बतले करिब करिब स्वतन्त्रताको अनूभूति गर्न थाल्यो।
चीनियां राजतन्त्र संग तथा एकआपसमा गहिरो मतभेद भए पनि चीनका राष्ट्रबादी-गणतन्त्रबादी र साम्यबादी दुबै समूहले नेपाल माथि आफ्नो अाधिप्त्य रहेको दाबी कायम नै राखिरहे। सन् यात सेन र माओ जे डोङ दुबैले नेपाललाई चीनले अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय साम्राज्यबाद समक्ष गुमाएका राज्यहरु मध्य भनेर चित्रण गरेका थिए।
तिब्बतमा १९५० मा भएको चीनियां सैनिक प्रवेश माझ भरखरै स्वतन्त्रता प्राप्त गरेको भारतको नयां नेतृत्व पंक्तिले हिमालयको दक्षिण तर्फ साम्यबादको अभ्युदय रोक्ने चुनौति देखे। त्यसै सिलसिलामा भारतले राजतन्त्र अन्तर्गत राणाहरु सहितको बहुदलीय ब्यबस्थाको निर्माण गरी आफ्नो सुरक्षात्मक छाता माझ नेपालको आन्तरिक स्थिति सुदृढ पार्ने प्रयत्न गरे। सन् १९५९ मा नेपालको पहिलो आम निर्वाचनको पूर्वसन्ध्यामा तिब्बतीहरुले चीन बिरुद्ध आन्दोलन सुरु गरे जसको बिफलता पछि १४अौ दलाई लामा भागेर भारतमा शरण लिन पुगे।
यस्तो पेचिलो भू-सामरिक बाताबरणमा नेपालका प्रथम जननिर्वाचित प्रधानमन्त्री बिपी कोइराला चीन र भारत दुबै संग मित्रता कायम राखी नेपालमा प्रजातन्त्र सुदृढ गर्ने अभियानमा लागे। तर उनी असफल भए। राजा महेन्द्रले बहुदलीय पद्धती माथि प्रहार गर्दा चरम राजकीय अहं वा महत्वाकांक्षा भन्दा पनि बदलिदो अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय र क्षेत्रिय राजनीतिक समिकरण कारक तत्व रह्यो।
त्यस बखत नेपाल कयौ एशियाली‚ अफ्रिकी एवं लैटिन अमेरिकी मुलुकहरु जस्तै महाशक्ति राष्ट्र संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिका र सोभियत संघ बीचको शीत युद्धको शिकार भइसकेको थियो। ‌‌उता भारत र चीन बीच पनि सीमा लिएर तनाव बढ्दै थियो। त्यसै बेला नेपाल चीन बिरोधी अमेरिका समर्थित तिब्बती खम्पा बिद्रोहीहरुको अखडा बन्न पुग्यो।
१९६० र १९७० का दशकहरुमा त प्रजातन्त्रका खम्बा मानिने अमेरिका र भारत कटुताको सम्बन्धमा लिप्त थिए। त्यस्तै प्रमुख साम्यबादी शक्तिहरु सोभियत संघ र चीन बीच शत्रुता बढ्दै गयो। १९७० को अागमन सगै अमेरिका र चीनको सम्बन्धमा नाटकीय सुधार भयो भने भारत र सोभियत संघ बीच सैनिक गठबन्धन सरहकै सम्बन्ध कायम हुन पुग्यो। यसको प्रभाव नेपाल लगायत ब्यापक दक्षिण एशियाली क्षेत्रमा १९७० र १९८० को दशक भर रह्यो।
