How Modi Won Praise for Himself But Lost Nepal for India

File photo of Narendra Modi during his visit to Pashupathinath Temple in Kathmandu. Credit: PTI

File photo of Narendra Modi during his visit to Pashupathinath Temple in Kathmandu. Credit: PTI

These days, one can’t swing a dead cat in New Delhi without hitting a professionally wise person who can be relied upon to rapturously proclaim how Narendra Modi has “won” and “conquered” the West. But one is hard-pressed to find anyone who can explain how Nepal was “lost” on the Prime Minister’s watch. Nor will anyone be able to recall when it was last that Nepal chose to take its grievance against India to the United Nations. The correct answer: 1989.

It is the most glaring foreign policy disaster since May 2014. But we are pretending that it is all the fault of the Nepalis, and their loss, their funeral. We are confident of knocking the snot out of the snotty “upper-caste, Hill elite” which has, once again, colonised the Kathmandu power structure.

Let us revisit the optics. The Foreign Secretary is rushed to Kathmandu as the Prime Minister’s envoy and he carries with him a demarche. Leaders of three principal political parties – the Nepali Congress (NC), the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – are given the peremptory message: do not complete your almost complete constitution-making exercise. Why? Because we think the proposed constitutional document is flawed. It is anchored in majoritarianism. We do not approve of it. We have at least six major suggestions as amendments. The Prime Minister’s envoy is heard politely. A few days later, the new Nepali Constitution is signed and promulgated. We sulkily “note” the new constitutional milestone. And then, proceed to wink at what the Nepalese call an economic blockade. A country that was so warm and open-hearted in welcoming the Prime Minister just six months ago is now hash-tagging #BackoffIndia.

Sheriff snubbed

We feel righteously offended. How can these political parties forget all our hand-holding, nudging and hugging of all these years? How can they now gang up against New Delhi? In our new age of faux-machismo, we ask how dare the Nepalese ignore our preference. We are the new regional power. We have no doubts, and we are not afraid to use our clout. After all, we have been given the sheriff’s badge by none other than the sole superpower.

But snubbed we were. And, gloriously so. There is no other way to put it. And, perhaps it is just as well that this exquisite foreign policy disaster has come early enough. It throws light on the new warpedness that has come to define the policymaking process in New Delhi.

Unfortunately, the Nepal mess is one setback that cannot be laid at the door of the “duplicitous Pakistanis” or the “devious Chinese.” This is a disaster entirely of our own making. It is self-inflicted.

Let us look at the mess-makers. We have a very competent and experienced diplomat manning our embassy in Kathmandu. He is well versed with the nuances of the political power games that were in play throughout the constitution-making exercise. As a consummate professional, he must have been keeping New Delhi in the loop.

Then, we have our “agencies” that have a reputation of having a ubiquitous presence in the Himalayan state. They are known to exercise considerable influence and power, both formal and informal, in Nepal’s ever-changing domestic alignments and relentless intrigues. Their input must have been available to the big bosses in South Block.

And, in the Ministry of External Affairs, we have a vast body of professional diplomats with  considerable institutional memory and competence. They can be presumed to have remained watchful about the developments in Nepal.

We are also fortunate to have a hands-on National Security Adviser –  who is capable of multi-tasking and micro-managing, from crowd-control at Yakub Memon’s funeral to a hot pursuit of insurgents in Myanmar. The services and advice of a couple of very able foreign service officers in the PMO are also available to the NSA.

And, on top of that, we have a web of extensive engagements between our political crowd and the Nepali lot. And most importantly, we have the RSS-VHP and assorted Hindu groups who have always made it their business to keep tabs on what till recently was “the only Hindu kingdom” in the world. Some even suggest that the foreign missions in New Delhi have come to regard the RSS commissar Ram Madhav as the shadow foreign minister.

All these assets and talents collectively give us a formidable edge over the other global players in Nepal. It is our backyard, we know the pitch and we know the ground and we have a fix on the crowd. Yet, we ended up taking our eye off the ball.

Since this is a government that takes considerable pride in its clarity and its cogency, it must be presumed that New Delhi knew exactly what kind of constitutional compact for Nepal would meet “our legitimate concerns.” Yet, it failed to make itself heard or felt. That, too, in our very backyard.

Nepal’s constitution-making exercise was an open affair. And, we should have had a fairly good inkling of how the traditional “upper caste, Hill elite” were trying to steer the power-sharing arrangement.

Could it be that the sprawling foreign office bureaucracy is busy scheduling yoga classes rather than using its traditional tools of tradecraft to secure our core interests?

