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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

OPINION: Nepali chopsuey

May 7, 2009

6 May 2009, 0000 hrs IST, Jug Suraiya
Times of India

As always, India's to blame. No sooner had Prachanda quit as Nepal's PM
after having precipitated a crisis by sacking the army chief who
reportedly refused to toe the line by allowing 19,000 Maoist cadres to
enlist than his comrade-in-arms, Baturam Bhattarai, accused India of
having engineered the whole sorry mess, adding "It was an enormous
blunder. It is going to cost India all the goodwill it earned."

That more or less sums up Kathmandu's perception of New Delhi: when
something goes wrong, it's India that's the cause of it. Ever since King
Tribhuvan, deposed by the Ranas, was helped by Nehru to reclaim his
throne, Nepal has had not so much a love-hate relationship with India as
a love-to-hate response. Whether it is the fine print of the Trade and
Transit treaty between the two countries, or a casual remark by Hrithik
Roshan, Nepal has been only too quick to react to real or imagined
inequities and insults from India. On its part, it must also be said,
India has not been a particularly good neighbour. New Delhi's attitude
to Kathmandu can perhaps best be described as one of the affable
contempt one shows towards a younger and smaller sibling: You're nice
enough little fella, but don't get too big for your boots or you'll get
a thwack over your head.

Though Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee was prompt in clarifying
that the episode was "internal to Nepal" and that India wished that
country "well in its transition to a fully democratic polity", such
disclaimers and clarifications from New Delhi are unlikely to assuage
Kathmandu's Indophobia. While Kathmandu tries to cobble together another
government, the Maoists could well take the battle to the streets and
the countryside again, in a resumption of the murderous civil war that
ravaged Nepal for 14 years.

The consequences of such instability will inevitably spill over the
border into India, which has its own Maoist insurrectionists to deal
with. However, New Delhi's hands are tied, mainly because of Kathmandu's
persistent paranoia regarding India's hegemonistic intentions,
suspicions of which have invariably caused the Himalayan ex-kingdom to
play its so-called China card: raising the Beijing bogey to scarify its
big, bad southern neighbour.

This time round, New Delhi should let Kathmandu play its China card. And
then trump it by endorsing the idea of a friendly and mutually
beneficial merger and acquisition by China of Nepal. Land-starved China
has been leasing vast tracts in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa to
grow biofuel and rice. But why go so far afield? Taking Nepal on a long
lease would make more sense for Beijing, which over the years has
consistently upstaged India in providing superior infrastructural
services, like roads, and consumer goods, bicycles and toothpaste, to
the former kingdom.

The thought of having the Chinese Dragon ensconced too close for comfort
in Kathmandu might seem daunting for New Delhi. But such an arrangement,
amicably worked out, might be best for all concerned. Democratic India
has found it difficult, if not impossible, to act as a political mentor
to Nepal without being vilified as an interfering bully. As its track
record of suppressing dissidence in Tibet has shown, China will have no
such qualms on this account.

Under the benign but no-nonsense authoritarianism of Beijing, Nepal
would at last be freed of its unending internal strife and political
wrangling and prosper economically, as indeed Tibet has done. India too
could benefit from such an arrangement, which would not only bring
stability across the border but might also be used as a bargaining chip
by New Delhi for China to relinquish its claim to Arunachal Pradesh and
refrain from using its veto to keep India from getting a permanent UN
Security Council seat. In any case, Comrades Prachanda and Bhattarai
should welcome the embrace of the Red Dragon, claws and all.

And to bring peace to the region, it would be great if Beijing could be
induced similarly to take over its other great buddy on the
subcontinent: Pakistan, along with Afghanistan.
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