१९८० को दशकको अन्त्य हुदा सम्म तिब्बतमा उत्पन्न राजनीतिक अस्थिरता तियनमिएन स्क्वेयरमा भएको बिद्यार्थी अान्दोलनमा समाहित हुन पुग्यो। त्यो आन्दोलन सरकारी दमन र रक्तपातमा परिणत हुंदा नेपालीहरु पूर्वी युरोपमा ब्याप्त प्रजातान्त्रिक लहरले उत्प्रेरित भइरहेका थिए। भारतले लगाएको अार्थिक नाकाबन्दीको छायाँमा संचालित जनअान्दोलन माझ निर्दलीय पञ्चायत व्यवस्थाको अवसान सं‍गै अाफ्नो मित्र शक्ति राजतन्त्रको प्रत्यक्ष शासन समाप्त हुदां समेत आन्तरिक राजनीति सुल्झाउन ब्यस्त चीन चुप लागेर बस्यो।
नेपालको प्रजातान्त्रिक अभ्यासको क्षयीकरण हुदा माअोका नेपाली अनुयायीहरुले जनयुद्धको थालनी गरे। दरबार हत्याकाण्ड पछि नयां राजा ज्ञानेन्द्रले सत्ता आफ्नो हातमा लिदा भारत‚ अमेरिका र पश्चिमा मुलुकहरुले शाही सरकारलाई एक्लाउन खोज्दा चीनले दरबारलाई सहयोग पुर्यायो। त्यसबाट राजा ज्ञानेन्द्रले चीनकै आडभरोसामा सत्ता हत्थाए भन्नेहरुको कथनलाई बल पुर्यायो।
नेपाली बिद्रोहीहरुले माअोलाई बदनाम गरे भन्दै चीनले शाही सरकारलाई बिद्रोह दबाउन सैनिक सहयोग पनि गर्यो। तर एक बर्ष पछि शाही सरकार प्रति आन्तरिक राजनीतिक प्रतिरोध बढ्दै जादा चीन पछि हट्यो र अन्ततगोत्वा दरबारलाई त्याग्दै नेपाली माअोबादी समेत राजनीतिक दलहरुलाई समर्थन गर्यो।
चीनको नेपाल नीतिमा रहेको अस्प्ष्टता र संशयात्मक स्थितिबाट दुबै मुलुकले फाइदा पनि उठाएका छन्। एक थरिले अहिलेको बढ्दो चीनियां गतिबिधीलाई अस्वभाविक मान्दै अन्तत: चीनले आफ्नो सुविधा र अनुकुलताको परराष्ट्र नीतिका आधारमा नेपाललाई भारतकै प्रभाव क्षेत्रका रुपमा स्वीकार गर्नेमा ढुक्क देखिन्छन्। तर नेपालमा चीनको स्वार्थ तिब्बत मुद्दा भन्दा माथि उठेका कारण चीनको नेपाल प्रतिको रुचि उसको ब्यापक दक्षिण एशियाली नीतिमा समाहीत भई बढदै जाने देखिन्छ।
ल्हासामा कुटनीतिक प्रतिनिधित्व रहेको नेपाल एक मात्र बिदेशी मुलुक हो भने बास्तविक्ता बाट उत्पन्न हुने नेपाली दायित्वको बोध चीनले बिभिन्न तरिकाले बारम्वार गराइरहने छ। तिब्बतमा आफूले गरिरहेको ब्यापक बिकास-निर्माण कार्यबाट हुन सक्ने लाभको स्मरण नेपाललाई गराउदै चीनले नेपाललाई नयां दीर्घकालीन राजनीतिक‚ सुरक्षा‚ अार्थिक र सास्कृतिक सम्झौता एवं समझदारी द्धारा द्धिपक्षिय सम्बन्ध विस्तार गर्दै लैजान उत्प्रेरित गरिहने देखिन्छ।
इतिहासलाई बर्तमान नीति र भविष्यको खाकाको आधारशिला बनाउदै गरेका चीनियांहरुले नेपालले चीनको पैत्रित्व मानेको बिगत र चीनलाई अन्तिम अर्जीयुक्त प्रतिनिधिमण्डल पठाएको मुलुकका रुपमा देख्ने क्रम बढ्न सक्छ। यसबाट नेपाललाई भारतको अप्रसन्नतायुक्त प्रभावको सामना गर्ने चूनौति त छंदै छ भने तेश्रो राष्ट्रहरु र तिनिहरु द्धारा स‌चालित गैरसरकारी स‌स्था तथा संयन्त्रका केही गतिबिधिले राजनीतिक अस्थिरतामा गांजिएको नेपाललाई भू-सामरिक सन्तुलन कायम राख्न कठीन पर्ने देखिन्छ।

