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India’s Formal Diplomacy in Nepal : Birendra Prasad Mishra

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Name of the 25 Ambassadors of India in Nepal

Formal Diplomacy:

The overall diplomacy of a country is the joint product of the decisions taken by the government of the state (foreign ministry) and their efficient execution by the representative (the ambassador) in the country where he is assigned to discharge his duties. Moreover, the feedback of the diplomat forms the very basis of the diplomacy the country decides to adopt apart from the requirements of national and international obligations.

Nepal and India who are geographically and culturally intertwined and have a common destiny as both are struggling to raise the standard of living of their masses. These two countries have different political structures at times and have no common approach to the problems faced by them. Politically, Nepal and India stood on similar footing as India got freedom from the British rule in 1947 and Nepal threw the oligarchic Rana rule in early 1951.With the political setup changed in both countries by mid-twentieth century, India enjoined more or less an established democracy and Nepal continued to starve, by and large, of the fruits of democracy. Their economies need to  supplement each other for their sustainable economic development.

There is a common conception that the Indian diplomacy in Nepal has not only been ineffective but has failed considerably. As a matter of fact, there was hardly any diplomatic approach between Nepal and India. Senior Nepalese political leaders and even the late kings had personal relations with the political leaders of independent India. On account of personal relations, perhaps, two bigger river projects were signed during the period of MP Koirala and BP Koirala’s prime minister-ships, when King Mahendra was at the helm of affairs. These projects were executed later.

Limited Role of Ambassadors:

The role of ambassadors is minimized. It applies to the case of Nepal too. It seems that Nepal always remain under direct control of the Foreign Minster as Nehru always himself headed the ministry. Nepal perhaps, occupied the top most priority of India for four reasons. First, Nepal, which was only a northern neighbour, suddenly became the buffer state between India and China after China’s takeover of Tibet that shook the Indian traditional perception of insurmountability of its northern frontier. Secondly, it took the Nepalese leaders including those who were well known to them and some had participated even in the Indian independence movement, for granted that they would keep in mind the Indian concern about its security. Thirdly, it accepted Nepal’s full independence. And lastly, it facilitated Nepal to usher in a democratic era by acquiring the real power from the Rana oligarchy by restoring the real Monarchy with a commitment to frame people’s constitution through the elected Constituent Assembly to establish real democracy. It, of course, proved to be a political misjudgment later since it displeased almost all stakeholders who wanted to use state power unhindered finding India as an obstacle.

Post-Independent Indian Ambassadors to Nepal:

India has appointed about two dozen ambassadors to Nepal since independence.

The names of the Ambassadors are: 1. Surjit Singh Majithia (1947-1949), 2.  CPN Singh (1949-1952), 3.  B. K Gokhale  (Oct.1952- Dec.1954), 4. Bhagwan Sahay (1954-1959), 5. Harishwar Dayal (1.2.1960-19.05.1964),  6. Shriman Narayan (20.11.1964-17.12.1967), 7. Raj Bahadur (05.01.1967-22.01 1971),  8. L P Singh (22.01.1971-05.09.1973),  9. Maharajakrishna Rasgotra (08/12.1973-17.10.1976),  10.N B Menon (21.11.1976-31.03.79),, 11.N P Jain (30.06.1079-28.07.1982), 12.H C Sarin (31.01.1983-31.01.1986), 13. A R Deo (24.12.1986-31.12.1989), 14.  Lf Gen. (Retd)  S K Sinha (20.02.1990-02.01.1991), 15.   K V Rajan (15.03.1995-13.06.2000),  16. Dev Mukharji (14.06.2000-30.11.2001), 17. Dr, I P Singh (01.12,2001-17.05.2002), 18. Shyam Saran (31.10.2002-25.07.2004), 19. Shiva Shankar Mukherjee (06.10.2004-23.04.2008),  20. Rakesh Sood (25.04.2008-11.08.2011), 21. Jayant Prasad (25.08.2011-25.08.2011), and 22. Ranjit Rae (02.09.2013-28,02.2017).

The first Indian ambassador to Nepal was Surjeet Singh Majithia. His role in making spadework for drafting of the constitution of 1950 by Indian constitutional experts was significant. The Indian diplomacy was at the very beginning stage during his tenure. C.P.N Singh is remembered as the ambassador who played the crucial role in overthrowing the Rana regime by helping King Tribhuvan to take shelter in the Indian embassy. However, Ram Hari Joshi, a Nepali Congress leader and a former minister mentions in his autobiography that in 1951 when there was first coalition government in Nepal and Ganeshman Singh was a minister, the Indian envoy had requested him to get some fish from a pond at Balaju to serve in the dinner of some Indian guests in the embassy as he could not receive fish from Patna. Singh was hesitant as he used to feed the fish himself every morning. (1) Joshi R.H.) B.K. Gokhale, who succeeded Singh, facilitated the signing the Treaty Of Extradition between India and Nepal on 2 October 1953. He signed for the Government of India and Matrika Prasad Koirala signed for the Government of Nepal.

