Every political party in Nepal has sought support from intelligence agencies in India, the US and Europe: Prof. SD Muni
With major parties yet to reach thelong-promised consensus, Indian leaders are once again in town stressing on a pan-political agreement and maintaining what they say is India’s non-interference policy.Indian policy towards Nepal emerges as a controversial issue every time the country sees political changes. To try to get a sense of that policy, Professor SD Muni, a Nepal-expert in India, was interviewed by Navin Singh Khadka of the BBC Nepali service during President Ram BaranYadav’s India-visit in December. (The interview was broadcast by the BBC then). Excerpts:
We have seen Prime Minister BaburamBhattarai having had one on one with his Indian counterpart a number of times. He has told us that he has been able to convince the Indian side that his government will not allow Nepal to slide back into political instability. What do you make out of it?
Muni: Listen, the Baburam government, all said and done, is an elected government. Even the Nepali Congress had at one stage accepted to form a national government under Baburam and they sent Sitaula to join the cabinet. And then suddenly, within few days Sitaula was withdrawn. Now the Maoists and the Nepali Congress had struck a deal that we will carry through the constitutional process and you will give us the prime ministership for elections. Somewhere this understanding got vitiated. Now Nepali Congress, obviously blames Maoists and the later obviously blames the former that Nepali Congress had no heart in the federal constitution or in the agenda of New Nepal of political change. The Nepali Congress says that the Maoists have changed their goal posts and therefore they have altered. This is the real crisis. Now in this crisis, I think the president has tried. I have a feeling that India tried, through informal means, to see if a compromise can emerge out of them, but it is not emerging. And at this stage if the president takes a precipitate action like dismissing this government and appointing a new prime minister, it will certainly lead to a conflict because the Maoist claim is that they are an elected government. So he cannot impose SushilKoirala or any third person as a prime minister against the wishes of the Maoists because they will then go to the street and the political instability will ensue. On the other hand, within the constitutional framework, the president has no right to appoint a prime minister. That is where the constitutional position is stuck. Anybody, either the president, or India or the Nepali Congress and the UML does anything against the consensus, the situation will deteriorate. On the other hand, Baburam’s government is not acceptable to these parties. And the Baburam government and the Maoists have very clearly said they are willing to give in. But, you know there has to be some give and take on both the sides. Now what is the give on the Nepali Congress and the UML (is something) I fail to understand. They are simply saying let this government go and give the power to us and we will decide whatever it is. You would know that some of the ethnic groups and ethnic parties, including the Tarai parties, are very strongly suspicious whether the UML and Nepali Congress would carry out a federal constitution or the New Nepal agenda. This a political problem and I don’t think an easy way out is possible. Either the president should accept that the majority government should be allowed to go through because consensus is not possible and therefore let us go to elections and defeat them in the elections which the other parties do not seem to be very confident of.
You have been stressing that theBaburam governmentis an elected one. But the parliament has been dissolved and the opposition parties are claiming that this government cannot say that it can remain in power citing the same parliament.
Fair enough, at the moment it does not have the parliamentary support. But it came to power through the parliament, that is point number one. Point number two is I come from a democratic country, and in India or any other country when the parliament is dissolved for the next elections, the government which is in office actually holds the election which the other political parties in Nepal are not allowing or not accepting that. This is where the problem is. Unfortunately , there is a clause in the interim constitution that every decision should be taken by consensus. Indian position has also been the one the president is hanging on. Now consensus is not possible, at least it does not seem possible because if the consensus was possible, I think the Baburamgovernment should have been a national government, they should have drafted a constitution with the help of the Nepali Congress and they could go to elections. At that time, somebody else could become (the prime minister). That unfortunately has not happened. I think all these political parties, including the Maoists are more stuck on power rather than on principles or commitments for the wellbeing of Nepal. That’s where the problem is. Now how do you resolve this problem when people have so heavy stakes in power is a mind-boggling question. I don’t think I have an answer, I don’t think the president has a clear and clean answer, I don’t think India has a clean answer. That’s where the problem is.
You have been supportive of this particular government. You have tweeted saying “national government under BaburamBhattarai will be a reflection of the restoration of long lost national consensus...
That was long time back now. That was the time when the constituent assembly was still on. I have not said it now. In fact my latest tweet was that every party should nominate two nominees and the Maoists’ nominee should be the prime minister and the rest of the nominee should be in the cabinet. I have tweeted for a neutral government. I am sorry, I have not been a supporter of the Maoists. I have been a supporter of a consensus between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists because that was the basic consensus which brought about the radical change in Nepal. Unfortunately that broke down on the basis of power after the elections when the Maoists emerged as the strongest group and they did not accommodate Girijababu as the president. That’s where the root of the problem is. I have written about it. My contention even today is that Nepali Congress and the Maoists must bring about a consensus. Otherwise, no good will happen to Nepal as a country.