It was the perfect setting for a competent exercise of soft power. There is no dearth of legal talent and constitutional knowledge in India. Indian parliamentary officialdom’s core competence could have been easily deployed to influence the course of constitutional choices. Yet, none of this happened. The Sherlock Holmesian dog did not bark.


Could it be that the sprawling foreign office bureaucracy is busy scheduling yoga classes rather than using its traditional tools of tradecraft to secure our core interests? Serious students of Indian foreign policy are getting concerned that the stylistic upheavals — all Modi personality centric — have left the average IFS mandarin disoriented, breathless and befuddled. It has not helped Indian diplomacy that the External Affairs Minister is perceived to not carry any weight.

Could it be that the PMO has acquired such a lock on wisdom, initiative and preferences as to render dysfunctional the rest of the sprawling national security establishment? The Nepal fiasco is a lesson in the dangers of over-centralisation.

Could it be that New Delhi would have acted with finesse and subtlety had there not been a Bihar electoral calendar? The ham-handedness displayed towards Kathmandu can only be explained in the context of the struggle for the Patna gaddi. Petty and short-term electoral calculations were allowed to overshadow competent diplomacy. All our neighbours have noted that give New Delhi the slightest upper hand or leverage and it will breathe down heavily on them. Well, there goes the neighbourhood.

Harish Khare is Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune

Courtesy: The Tribune

  • shanthamalai ayyappa

    india’s approach was to support efforts which would restore political stability in the country and place nepal on the path of economic recovery ,india took the path of economic recovery i.e only consistent stand that there was no military solution to the problems facing and it was essential to find a peaceful political solution based on the principle of democracy as for the aspirationsof the people of nepal, india’s policy has been has been deeply appreciated in nepal as well as by the international communities,

  • Kritesh Bhatt

    Here’s how india is letting her land to pelt stones on Nepalese police. And guess where these stone throwers come from? India!

    • Bishnu Pd Acharya

      YES i WOULD LIKE TO ASK ONE QUESTION,why is India allowing her land to be used against Nepal? would india tolerate if anti indian forces pelted stones towards india from nepali land? Yes they may be nepalese citizens but they are acting against nepalese police or the state,nepal is asking not to let them act like this but indian official are turning deaf ears to this.indian people are showing best hospitality by providing them lodging fooding and so on like a mehman,we are not able to understand this.

    • sk1009

      May I respectfully ask how do you know that the stone throwers are not Nepalese? And in case this question upsets you please direct you criticism at me and not India – I do not hold an Indian Passport. Thank you.

  • Nirajan

    The major problem is Nepalese politicians that they always visit India for no reason, they didn’t make a boundary between of it. We Nepalese people don’t want any hide & seek game between India and Nepal but our own politicians making messed. Nepalese politicians did many freaking agreement which was harmful for Nepal and it is and it’s continuing, India always want benefit and India act like a big brother but kicking ass from behind.

    About this Madeshi Leaders they are freaking ruled by Indian government, it’s not surprising that most of Nepalese leaders were ruled by them but rest of them were not selling Nepalese but this madeshi are going to sell our nationality. Why they have to beg to India in every sec? why India is concerned about them? it’s Nepal own problem, why they have to disagree with our new constitution? Is india want the flat land of Nepal? if not then why this matter to them? India is pressuring nepal in many way, every media is against nepal it’s not only now it’s from the beginning, viral news against nepal.

    Those madeshi leaders who are doing this, do you guys know that they were, are Landlord of Madeshi part!! they are in politics since 40 – 50 years what they had done till this years? had the poor people get land, food, clothes, bla bla??? ( it’s kind of Bihar Rajneeti, during the Lalu yadav) now bihar is much better. Those freaking leaders were always in powerful ministry level from the beginning but what they had done? nothing!! how can we believe that they are going to change?

    I hate writing like this but , i love my country and want to see peace and progress but it’s not happening!!

    what’s the options now? sell our nationality!!! do we need to sell, beg for those people who even don’t love nepal?

    I would give them a roundup chance in good way, solve the problems as much as government can or national lover leaders if not thennnnnnnnnn send them back to Bihar (o no Bihar is much better now) then blowup shot them, It’s sounds crazy right but nepal will have to face this kind of problems again and again so better to clean it up and in future there won’t be an that kind people who want to sell our nationality. The developed country are here because of cleaning those kind of stuff. America, China, Germany, Russia all of them did same thing otherwise these country would not get time to think how to land in MOON. Either believe or not Modi did same thing in Gujrat killing people ( but this was for no reason). Nobody gona do anything in Nepal friends, all of us nepalese youth have to stand up and clean our country, 90 % leaders are corrupted, some are criminal, some are anti nepalese, so what we are expecting from them? we have to stand up and rise up ourself!!!