Rasgotra who joined the Indian Embassy as second secretary in April 1954 narrates the condition of diplomacy in Nepal. In his words, “ Ambassador Gokhale said that the embassy had no information at all about what is happening in the country beyond the valley of Kathmandu, and because of acute shortage of personnel, we know little even about going-on in the valley’s political circles, whose numbers and activities had multiplied manifold after the end of Rana rule. Access to those circles would be no problem but it required a degree of finesse and sophistication in enhancing routine contacts into friendship for India.” (2) Nepal was passing through a difficult transition from autocratic rule to democratic governance and it needed all kinds of help from India. He writes,” Managing that change in the nature and scope of India-Nepal relations was not going to be easy. For a while Nepal was in dire need of reviving and reorganizing its military, economy and administration, which were destroyed by the widespread armed insurrection triggered by King Tribhuvan’s voluntary exile, India ran the risk of getting too deeply in the process and attracting criticism and accusations of interfering in Nepal,”(3) .After the demise of King Tribhuvan in 1955 in Switzerland, Bhagwan Sahay was a member of the high-powered Indian delegation, led by Vice President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, to witness the coronation ceremony and facilitate the young King Mahendra on his coronation on 2 May 1956.  A few months later, King Mahendra paid his first state visit to India for nearly two weeks. During his tenure a library-cum cultural centre was established in Kathmandu. Cultural shows by way of arranging musical concerts on regular basis on two occasions-Independence day and republic day of India. During Harishwar Dayal’s tenure, the elected government of Nepali Congress led by BP Koirala was dismissed, parliament was dissolved, all political activities were banned and the constitution was suspended.

A Breakthrough in Nepal-India Relations:

Sriman Narayan was the sixth ambassador to Nepal.During his tenure the Arms Assistance Agreement was reached on 30 January 1965 very secretly. The people knew it after a long time when Rishikesh Shaha found a copy of the agreement in a British library. The agreement was confirmed vide the letter written by Yadu Nath Khanal, Royal Nepalese Ambassador to Y.D. Gundevia, Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, New Delhi. Raj Bahadur, a formar minister of Indira Gandhi Minstry, was appointed Indian ambassador to Nepal to play his political role. He negotiated successfully with the king to make him allow having a senior military officer in the embassy and have exchange of information about the developments harmful to both countries.  It is believed that his role in getting BP Koirala and other leaders released from jail was significant.

M Rasgotra came to Kathmandu again after a gap of seventeen years as an ambassador to Nepal. After the presentation of his credentials, he had to face officially inspired anti-Indianism when the then PM Nagendra Prasad Rijal and Foreign Minister Gyanenda Bahadur Karki complained him about the slow progress of the India-aided development projects in contrast with the Chinese projects. After making personal inspection to the project, he found everything normal and gave all relevant facts and figures not only to the Foreign Ministry and other offices but also to the media but they ignored them as they were influenced by the Chinese embassy. Rasgotra writes that he spoke to the Prime Minister, “ Mr Prime Minister, India itself is a developing country with many needs and insufficient resources; its aid projects in Nepal, undertaken at your government’s request, involve a considerable sacrifice of the needs of our own people. If you are not satisfied with our aid, I shall immediately stop work on the projects and send the Indian personnel back to India. You can hand the projects over to China. Derogatory treatment of India, inspired by Nepalese officials or by a foreign embassy in Nepal is not acceptable.” (4) As per practice, royal family used to visit Indian embassy. Rasgotra, taking advantage of his early personal relations with the king and the queen, invited them to a private dinner in the premises of the embassy, which was utilized to convince the king to give proper treatment of ex-PM BP Koirala to bring him back to Nepal. He also narrates as to how he convinces Koirala’ sister to persuade him to come to Nepal. (5) He also cited an example of state sponsored protest over Sikkim integration to India in April. During the course of protest, Indian embassy was almost under seize and effigies of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were brunt. His lodging four-point strong protest with the Foreign Minister and informing the king of the government of India to recall its ambassador in protest for the time being had its effect on the Nepalese government. He writes, “Action by the Nepal government to meet our demands was swift. A public apology was voiced on three occasions by Prime Minister Rijal; he also paid a day’s visit to Delhi as a conciliatory gesture.” (6)

N.B. Menon was appointed ambassador during the state of emergency declared by by Indira Gandhi and he continued till the Janta Party government signed two agreements with Nepal. N. P. Jain succeeded Menon and remained in office till Indira Gandhi regained power. H.C. Sarin was appointed during Indira Gandhi’s second inning. He was sent to Nepal to deal with carefully, as he was a very seasoned bureaucrat having Gandhi’s confidence. During A. R. Deo’s period, there was economic blockade by India on the issue of Nepalese demand for separate trade and transit treaties.

