Diplomacy ordinarily means management of a country’s affairs by its agents abroad and their direction by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at home. Currently, Prof SD Muni’s much talked about essay in Nepal in Transition: From People’s War to Fragile Peace, claimed that Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had in June 2002 committed in black and white to the Indian PMO that they would not oppose India in its dealings with Nepal and that they had apparently convinced Indian intelligence agencies too.
But interestingly, the then Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran confirmed while interacting with the media on July 27 that India had interfered in Nepal’s internal matter when the then Maoist PM Dahal tried to dismiss CoAS Rookmangud Katawal. It might hence be guessed that India put pressure on the 22 parties, who had then submitted a memorandum to the president that Katawal’s dismissal be annulled. But as such an intervention on the president’s part was political and constitutional necessity, India’s role in the whole affair is likely to have been marginal. It could be that Saran was simply trying to talk up his role in the Katawal affair.
Here I would like to take up correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru, King Tribhuwan and then-Prime Minister Matrika Prasad Koirala in early 1950s to better understand the history that underpins the relationship between the two countries. On the announcement of revolt by Raksha Dal, NC’s insurrectionary wing against the Ranas, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a personal letter to the king on January 27, 1952. Addressing the king as ‘My dear friend’, he expresses his hope that a small Indian Army and Air Force contingent visiting Kathmandu would be of some assistance to Nepal. “The whole purpose of this visit is to render assistance, in the shape of advice, where required and not to interfere in any other way with your Government arrangements.” The same day he writes to PM Koirala, enclosing a copy of the letter addressed to the king.
As regards internal bickering in the Nepali Congress (NC) and relation between two Koirala brothers (Matrika and BP), Nehru writes to MP Koirala on February 28, 1952, “I spoke quite frankly to him
[BP Koirala] about the position in and the needs of Nepal and the responsibility which rested on a few leading personalities in the movement for freedom in Nepal. These personalities included you and BP. I told that it was exceedingly injurious to the cause of Nepal, and of course to that of the NC, for a conflict to take place between you and him.”
He writes further, “I told BP that he had some excellent qualities… but he was far too impulsive and lacked ballast. No doubt with a little experience he will gain this ballast and be more balanced. He was young and he would have plenty of chances of working for bigger purpose. But by over-reaching himself he might not only injure his own chances but what was more important, also harm Nepal’s interests.” Keeping in view a presidential contest in the party, he suggests, “It would be improper for a contested election to take place for the Presidentship of the NC. Whoever might win, this would affect the unity of Government with the NC. It would leave a trail of conflict and bitterness behind.
He asserts, “It was immaterial to me whether the PM was the President of the NC or not… But it was essential that the President of the NC and the PM should pull together… I said it all in a very friendly way, as I would talk to a young colleague of mine.” In another letter dated April 23, 1952, he writes to Koirala, “It is not for me to advise you in regard to domestic matters but, if I may say so, it might be possible to introduce some simple reforms with great speed. These reforms may relate to the judicial system, which, I understand, is very primitive… May I also say that it would be desirable if the King as well as Ministers did not frequently go out of Nepal, more specially to big cities like Calcutta?”
While cautioning Nepal against employing foreigners and especially regarding US aid, he writes on February 25, 1952, “There are all kinds of laws in the US governing help to foreign countries and wanting something in exchange. We have been dealing with the US for a long time and have made it perfectly clear that while help is welcome, we will not have any political or other strings attached to it.”
Nehru expresses his categorical commitment not to interfere in internal matters of Nepal on June 6, 1952, writing, “I have hesitated to write to you because it is none of my business to interfere in any way in the internal politics of Nepal.” Attaching great importance to two elements in Nepal (stability and promise of progress), he shows his disgust on the front of Constituent Assembly (CA) elections and functioning of the Advisory Council (AC).
India has fine-tuned its diplomacy to deal with security concerns vis-à-vis Nepal. The shift was apparent as far back as 1950.
“These two elements were: the King and the NC…. As I know, no progress has been made towards the calling of the CA and the AC has not functioned at all… It is not my concern what kind of Government the Nepalese people would like to have themselves. But if something happens in Nepal, which endangers our own security, then of course this is a matter of great concern to us... History and geography have thrown India and Nepal together. We cannot forget that history or change geography.”
On July 31, 1952, Nehru advises the PM to broaden his outlook, “If I may say so, as PM, you will have to keep this larger viewpoint before you. The country is more important than any individual or group, and it would be a tragedy if, because of group or individual conflicts, the country suffers.”
During his second stint as PM, MP Koirala was advised again by Nehru to be cautious about American interference and also to become realistic about the takeover of Tibet by China as the whole world has accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet (May 8, 1954). He was further advised not to seek extra-territorial rights from Tibet and to have mutual consultation with both the countries on foreign affairs (June 29, 1954).
Even in the short period under review here, it seems India’s security concerns vis-à-vis Nepal were increasing with time. This is what might have prompted India to deal with the Maoists cautiously: When it understood the security benefits of getting the rebels into mainstream politics, it pushed for the historic 12-Point Understanding in 2005.