Communist leader Narayan Man Bijukchhe has called the Maoists India’s ‘Trojan horse’ in light of some shocking new information that has become public.
To be sure, Nepal must maintain close, friendly and beneficial relations with India. Most Nepali leaders have gone a notch further and sought favors as well. For instance, Kings Rana Bahadur, Rajendra and Tribhuvan took refuge in India. The Ranas ruled under British India’s tutelage. Leaders set up the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal in India and lived in exile there. Since 1990, all prime ministers or candidates have undertaken pilgrimage to get New Delhi’s blessings.
But most of them put Nepal’s interest over India’s. For example, BP Koirala opposed India’s interference in Nepal’s internal affairs; he came back to Nepal in 1976 to face charges rather than compromising vital interests to gain India’s favor. King Birendra exercised Nepal’s sovereign right to import arms from China. As prime minister, Manmohan Adhikari called for the revision of the unequal 1950 treaty in the strongest terms; Girija Koirala skipped India during his maiden foreign trip in his second innings in Singh Durbar to press it to resolve the Kalapani issue.
In sharp contrast, the Maoists––if SD Muni, Nepal expert in India, is right––have rendered Nepal’s national interest subordinate to India’s in order to have the freedom to use Indian soil to launch terrorist attacks against Nepal.
Nepali authorities knew that during the decade-long insurgency, India had allowed Maoist leaders to live in India and organize their activities from there. According to Bibek Shah, the slain King Birendra’s military secretary, they had information that some Maoists were trained at the government training center at Chakrata in India. New Delhi, he adds, was supporting the Maoists by providing them arms and training to overthrow the monarchy in Nepal.
Repeatedly, Nepali officials requested their Indian counterparts to prevent the Maoist leaders from working against Nepal from India, keeping with the spirit of the 1950 treaty and Panchsheel. But Indian authorities denied that the Maoists, who were knocking on the Indian prime minister’s door, were living in and operating from there.
Distance between Narayan Hiti and New Delhi was increasing ever since King Birendra imported Chinese weapons in 1988/89. Furious at the king, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had refused to renew the transit treaty that created a shortage of necessities here and angered the Nepali people. The positive offshoot of this was the end of the panchayat system and restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal in 1990.
Both countries grew further apart at the height of the Maoist insurgency. In the late 1990s, Nepal imported Western weapons and invited American experts to contain the insurgents. After the 2005 royal coup, India and the West refused military assistance to King Gyanendra and forced him to turn to the Chinese for help. All this contributed to anti-monarchy sentiments in New Delhi and opened the door for the Maoists.
It is unfortunate but not surprising. Unfortunate because India, suffering from the scourge of Maoist and Islamic terrorism itself, let the Nepali Maoists use its soil against Nepal causing the death of more than 15,000 innocent people, and turning the country’s development clock by a decade with the destruction of countless infrastructure and the delay of development activities.
However, India’s attitude towards the Maoists should not surprise those who view foreign policy from the realist prism. The realists––such as George Kennan, Kenneth Waltz, Randall Schweller and Henry Kissinger with some nuances––believe it is alright for states to seek self-interest, power, and dominance in an anarchic international realm.
The regional strategic environment has facilitated India in viewing Nepal through this realist prism. Nepal has abandoned “special relations” with India by calling for the revision of the 1950 treaty. The warming up of Sino-Indian relations from the 1980s has reduced Nepal’s strategic significance as a buffer between the two. Consequently, Nepal has become one of the 10 friendly neighbors––from China to Indonesia––for India, all of which except China are smaller than and seek favor from India. So Nepal should not expect “special treatment” from India.
As a realist foreign policy, New Delhi can support any person or political group that best safeguards its security and economic interests in Nepal. It might have been frustrated with the ruling class in Kathmandu that promised but seldom delivered and lent its support to the Maoists. In the future too, India will continue backing those politicians and groups that are friendlier to it in word and deed.
Yet, SD Muni’s revelations have come as a rude shock. He says Dahal and Bhattarai wrote a letter to the Indian prime minister in 2002 committing to safeguard Indian interests in Nepal in return for freedom to live and move in India, which enabled them to launch terrorist attacks in Nepal. What is more, Dahal and Bhattarai made presentations, Muni says, to Intelligence Bureau officials reiterating those very commitments. Bhattarai developed thick relations with the Research and Analysis Wing through his friend and chief of the elite spy agency, Hermes Tharakan.
Apparently, Bhattarai and Dahal were making a Faustian bargain with India by signing the pledge of loyalty to obtain India’s favor privately, while spewing venom against India and talking about waging a trench war publicly. No other Nepali leader is known to have gone this far. In other countries, this may have taken the political leader to jail. But in Nepal, it made both Dahal and Bhattarai prime ministers.
Once the Maoists emerged as the largest party in the Constitutional Assembly in 2008, Dahal tried to spin out of India’s and into China’s orbit. In that shenanigan, he lost his premiership and his second bid for the post. New Delhi favored Bhattarai, its darling boy, to become the second Maoist prime minister a little later.
As prime minister, Bhattarai has proved his loyalty to New Delhi. He signed the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) and the extradition treaty and abstained with India on the Syria vote at the UN General Assembly. Only a wide uproar prevented him from handing 15 airports to an Indian company without any bidding. It is amazing how a self-proclaimed uber-patriot and an anti-Indian Maoist has done these things to curry favor from the Maoists’ sworn principal foreign enemy.
Don’t get me wrong. To be sure, any other prime minister might have done some of these things as well. But certainly not all, for some of these issues were hanging fire due to mutual disagreements. Bhattarai has justified his decisions in his recent speeches and articles and, in the same breath, blamed external interference, courted by himself, for his failure to deliver.
Although I have always rejected Maoist ideology and terrorism, I had trusted their nationalism. But Muni’s revelation has broken that trust. Now I hope Bhattarai’s trip to Patna, at the Bihar chief minister’s invitation, in February this year to participate in the Global Bihar Summit was not indicative of Nepal’s declined status under the Maoist scheme. And Dahal’s recent roar that the Bhattarai government “could stay in power for 20 years” was not made on the back of any secret deal with a foreign power. I also hope that the Maoists are not the Trojan horse, as Bujukchhe has alleged, working to Sikkimize Nepal.