The recall of the Nepali ambassador to India, and the cancellation of the Nepali Presidential visit to India, is another low point in deteriorating relations between, arguably, the only two ‘Hindu nations’ on the planet. Kathmandu is livid that New Delhi continues to meddle in its internal affairs, that India continues to treat Nepali affairs as events which it should logically control. Actually, it can be a surprise to consider that India has had tense relations with virtually all its neighbours, at some point or the other. This runs contrary to the stated intent to live peacefully with other nations. In fact, critics, including Indian commentators, have pointed out that Indian foreign policy towards its neighbours seems to based on a simple formulation: don’t mess with the powerful ones (read China), and try to exert unwarranted influence on smaller neighbours. Nothing exemplifies the utter myopia of such a policy better than what New Delhi has been doing with Nepal. That Himalayan nation is one with which India could claim to have deep links, and yet no other country has complained as often of India’s ‘big brother’ attitude.
Nepal, despite all the problems, has been a model of how a state transitions from conflict to vibrant – though complicated – democracy. Much of the credit for that goes to the Nepalese people who forced the political class, including the Maoists, to stay away from a breakdown and press ahead with the formulation of a Constitution. India, incredibly, wants to have a say in how that Constitution is framed: and the current crisis has to do with India’s so-called espousal of Madeshi (people living in the plains) rights since they have close links with neighbouring states of India. New Delhi earlier tried to blame the ‘blockade’ on protests by sections of Madeshis over the division of Nepal into seven new states. The people of Nepal, however, are clearly blaming India for trying to coerce it.
Oil shortages hurt Nepal, even pharma companies were hurt, during the blockade. Ultimately, this forced Nepal to seek alternative routes to break the stranglehold (since it is surrounded by India on three sides) and forge closer links with China. The recent fracas is another link in this chain. An Indian commentator has called India’s policy ‘sledgehammer diplomacy’. And the notion of India being the bully in the region is being buttressed, even as little Nepal is learning to teach big brother new lessons.