But we get to read in newspapers about, for instance, Indian intelligence saying that parties like “Nepali Congress are deposit power and the Maoists are the emerging power.”
If the intelligence people had the intelligence, things would have been much different. I am totally cut off by the way political assessments are made by the intelligence agency. I am more worried that these political assessments made by the intelligence unfortunately are being pursued at the political level, at the leadership level, that is the unfortunate side. But I cannot vouch for what Mr.Tripathy said or what he did not say as I am sitting in Singapore. Even if I am in Kathmandu, I would not know who has said what to whom. I don’t go with these media reports and I mush share it with you that I have quite serious questions about how Nepali media carries its stories. They have carried stories about which is totally baseless, they have carried stories about Shyam Saran which are totally baseless. You can’t help it, anyway this is a separate issue, it doesn’t deal with the present question.
You did mention in your chapter in the book “Nepal in transition” that there was this relation between the then RAW chief and BaburamBhattarai and that relation facilitated better understanding between the Maoists and RAW. What do you think right now is the relation between the two sides now?
Well, have you read the chapter carefully? You know, I have been much maligned and abused for that chapter. I tried to describe the position of the government of India, in which I said the intelligence chief and the [then] foreign secretary Shyam Saran were on the one side, the army and others were on the other side. That is how I described it and I said they pleaded that the Maoists must be listened to and understood because the change in Nepal seemed eminent to them. In fact, that is not the meaning of saying that Baburam was governed by the Indian intelligence agencies of India, as many of your Nepal media really broke it out. The intelligence agencies of India, I must tell you, have been supporting…almost every political party has fallen and sought support from the intelligence agencies of India, of America, and of the European community. You want me to discuss that on the radio, perhaps I am not ready for that. If I have to write another chapter, I will write it. But that is not question of political understanding. The political understanding is people have voted some into power. Under no democratic rule, there is a musical chair which is happening in Nepal. What is happening in Nepal is it is our turn to become the prime minister. I have never heard this dialogue in any democracy. Look at India’s position, there is so much bad blood between BJP and the UPA government. But the BJP accepts that you have come to power and you have the majority for whatever worth it is, you have to have your five years. That is not a principle that is being accepted in Nepal. And the whole blame is sometimes on New Delhi, sometimes on intelligence agencies. I think there was a time when all the political parties in Nepal were together. Nobody could influence them. Karan Singh came to influence the Raja and the political parties were all together. So what happened? Karan Singh’s influence did not work. So, there may be countries, there may be forces, there may be agencies which would try to influence the Nepali political scene but they will succeed only when the Nepali political scene is divided. I think I will urge upon right thinking Nepalese to please concentrate on this internal division and fragmentation which has taken place in Nepali politics rather than seeking solutions anywhere else outside Nepal.
I brought up the issue of Indian intelligence because many say there is a kind of difference between Indian establishment and intelligence agencies when it comes to dealing with Nepal. Do you think so?
The intelligence agencies all over the world put in their inputs into the government. CIA has a line so far as the US is concerned. But listen, the last decision – the final decision—comes out of the political establishment. Let’s accept that.So, is the case with India. India is a democracy. There are all kinds of interest groups all around, including intelligence agencies, including army, including former princely states, business lobbies, people of Indian origin, Shankaracharyas, there is RSS, all kinds of influences which are there. It’s a hobbyhorse in Nepal to go on beating about RAW and intelligence agencies. Yes, RAW and intelligence agencies are there. They work. They sometimes work correctly, sometimes incorrectly, sometimes they vitiate the problem, sometimes they are unable to do anything. You can’t peg all your decision making, all your developments in Nepal just on intelligence agencies. That shows the level of understanding of the Indian political system. Tell me actually how many Nepalese are understanding or reading or studying the Indian political system how it works? Intelligence agencies are not the only factor, only force in the political system.
The newly appointed External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, said that to break the political stalemate in Kathmandu the only way out is the national consensus government. That came just when some people believed that BaburamBhattarai enjoyed the support of the Indian intelligence. So, does what Mr.Khursidsaid mark a shift in the Indian establishment’s policy?