    Jay Nepal!!!

  • forsanity

    Many people who believe that Mr. Modi has conquered the US have no understanding of what it means. Silicon Valley is all about their market. You bring the market to them, they are willing to do anything for you. But, the moment, they realize that there is no ROI, they will scoot. After all, they are a business and they are in it to make money. Not illegitimate but legitimate money. What many people who are gloating over Mr. Modi’s successful trip to Silicon Valley don’t recognize is that the businesses will run away from him as soon as they think it is no longer kosher to associate with him. News travels in an instant these days but forming opinions take time! This might happen, if the communal atmosphere in the country keeps getting vitiated by the agenda of the extremists who are being given a free rein. Facebook and Google will continue to do all they can to penetrate the Indian market, shower freebies etc and associate themselves with anyone who they think has the legitimate mandate of the people. But when that mandate begins to sour, they will start backing out. Because essentially these companies are also liberal and they have to be on the side of the horse that is winning legitimately. if the mood of the people in India sour against Mr. Modi because he is making it extremely clear where he stands on the right wing extremists’ ideas of justice, then you will find even these companies moving away from the bandwagon. Don’t mind they are trying hard to enter China or Africa where the Communists or dictators rule. That is not the point. They support whoever is considered the legitimate ruler but in a democracy that legitimacy can change based on the mood of the people and these companies recognize that. So, it is essential to maintain the communal harmony in the country in order for us to continue to attract FDI and for world leaders to schmooze with our PM. If the communal atmosphere in the country is not tamped down, the whole world will begin to realize something is wrong in India and refuse to do business with the country. Somehow Mr. Modi and the people in power fail to realize this aspect and so are giving free rein to the extremists. It appears that they want a developed India but a developed India that is Hindu in character. But that is not India, and that is where they are having a problem realizing that it is not possible to have development without taking everyone along.

  • BobSea777

    Because of the Modi Govt’s folly, the Maoists will gain power in Nepal.

  • Purushottam Poudel

    Constitution of Nepal should have a aura of its own. Yes, we overwhelmingly welcome the suggestion garnered for us but not a interruption on our internal matters.India always had and is liking to make a micro management in Nepal’s internal affairs which is really absurd. I would request Indian to have a flashback in history Nepal was only a Country having a sovereign and independence from South-Asia during a British Regime. Unlike that very fact India wants Nepal to be a buffer state which never could be acceptable. India itself had promulgated its Constitution with 65% and still have a various riots in political sphere. its a irony such a country like to influence Nepal to make more inclusiveness in constitution which is passed with more than 90%. its not only about the problem of madeshi problem but Indian vested interest to manipulate according to its convenience

  • Shiraj

    eah i think what you said is fair enough. But i think the diplomacy was handeled poorly enough. There are other ways to influence. I am from Nepal but understand the games being played in the greater diplomatic scheme. But now Nepalese public is quite negative about India. And the next government will be largely voted in based on how they prepare to deal with the indian diplomacy. And there might be consequences. It was a diplomatic failure nonetheless. I think this will be a major setback to the efforts of india establishing itself as a major power house. Despite knowing Nepalese are very simplistic peoples, india didnt play their cards right.

  • beep sharma

    any decent human being will feel shame looking at the following photo…

  • Bishnu Pd Acharya

    I am a common Nepali and respect India -Nepal friendship.But I have one very humble request to you all Indian citizens,Indian media,Indian politicians and Indian bureaucrats ,you people do not know what common Nepalese people a want .No other than a Nepali knows the best interest of Nepal.you people always see Nepal and India Nepal relations through the eyes of Nehru and Indira Gandhi which we strongly oppose.A lot of things have changed since then.The world history has seen a lot of things since then.The world order has changed.Our past politicians acted like Indian puppets.But a new generation has evolved in this little sovereign country which really wants its own leaders shape its future on its own but not by the intervention of India or other known unknown forces.This generation believes in national integrity and sovereignty.It does not like India micromanage in each and every matter in the name of friendship.so far as I know if a diplomat likes to take interest and likes to intervene in each and every political affair of the host nation,its not diplomacy but a conspiracy .Thats what Indian ambassadors and RAW officials have been doing in Nepal since the ages.This is what a new generation Nepalese does not like about India. India has to understand this ground reality.we are concerned about your security interests in Nepal and assure that Nepal should not let its land be used against India.But the irony is that India sees the security threat in each and every thing Nepal does and we perceive it as intervention.