(यो अालेख स‌‌ंजय उपाध्याय द्धारा लिखित तथा रट्लेजद्धारा लण्डन तथा न्युयोर्कबाट मार्च २०१२ मा प्रकाशित ‛नेपाल एण्ड द जियो-स्ट्रेटिजिक राइभल्री बिट्विइन चाईना एण्ड ईण्डिया’ पुस्तकको सम्पादित अं‌शको नेपाली रुपान्तर हो।)

Friday, June 01, 2012

Nepal and the Sino-Indian Rivalry

Wedged precariously between two giants, Nepal is likely to become an even more important theater

By Sanjay Upadhya

The inevitable passing of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the radicalization of the Tibetan diaspora and the fervor of the international campaign to free Tibet are bound to keep the Himalayan dispute on the world's front pages.
India, which has sheltered the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of his followers, today increasingly sees Tibet as a bargaining chip with China in its overall bilateral relationship. Home to some 20,000 Tibetan refugees and wedged precariously between the assertive Asian giants, Nepal is likely to become an even more important theater.
From Nepal's perspective, at least, the issue of Tibet goes beyond the freedom of a land, the liberation of a culture and a celebration of a way of life. The region always has been a conduit for major external protagonists to pursue wider objectives. The British Empire considered Tibet a critical part of the imperial chessboard, a legacy that lives on in today's geo-strategic milieu where China sees the region as a front rivals are intent on using to contain its rise.
The Tibet issue has a peculiar psychological subtext in Nepal. Some of the same people, who profess the greatest admiration for the Dalai Lama and his cause, also hope that Tibet remains under Chinese control. Many Nepalese recognize that an independent Tibet would leave their country without a border with China. They believe such a situation would allow India, which has long invoked its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in the land-locked nation, to tighten its grip.
Although Tibet has been central to the Sino-Nepalese relationship, Nepal's formal contacts with China did not originate through the region. It began with China's quest for Buddhist texts, artifacts and codes from the wider Gangetic heartland. In the mid-seventh century, a powerful Tibetan king extracted consorts from Chinese and Nepalese royal households on the principle of peace through kinship. The two wives helped bring Buddhism to Tibet and opened a direct Himalayan route between Nepal and China, bypassing the more arduous one across Central Asia.
As religion and trade began traversing the same Himalayan passes, peace and goodwill began losing ground. As the British sun rose higher over India, Nepal fought two wars with Tibet, precipitating a Chinese invasion. The Nepalese gained peace by entering into a tributary relationship with the Middle Kingdom, a duty they would discharge with utmost diligence. The Nepalese became the last foreigners to pay tribute to the Qing, as the arrangement helped maintain their independence as most of modern South Asia fell under the sway of the British Empire.
Nepal, which fought a third war with Tibet in 1855-56, refused to aid the Tibetans against a British invasion in 1904, but helped secure the withdrawal of the invaders. The diplomatic triumph was short-lived as the tottering Qing formally claimed suzerainty over Nepal. Seeking to preserve its interests in Tibet - and project its independence - Nepal mediated between Beijing and Lhasa in 1912, after which Tibet enjoyed a period of de facto independence.
For all their antipathy for the Qing and for each other, Chinese nationalists and communists pressed their country's claims on Nepal: Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong both included Nepal among territories China had lost to imperialism.
The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 impelled the leaders of independent India to restore the monarchy at the top of a multiparty democracy in Nepal to forestall a communist advance southward.On the eve of Nepal's first democratic elections in 1959, Tibetans rose up in a failed revolt against Beijing, prompting the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India.
Nepal's first elected prime minister, B.P. Koirala, sought unsuccessfully to consolidate democracy by asserting Nepalese independence from India and China. When King Mahendra dissolved parliament, jailed Koirala and most of the elected leadership, and abolished multiparty democracy, much more than royal ambition was at play.
Nepal had become a center of Cold War intrigue where the United States and India - the world's two largest democracies - were working to undermine each other as were the communist giants China and the Soviet Union. By the end of the 1960s, Sino-American rapprochement put the two nations on the same side in Nepal for the duration of the Cold War.
As the 1980s drew to a close, a new round of unrest in Tibet merged with student protests in Beijing, culminating in the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. The fall of the Berlin Wall inspired the Nepalese to bring down the palace-led partyless Panchayat system, with Beijing a mere bystander.
With the kingdom's democracy turning rancorous, Nepalese disciples of Mao launched a bloody insurgency, a convulsion exacerbated by the assassinations of King Birendra and almost the entire royal family in a June 2001 palace massacre. India, like the United States and Britain, opposed King Gyanendra's February 2005 coup, widely perceived to have enjoyed Chinese backing. Beijing, which accused the Nepalese Maoists of soiling the Great Helmsman's memory, armed the palace against the rebels. Yet a year later, as the royal regime faced massive popular protests, Beijing distanced itself from the monarchy and befriended the Nepalese Maoists.
Chinese policy toward Nepal has been marked by much ambiguity, which both Beijing and Kathmandu have benefited from. One school of thought sees limited Chinese interest in Nepal, where phases of Beijing's assertiveness are the exception. In keeping with its foreign policy of unsentimental pragmatism, this school contends, China could easily concede Nepal as part of India's sphere of influence.
Chinese assertiveness, however, is likely to grow as its interests in Nepal go beyond the issue of Tibet to encompass its wider South Asian strategy. Nepal is only country that maintains diplomatic representation in Lhasa and Beijing reminds Kathmandu with ever greater regularity the responsibility that flows with the privilege. Enticing Nepal with promises of greater commercial benefits as part of its massive investments in Tibet, Beijing is intent on committing Nepal to firm political, security, economic and cultural agreements.
Should tradition become a more dominant part of Chinese regional diplomacy - as also seems likely - Nepal's status as a former tributary to the Middle Kingdom is likely to drive Beijing's policy. This is bound to raise anxiety levels in India, whose own relations with China sit uneasily atop planks of cooperation, competition and confrontation that are vulnerable to extra-regional pressures.