What Khurshid has said has been said repeatedly from 2006 onwards. I am telling you consensus is the only answer. If there is no consensus today, let the President take a precipitate decision as the Nepali Congress or UML are asking him to do that and appoint a new prime minister, you will see the whole of Kathmandu boiling in one way or the other. See, this is not the answer. Or, today even the president said alright, let Baburam do whatever he wants to do there will be another group of people agitating on the streets of Kathmandu. That’s not an answer. Real answer is consensus. When did India deviate from consensus? Consistently, Indian policy has been that there should be a consensus—whatever the consensus is. The consensus may be on a particular prime minister, particular party or consensus may be even on a neutral government. So, it all depends on how your consensus evolves. If people in Nepal, who are in politics, are not willing to make even a temporary compromise from their power ambition, God save the country and God save the people, I tell you.
It is often said that Indian politicians or establishment don’t have much time for Nepalese issues and affairs…
That is true. I have said that publicly in Kathmandu. When you give too much of weightage to India, try to understand that Indian politicians, Indian establishment have many other issues to deal with. They are not all the time—as media in Nepal will project—busy in conspiring in Nepal, who should do what. This is not their business. They react extempore sometimes but when policy is made all of the factors are taken into account. Policy at the moment and since 2006 has been that you go by consensus. If consensus fails, then your interim constitution provides for a majority government within the parliament. So after what you call an interim government all other governments have been majority government.
Top leaders, including the President of India (when he was the foreign minister), have gone on the record saying that India was the country that helped bring Maoists into the political mainstream to launch Nepal’s peace process.And now that things are not happening and people on the streets are suffering, don’t you think India should correct itself vis a visits Nepal policy?
What did it do? It helped the peace process to come up. When the Maoists started to come to mainstream, the King started talking to them. Was it not true? When everything else failed, all the political parties wanted India to be involved. Yes, India got involved in the peace process. It is unfortunate that what India thought would happen has not happened. So, it is the failure of that policy but in that policy, India was one of the factors. India was not the only, the single factor analysis. The apology should come from the political parties. You don’t remember your political leaders have been slapped by your people largely because they broke their aspirations, they violated their aspirations. India has made a policy calculation that if this change comes about, democracy would stabilise. Democracies don’t stabilise in one year or two year or three year or four years. So, you call in Nepali a ‘sankraman’ period, it’s a transition period. Transition has been very very painful. It is painful to Nepali people, it is painful to Indian decision makers also. I was supportive of this change and today I say, democracy is any day better than the royalist regime. I have no hesitation in saying even at the cost of abuse or harass. But, that is my opinion. I mean democracy is better for Thailand, democracy is better for Maldives, democracy is better for Pakistan, for any other country. This is our opinion. But people of Nepal decided, they came out on the streets and they all pinned their hopes on political parties. Who have not delivered them? Yes, India can sit down and regret that the kind of faith they had on Nepali leadership has not come true. But apologise to whom? What crime Indian policy committed in helping transition to a democratic regime from an autocratic system?
I have seen your write-ups talking about Chinese influence growing in Nepal. Do you still see that happening?
I don’t think I have written it but I would say China is an emerging global power. I cannot imagine a situation in which Chinese influence is not growing in Nepal or South Asia when it is growing all over the world. So, what is the big deal about it? I think there are several policy decisions made by the Prime Ministers of India in which he has said Chinese influence is growing, we have to adjust, we have to deal with China not only in X, Y, Z countries, also in South Asia. It is not as much a challenge to Indian diplomacy, it is as much a challenge to Chinese diplomacy. Chinese are asking India not to dabble into South China Sea which is India’s neighbourhood. This is a separate issue than the internal political system of Nepal.
But then they say that this is where Nepal gets caught in the crossfire, which engulfs everything including politics.
Well it happens when regional and international changes take place. India got caught in the cold war crossfire. India can today, tomorrow get caught in the US-China crossfire. India got caught into the Pakistan-China crossfire. It happens. This is the strength of your political leadership to cope with these challenges. I think in India they will cope with these challenges. China is crying hoarse why US is coming in South East Asia. Well, they will have to cope with it.These are the challenges of international system, these are the challenges of global power politics. You can’t deny them. One has to face them.
So, don’t you think it is expecting too much of the fighting political parties in Nepal to deal with these huge emerging global powers?
Well, Khadkajee, I have my full sympathy for Nepal. All the time I have been praying, I have written to many of my best friends in Nepal. We have all been wishing for stability in Nepal. The Nepali leadership will be able to cope with regional and international changes, if they succeed in coping with their own domestic changes and challenges. Unfortunately, they have failed so far in coping with their own domestic challenges. Tell me, all the political parties can’t wait until elections are held. They all want to remain in power to hold the elections because they feel insecure. They are very afraid that if they go to the elections without being in the power they would not return their own candidates. In this kind of a situation, one can only sit down and pray to the God that give them good sense so that they think of people of Nepal, wellbeing of Nepal rather than they being in power for four months or six months or eight months or twelve months.