After the independence of India, particularly after the fall of Rana regime in 1951, the Monarchy created a fear of ‘Indian expansionism’ in the Nepalese mind to project himself as the savior of the ‘Nepali Nationalism’. This was a ploy to discredit democratic forces and consolidate power under him. On the other hand, the Indian side saw the Treaty as an instrument of the continuation of the status quo of the policy of British India. Hence, the Nepalese initiatives of its own foreign policy were seen as somewhat violation of the Treaty.
The revision/replacement of 1950 Treaty of Friendship and Peace between Nepal and India is now on the table when Prime Minister Prachanda formally proposed during his recent state visit to India. It is learnt that India reciprocated positively and constituted a joint committee consisting of two foreign secretaries to submit a draft for consideration. At home, the Madhesi political leaders opposed this proposal, as the issue was not discussed earlier.
This proposal should be seen in a proper context. From the time immemorial, there have been close relations in social, economic, cultural and spiritual spheres between the two countries. People of the two countries enjoy free movement for business and employment opportunities as well as marital relationship. Millions of pilgrims visit Char Dham, Pashupati Nath, Janaki Dham, Lumbini, Bodh Gaya and others. Even the great spiritual leaders like Gautam Buddha who was born in Lumbini was enlightened in Bodh Gaya of India, the Shivapuri Baba born in Kerala spent his 38 years in Shivapuri in Kathmandu and Khaptad Baba born in Punjab spent several decades in Khaptad jungle of Doti district of Nepal. The 1950 treaty has only formalised these ground realities in the format of a modern nation state.
However, there have been problems in interpreting and implementing the content and spirit of the Treaty. First, after the Sugauli Treaty following the Anglo-Nepal war, Nepal remained in a self-perpetuated isolation from the rest of the world. The British Raj provided political support to the despotic Rana Oligarchy in Nepal in return to its subdued international relationship under the Raj and interrupted supply of Gurkha soldiers in the British Army. After the independence of India, particularly after the fall of Rana regime in 1951, the Monarchy created a fear of ‘Indian expansionism’ in the Nepalese mind to project himself as the savior of the ‘Nepali Nationalism’. This was a ploy to discredit democratic forces and consolidate power under him. On the other hand, the Indian side saw the Treaty as an instrument of the continuation of the status quo of the policy of British India. Hence, the Nepalese initiatives of its own foreign policy were seen as somewhat violation of the Treaty. Second, the equal reciprocal provision of the Treaty was seen as unequal to Nepal because of its size and capacity. Moreover, subsequent water resources development treaties such as Koshi, Gandak and Mahakali as well as several unilateral constructions of dams across the border by India, made Nepali land submerged under the clogged water while enjoying benefits of flood control, irrigation and hydro power across the border. As a result, Nepal became more apprehensive on the intensions of India with Nepal. Hence, not a single mega-water development project has been constructed over the past 50 years. As a result, the whole region has remained more stagnated and poor. Finally, several power brokers and trade monopolists, who existed for centuries, were somewhat protected, if not flourished, under the guise of the Treaty. Hence, the trade is still monopolized by a few; the border area has been hazy for thriving smugglers and law breakers. Most Nepalese feel that the 1950 Treaty is the main culprit for all these contradictions.
Recently, there has been a sea-change in the political landscape of Nepal. To begin with, the election of the Constituent Assembly has been peacefully conducted which transformed the kingdom into a federal republic. Now a new constitution is being prepared under the new political order. The Maoist armed insurgents has been peacefully brought into the competitive political order, who are now heading the government through ballot. In this changing context, it is logical for the new political leadership to review the fundamental institutions and provisions that governed Nepal during the past century.
As the draft of the treaty is being prepared by two foreign secretaries, it may be relevant to debate on the possible options available to them. First, they can give a blind eye to the call, as in the past, until the tide for change is subsided. But, the postponement for change may not energize the economic development of the New Nepal, with the same reason that has prevented over the past 60 years. The old policy mindset and bureaucratized traditional diplomacy can not address the vital economic interest and strategic challenges. Second option could be a more conservative thinking for sealing the border altogether. This option would be more expensive for border security and patrolling as India is already experiencing in its eastern and western borders. Moreover, the role of Nepal as a buffer zone in the most strategically sensitive border between the two Asian giants can not be underestimated. Besides, several details such as defining the citizens of each country, cut-off dates and eventual repatriation in their respective countries may pose insurmountable problems that India has already experienced during the partition of the sub-continent.
The final, perhaps imaginative, option could be to develop the Treaty in the European Union model. Indeed, Nepal and India have been enjoying most of the benefits of the EU nations, except a few. First, there is no joint political forum like the European Parliament, where the political concerns could be understood, debated and resolved. The bureaucratic channels have been slow, static and self serving. The recent Koshi disaster is an example which, experts say, could have been prevented long ago, whereas bureaucrats were battling whom to blame. Second, there are no resources for start up or equalizing the level playing field of the backward region, like in EU. Hence, Nepal could not exploit its potentials for the growing market of India and minimize its trade imbalance. Finally, there is no policy synchronization between the two countries, which could discourage the border smugglers, criminals, trade monopolists and market cartels.
In this context, an Indo-Nepal Joint Parliamentary Committee (INJPC) could be set up with a permanent secretariat, which could, among others, monitor policies, generate knowledge and debate and resolve emerging issues at the political level. Under the INJPC three commissions, among others, could be set up. One, a Water Resources Development Commission, which could develop, commission and monitor the mega water resources projects that benefits both countries. There should be an Equalization Fund for leveraging the public sector, especially the Government of Nepal, for initial preparations in larger projects for private sector investment. Two, a Natural Resources Management Commission to address the issue of sustainable management of high mountains, glacier melt-down due to the climate change and increasing damage by land-slide and flood water in both countries. Three, an Immigration Control for the development of a mechanism of screening and monitoring immigration, while issuing the visa, like the Schengen visa of EU, at the diplomatic missions of both countries.
This model may be the most difficult political agenda to sell, especially in Nepal, where the critic may see it as surrendering Nepali sovereignty to India leading to finally submerging in the Union. But if Nepal’s vast potentials are to be developed, a close cooperation between the two countries is imperative. Hence, political wisdom, vision and courage from both sides will be required to convince the people that if Belgium, Luxemburg and Holland can live side by side with France and Germany, there is no reason why Nepal can not live with India with dignity, sovereignty and its own identity.
Indeed, over the past three decades, SAARC has made several innovative declarations with little progress at the ground due to the political realities. Even SAFTA and SAPTA are yet to make any visible impact. In this context, the new arrangements between Nepal and India can make a role model for other countries on the region to join in the club. (From Nepalnews)
(The writer can be reached at: email@example.com).