(Sanjay Upadhya is a U.S.-based Nepalese journalist and author. This essay was excerpted from his latest book, Nepal and the Geo-Strategic Rivalry Between China and India (London and New York: Routledge, 2012, 228 pp).

This essay was first published by Global India Newswire

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nepal and the Geo-Strategic Rivalry between China and India

The importance of the Himalayan state of Nepal has been obscured by the international campaign to free Tibet and the vicissitudes of the Sino-Indian rivalry, I write in this new book.
This monograph presents the history of Nepal’s domestic politics and foreign relations from ancient to modern times. Analysing newly declassified reports from the United States and Britain, published memoirs, oral recollections and interviews, the book presents the historical interactions between Nepal, China, Tibet and India.
It discusses how the ageing and inevitable death of the 14th Dalai Lama, the radicalization of Tibetan diaspora and the ascendancy of the international campaign to free Tibet are of increasing importance to Nepal
With its position between China and India, the book notes how the focus could shift to Nepal, with it being home to some 20,000 Tibetan refugees and its chronic political turmoil, deepened by the Asian giants’ rivalry.
Using a chronological approach, the past and present of the rivalry between China and India are studied, and attempts to chart the future are made. The book contributes to a new understanding of the intricate relationship of Nepal with these neighbouring countries, and is of interest to students and scholars of South Asian studies, politics and international relations.

Nepal and the Geo-Strategic Rivalry between China and India
By Sanjay Upadhya
New York and London: Routledge
228 pages
Series: Routledge Studies in South Asian Politics
Published March 1st 2012