    About our new constitution as well, the nepali people wanted their leaders to make their new constitution on their own without any foreign intervention.The leaders tried their best to garner optimum consensus.They spent almost 8 years hoping to get 100 percent consensus which was never to happen.The first constitution assembly failed in the process of garnering optimum consensus and there was the second CA election and the CA members had learnt lesson from the first CA AND THEY WERE COMMITTED TO GIVE PEOPLE THE CONSTITUTION AT any cost.and so they did with about 90 percent support.and the leaders are always saying that they are ready to amend the constitution to address the agitating parties.It is our problem and we ourselves will solve it.so the common nepalese people are asking why should india be so unhappy with our constitution? it is our internal matter and why india wants to see undue role in it? why india wants to impose in this regard.This is why common nepalese speaking against India.And india supported a certain section of people rather than whole nepali citizen and broader nepali interest.And the latest dissatisfaction of nepalese people came into the forefront after India imposed unofficial blocade to nepal.yes we admit that the blocade is also caused by the agitating forces.but india instead of trying to help its neighbour in this crucial times,acted like it is the explicit supporter of madhesi people and parties.If indias real concern is the safety of its truckers,why does not it send the supplies from the custom points where there is no agitation at all and no disturbances at all.There are more than 5 custom points where there is no agitation at all and where situation is normal.Furthermore the indian custom officials are letting hundreds of trucks loaded with veggies and fruits come to nepal and they are blocking only the tankers carrying oil and gas.if u dont believe u can see the statistics of the custom point of Rupaidiha,pani tanki and biratnagar.this is why nepali people are unhappy with india.because the situation is worse in nepal due to lack of fuel and gas.people are going hungry due to lack of gas and public transport has come to a nearly complete halt.hamara chulha nahi jal raha hai to hum kaise aap ka bhajan gaun? this is the voice of the common nepali please.

    • Sayan Dasgupta

      Will Nepalese government pay Indian truckers extra for going all the way through other points and routes? What guarantee is there that anti-India Nepalese or madhesis will not harm trucks.

  • RamKumar

    Modi is not a bright guy. He was elected due to extreme frustration with corruption of congress and economic distress among masses. Modi clearly is not a fit person to lead modern India.

  • विनायक

    Very true!

  • sk1009

    It is not surprising to read Mr. Khare’s critique of Mr. Modi’s policy. Having been a member of Mr. Manmohan Singh’s government, Mr. Khare cannot be considered an objective commentator. His article makes a number of assumptions of the failings of Mr. Modi’s government that are assertions not backed by proof. While it is fair to criticize the government of the day of foreign policy setbacks, Mr. Khare would do well to remember that almost all Congress governments including Mr. Manmohan Singh were accused by neighbors of interference in their affairs. One needs only to remember India’s economic blockade of 1989-1990 of Nepal by Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s government, husband of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the de facto boss of Mr. Khare when he was in Mr. Singh’s government. Will Mr. Khare criticize the Rajiv Gandhi government for spoiling relations with Nepal? I doubt it. So much for objectivity.

  • Hermit

    An interesting perspective but comes off as being simplistic and amateurish. Nepal is not a colony of India. There are few ways to make enemies quicker than for a larger state to use economic manipulation and political strong-arming to bully a smaller country (see Ukraine and Russia, for example). The Nepalese people want to be close friends with India, but to use coercion and blockade to try to force Nepal to do whatever India may want is not the sign of a neighbor but of an antagonist. Hands off India; Nepal is an independent nation!

  • Hansdeep Singh

    can someone explain me what r concerns which r not luked after in indian point of view ? second when will india gonna take harsah step of visa required for entry in india ? or atleast some info about where those peeps going n working when going back how many nepali nationals work in india how much they helping nepals economy ?

    also y india wants to be big bro … y not stop poking his nose into nepals internal matters as he dont require any such help from us … its always good to helpw hen someone requires or ask for it … i mean neki kar k jute khana bhi bevkufi hai

  • Anil Maheshwari

    Nepal is a colossal failure of India’s foreign policy, her diplomats and intelligence sleuths. But the development is not a new one. We are facing the same issue for the last six decades. A brilliant write-up. But a fact has been conveniently forgotten when the writer mentions the year 1989 as the year when Nepal went to the UN complaining against India. It was not mentioned whose government was in power and what was the issue.

  • k sitaram

    stop this nonsense of finding fault with the govt approach, this is nothing but scoring points and politics . if you have guts say what is right and wrong with the constitution of nepal . whether it protects genuine interests of madhesi minorities or not . what is to be done now by india,