India, Nepal should let go of 1950’s mindset: Kamal Thapa

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Kamal Thapa is the President of RPP-Nepal, a political party demanding restoration of constitutional monarchy in Nepal. Thapa was foreign minister in the erstwhile KP Oli Cabinet, and was considered one of the key shapers of the government’s foreign policy. Following the Indian blockade in September 2015, Thapa made several trips to New Delhi, and also a maiden visit to Beijing. Onlinekhabar caught up with Thapa on Tuesday to talk about Nepal-India relations in light of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s impending visit to India.

So, where does Nepal-India relations stand as we speak?

Personally, I think that Nepal-India ties are normal now. The bitterness and misunderstanding that surfaced following the promulgation of the new Constitution in Nepal is gone.

Do you see any similarity between the four-point non-paper you presented in New Delhi and the letter Prime Minister Dahal wrote to his Indian counterpart recently? 

There are some political parties, intellectuals and mediapersons, who take a sensitive issue such as that of bilateral ties with other countries, very lightly and irresponsibly. Rather than sparing a thought for how their comments may have negative impact on bilateral relations, they think about how the situation can be used to fulfill their vested interests or to generate propaganda.

When the Madhesh movement was on, the political parties in the government and in the opposition prepared a roadmap to address the demands of the protesters. The roadmap had four steps.

The first one was to pass the Constitution amendment proposal the Nepali Congress government had tabled in the Parliament in order to ensure proportional and inclusive representation of all groups in all organs of the state.

The second step was to form a political mechanism to resolve issues related to the delineation of provincial boundaries, and to amend the Charter after the mechanism reaches an agreement. The roadmap said all other issues raised by Madheshi parties would be addressed through consensus, and the government would foot the hospital bills of people injured during protests.

That is exactly what I conveyed to the Indian political leaders after they wanted to know about the Madhesh movement and the implementation of the new Constitution. But when I returned to Nepal, I found out that a handful of political parties, self-styled intellectuals and members of the press were claiming that I handed over a four-point roadmap to Indian leaders. The whole episode was handled irresponsibly, I even dismissed the reports that time. But the damage had already been done, and the whole turn of events is brought up time and again.

I have said this time and again — that the protests by Madhesh-based parties is something totally internal to Nepal. There is no question of consulting the Indian government and acting on its advice when it comes Nepal’s internal matters. I have said this more than 50 times. But there is a group, which raises the issue repeatedly to fulfill vested interests. India itself has said it has no prescriptions for Nepal’s internal affairs.

All they are saying is that they want to see peace and stability in Nepal and for the constitution be owned by everyone. But here in Nepal it is ironic that the message is misinterpreted.

What about the letter Dahal sent to Modi through the PM’s  special envoy Nidhi?

As the country’s former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, I do not believe that the Prime Minister has written anything in the letter that would invite foreign interference in Nepal. The letter is being used as propaganda by some groups to further their political interests. Ties between two countries should not be treated with this level of irresponsibility.

What I think is that there was no need for the Prime Minister to write to his Indian counterpart. Whatever he wanted to convey should have been conveyed through special emissary Nidhi, whom the Indian political leaders are well acquainted with.

I don’t know whether it was the foreign ministry that advised the Prime Minister to write the letter or he did it out of his own volition. But I cannot even imagine that the Prime Minister may have asked for India’s opinion, suggestions and support when it comes to amending the Constitution.

Now that the letter (Nepal PM Prachanda’s letter to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi) has been dragged into controversy, it would not be a good idea to keep it a secret. 

I would like to say this — now that the letter has been dragged into controversy, it would not be a good idea to keep it a secret. The Prime Minister could inform top leaders of major political parties on the content of the letter; and that should suffice.

I would like to request the Opposition not to make a big deal of the letter.

What is your take on the Prime Minister’s visit to India? A new PM does not always need to visit neighbouring countries immediately after a change in government.

I am of the opinion that a new Prime Minister does not always need to visit the neighbouring countries immediately after a change in government.

Changes in government happen because of internal political reasons. But such changes do not alter the foreign policy.