Friday, April 29, 2011

Perpetual Legislature And Political Legitimacy

By Sanjay Upadhya

With the monarch and the upper chamber out of parliament’s perimeter, Nepal is cruising on a legislative course with a third of the mass the current constitution contemplates.
Compare this with the much-maligned direct rule of King Gyanendra, when two-thirds of the legislative aggregation was alive. It’s a different matter that nobody thought of convening the upper house while the speaker of the dissolved lower chamber was busy attending international conferences in his official capacity.
But who is concerned about the constitution? Members of the reinstated House of Representatives (HoR), having monopolized the assembly, are operating on an open-ended tenure. In their frenzied fealty to the “historic mandate” of the April Uprising, MPs evidently feel comfortable with stretching their interpretation of popular aspirations and expanding their job description accordingly.
To be sure, much of what has passed for legislative deliberation over the last five weeks boils down to vendetta. But, then, expecting the newly empowered political class to desist from vengeance would be tantamount to rejecting basic human nature. The amalgamation of incarceration and humiliation the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) endured during the palace’s 15-month direct rule could not have been conducive to conciliation.
In the passions of the moment, it is easy to miss the bigger picture. The Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML), as the principal drafters of the 1990 constitution, virtually claimed ownership of the subsequent 12-year political process. The sense of finality that set in from the outset impelled some to insist that the constitution did not need to be amended for another 30 years. When King Gyanendra began exercising his constitutional responsibilities in forms unpalatable to the political parties, governance assumed an exclusive political content.
The pendulum has swung in the other direction with the attendant kinetic energy. Having succeeded in casting the monarchy as the principal obstacle to “total democracy” – a convenient
euphemism for their predominance – SPA leaders have temporarily obscured their own role in precipitating the return of royal assertiveness.
The emasculation of the monarchy, in the SPA’s view, is the principal precondition of the moment. The wider political climate undoubtedly favors that interpretation, as the virtual silence
emanating from the royalist parties/factions in the legislature underscores.
Through the “landmark” HoR proclamation, the SPA has sought to tame the palace in the run-up to the constituent assembly elections, which would determine the future of the monarchy. The SPA and its opponents both recognize that the legality of current actions can be fought over another day. For now, the focus is on ensuring the supremacy of a parliament on life support. For how long?
SPA leaders insist that the legislature must remain active until an alternative is found. The Maoists want the HoR and the government dissolved in favor of a national conference and interim government. Despite his rhetoric, Maoist supremo Prachanda recognizes that the
SPA is carefully weighing its options. Among individual constituent parties and factions within, choosing between the Maoists and the monarchists requires careful deliberation and an abundance of time.
Having split the premiership and speakership between them, the Nepali Congress and the UML have consented to the existence of the breakaway Nepali Congress (Democratic) as an independent entity.
Mindful of the Maoists’ opposition and the political loss to the Nepali Congress, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government has rejected the UML’s demand for the restoration of the local bodies. While announcing that civil servants would run those bodies, the government signaled its tentativeness by adding the “for the time being” proviso.
In seeking to bolster their public persona, legislators have overreached to address a “final status” issue like turning Nepal into a secular state. The argument that Nepal’s Hindu identity was
an appendage of active monarchy and therefore deserving of a democratic makeover has been rubbished by avowed critics of the king. Legitimacy acquires the greatest slipperiness where sincerity looks like smugness.
It took 15 months for King Gyanendra’s roadmap to be discredited. The SPA can consider its democratic character a cushion against such a swift and sharp reversal of perceptions. Their principal claim to the moral high ground – that errant politicians are always ready to face the wrath of the people – is already sounding hackneyed. And, lest we forget, we still have to figure out the kind of constituencies the assembly is going to represent.
There is a more immediate operational disadvantage for the SPA. In the spring of 1990, the parties had reclaimed power after three-decades of partyless direct rule by the palace. The 15-month interregnum this time – considering that the government King Gyanendra ousted on Feb. 1, 2005 before assuming direct control contained two of the three principal SPA constituents – has considerably constricted the alliance’s comfort zone.
The ideology-vs.-personality clashes within parties and their factions, the assertion of power by non-political actors, representational resentments that led to the squandering of political capital and the other factors that created an anguished electorate are all capable of returning to the forefront of the national consciousness – and with a vengeance.

Originally published on Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tentativeness Behind Indian Triumphalism

By Sanjay Upadhya

During her recent three-day ‘goodwill’ visit, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao assured Nepalese leaders that New Delhi would support any government in Kathmandu. That the top Indian foreign policy bureaucrat spelled out in words what ordinarily is a given in state-to-state relations was telling enough. More so was the fact that important sections in Nepal, including outspoken critics of Indian ‘high-handedness’, accepted the remark as innocuous.
To be fair, Rao had arrived to allay apprehensions New Delhi itself had attributed to Ambassador Rakesh Sood’s diplomatic robustness, which has often climbed several notches above his pay grade. So Rao’s comment on Nepal’s new government could have been taken in the spirit of goodwill. But that became difficult considering the general obscurity of Madan Kumar Bhattarai, her official host.
Still, Rao’s visit served to embody a deeper message: behind India’s triumphalism over the exit of UNMIN lies a palpable ambivalence on the path ahead. New Delhi has deployed its ambiguity with daunting creativity. India is not meddling in Nepal. It is merely responding to requests by Nepalese players in the true of spirit of good-neighborliness. The throwback to the 1950s is unmistakable. But the perils to Nepal are far greater. India may still exert the dominant foreign influence in Nepal, but it does not enjoy the monopoly of the early Nehruvian era.
The advent of the new year, coinciding with New Delhi’s entry into the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term, saw a surge in Indian diplomatic reportage on how Nepal would figure higher on South Block’s neighborhood agenda. Then came that high-profile conference in the Indian capital, which, according to a top Indian expert, whose purpose was to allow Nepalese parties and players a candor deemed impossible inside their country.
How far such an exchange was achieved remains unclear. But the official Indian establishment took full advantage of the event by projecting Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as a leading contender for power whom New Delhi could do business with. Regardless of whether Dr. Bhattarai actually becomes premier, the boost he received will have proved instrumental in the taming the Maoists, a key unfulfilled objective of the 12-Point Agreement.
The message got through. During his meeting with Rao, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal was compelled to explain that he was not anti-Indian. For a variety of complex reasons – all not entirely sinister – Nepal’s quest for survival has conflicted with India’s notions of its national interest. The assertion of ‘Nepaliness’ had been long equated with anti-Indianism, the ultimate beneficiary of which has been New Delhi. Dahal could have made a greater contribution by not conceding the premise.
In the vicious power game, New Delhi does not lack perceived favorites. Key contenders, in varying degrees, have been eager to project themselves in that light. This would have been a moment of unrestrained delight for New Delhi had it not had to contend with post-UNMIN ambiguity.
How the United Nations entered Nepal over the evident discomfiture of India and China remains in the realm of continuing inquiry. The Maoists wanted the United Nations in as an insurance policy, and both neighbors grudgingly went along despite the likely precedents for places like Kashmir and Tibet. From a narrow and targeted mission, UNMIN evolved in different ways for the diverse internal and external constituents and stakeholders. So when UMNIN chief Karin Landgren asserted that Nepal stood on the crossroads between a military takeover and Maoist revolt, carefully attributing her view to prevailing popular perception, few saw that as an abdication by UNMIN of its responsibility.
Publicly, New Delhi feigns happiness that Beijing did not oppose UNMIN’s withdrawal. But India recognizes the advantages China gained through the internationalization of the peace process. These past four years have coincided with a surge in the influence of the hawkish People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security on Chinese foreign policy. The growing advocacy of Maoist norms by key allies of Xi Jinping, the presumptive successor to President Hu Jintao, suggests a further surge of nationalism in Beijing’s regional outlook and attitudes.
The ‘hyperrealist’ school in India, on the other hand, has become more candid about using the Tibet issue to bolster India’s leverage with China. The absence of New Delhi’s affirmation that Tibet remains an integral part of China from the joint communiqué issued after Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit was indicative of the influence of hawks in Indian foreign policy.
The diverse fault lines between India and China – security, territory, trade, energy, natural resources, etc. – are embodied in the issue of Tibet, into which Nepal is being increasingly sucked deeper. And through the Tibet issue, other governments, organizations and interests have the capacity to influence India-China bilateralism. Particularly relevant for Nepal is the fact that many members of India’s hyperrealist school are convinced that the United States will hedge its bets in any Sino-Indian conflict, notwithstanding the upswing in Washington-New Delhi relations.
In addition to leaving politicians from all parties vying for its patronage, New Delhi has exhibited clear enough signals that it may be amenable to a variety of outcomes in Nepal. Even on the issue of reinstatement of the 1990 constitution, some Indian sources have envisaged the possibility of dropping the monarchy, an ‘unchangeable’ feature of that document. If anything, the roots of this tentativeness lay in India’s wider geopolitical ambivalence.