A few months ago then PM KP Oli went to India and signed some important deals. I don’t think we have any new agreements that need to be signed immediately, so this one can be a goodwill visit 

Just a few months ago then Prime Minister KP Oli went to India, some important agreements were signed during the visit. I don’t think we have any new agreements that need to be signed immediately. So in that respect, the Prime Minister’s visit will be limited to a goodwill one. I hope he sticks to promoting better ties with India during the visit.

But we already have the best of ties with India now. No?

The problem is not with India, the government of India or the Indian leaders. At the root of the problem are those intellectuals and mediapersons in Nepal, who believe that they are more pro-Indian than ‘India’ itself!

On what basis are we to measure the level of friendliness between two countries? Before we left, 23 different bilateral meetings took place, that too within the June-July period.

The problem is not with India, government of India or Indian leaders. At the root of the problem are those intellectuals and mediapersons in Nepal, who believe they are more pro-Indian than ‘India’ itself!

Is this not an indication of the level of friendliness? We have taken our ties to a level where a foreign minister of Nepal or India can call his/her counterpart and talk about any pressing issue. Everything is back to normal.

We should understand that the relationship between the two countries has never been cold to the core. The Indian government’s annual report also says that ties with Nepal are improving. The Indian government had expressed scepticism about the new Constitution, but now it has accepted that the Charter has helped promote multiparty democracy in Nepal. That Nepal-India relations had become cold to the core is only a matter of subjective perception of some leaders in Nepal.

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But then Prime Minister KP Oli alleged that his government fell because of India.

I don’t know what he said. If you ask me, there is no question of pointing the finger at any foreigner. We should understand that when we stand united in our own home, neighbours will have little room to interfere.

What about the India ‘phobia’ in Nepal? 

If you look at the historic development of Nepal-India ties, Nepal has definitely remained dependent on India.

During the Rana period, the policy was to appease the British by remaining close to them. Before 1947, Nepal had diplomatic ties with only two countries. In some ways, we were in a situation Bhutan is in right now.

In 1951, India played an important role in bringing democracy to Nepal. Even then King Tribhvan had to go to India, and the revolutionaries had to conduct their activities from India. The Rana government also had to go to India to find a solution to the crisis. To some this may sound bitter, but all this is historical fact.

Even after the revolution, a representative of the Indian government used to be present during Cabinet meetings. Indians were appointed the king’s advisers, and they used to stay in the palace.

King Mahendra’s long-term thinking and the vision of leaders such as BP Koirala and Tanka Prasad Acharya helped Nepal move away from dependence on India in matters of international relations

But that was before we as a country developed our international personality. To be more precise, King Mahendra’s long-term thinking and the vision of leaders such as BP Koirala and Tanka Prasad Acharya helped Nepal move away from dependence on India in matters of international relations. After we became the member of the UN in 1955, we could establish our own separate identity in international fora, by 1970.

What was happening was part of the strategic plan to keep Nepal’s independence alive. What the Ranas did was also with similar objectives. When we try to judge whether this was something good or bad, we should look at things keeping the prevailing conditions in mind.

After the restoration of democracy in Nepal, we decided to assert our international personality even more. The current generation also thinks along these lines, and this is different from that of the post-1950 generation.

Changes have not only come to Nepal, they have come to India as well, and problems arise when either of the countries do not understand this. I have told Indian leaders that we need to rid ourselves of the 1950’s mindset.

A lot has happened in regional and global stages since the 50’s. I have maintained that India should not take Nepal’s move to increase contact with China as ‘anti-Indian’. You need to understand that 50 years ago, there was no possibility of practical cooperation between Nepal and China. Now that is not the case. Chinese trains are coming to Nepal-China border, this was something unimaginable 50 years ago.

China has become the world’s second biggest economy. When Nepal tries to reap benefits from China’s boom, Indians should not think we are trying to play the ‘China Card’. 

China has already become the second biggest economy in the world. When Nepal tries to reap benefits from China’s boom, Indians should not think we are trying to play the ‘China Card’. This is a psychological barrier  we need to overcome. We tried doing it, but could not succeed.

We must understand that as long as the barrier remains we won’t be able to assert our international personality fully.

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