After the first people’s movement of 1990, new government was elected in 1991 under the new constitution of 1990. Ambassador Sinha’a role was not of much diplomatic significance, though he provided Indian support for the general election. India helped the Election Commission to complete its job by providing some logistic support like providing ballot boxes and indelible ink etc. Prof. Bimal Prasad played a somewhat more political role than diplomatic.  He spent most of his time in keeping the ruling Nepali Congress intact as it was a house divided against itself. He used to shuttle between PM GP Koirala and his opponent Ganeshman Singh and former PM KP Bhattarai. It seems that since there was some indirect role of India in the people’s movement –2,it thought its duty to help smooth functioning of the elected government after three decades. The Indian diplomacy was so apparent that the behaviour of the ambassador very often was disgusting. Even the signing of 12-point Understanding in India was not digestible to some.

Critical Period of Diplomacy:

Interestingly, K.V. Rajan stayed here for the longest period of more than five years. This was the period when governments changed very often. The mid-term poll delivered a hung parliament and the first left government occupied the office in December 1994 but it could hardly last for nine months. There was series of unstable governments during his tenure. Dev Mukharji witnessed the most tumultuous condition of Nepal as King Birendra and his families were assassinated on 1 June 2001, and Gyanendra ascended to the throne. There was hardly any role to be played by him. Dr. I P Singh came to Nepal at very critical juncture. The state of emergency was imposed to deploy the royal army against the Maoist insurgency. S. B Deuba dissolved the Lower House as his party was against the imposition of the emergency. The Congress party was divided, which affected the democratic setup greatly. Any significant diplomatic role played by him remained unnoticed.

The role of Shyama Sharan was a bit different. Perhaps, the perception of India had undergone a drastic change in looking at Kathmandu as Nepal. In accordance with the agreement reached between the two governments, the government of India in consultation with the government of Nepal started investing money on developmental works in Tarai, especially on constructing buildings for schools. In the words of Saran, “As ambassador, I tried to make a start by connecting with the Madhesis through small community-level development projects and by regularly visiting the Terai to directly meet their local leaders. This was done without reducing in any way the number of community projects we had in the hill areas. It was oblivious that the development projects promoted by the Nepalese government and even by many of the international and western aid agencies were almost entirely focused on these areas. The Terai plains were completely neglected until the Indian embassy began some community projects there.” (7 Saran, 2017,) It was the time when CPN-Maoist leaders had contact with the office of PM AB Vajapayee. Significantly, Saran, as the Foreign Secretary of India, had accompanied Dr. Karan Singh, who visited Nepal during the second people’s movement of 2006. It was believed that Dr. Singh was in Kathmandu to persuade the then Gyanendra to surrender the state power to the people. Saran claims that he persuaded the then CoAS Pyar Jung Thapa to not go for suppressing the public uprising making easy for the peaceful transition of power. (8 ). Perhaps, all area commanders of the army had advised the king not to suppress the agitation, as the issue was to be negotiated with political stakeholders.

His successor, Shiva Shankar Mukherjee was the second long residing Indian ambassador who was in here for four years. It was the period when the second people’s movement with support from the Maoists threw the autocratic rule of the King and the dissolved parliament was restored. During his period, the twelve-point Understanding between the Seven-Party-Alliance under the leadership of GP Koirala and the Maoist president PK Dahal ‘Prachanda’ was signed in Delhi on 22 November, 2005 laying the foundation of the People’s movement of 2006. Significantly, Shyam Sharan was the Foreign Secretary of India then. Rakesh Sood succeeded him as the twentieth ambassador. During his tenure, the first Constituent Assembly (CA) election was held and PK Dahal ‘Prachanda’ led CPN-Maoist government was formed. The episode of dismissal of the then CoAS Katwal was significant as his dismissal order, which was overruled by  president Dr.Rambarna Yadav that  led to the resignation of Prachanda .It was believed that he played a crucial role in the overruling of the dismissal order. Jayant Prasad who succeeded him played a significant role in making the sitting Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers to hold the second CA election as a neutral government.

Ranjit Rae was the 22nd ambassador to Nepal. The new constitution was to be adopted during his period. He had to face many challenges, as all major parties were adamant to adopt the constitution without addressing the demands of Madhes- based parties on the one hand, and Madhesi outfits were agitating in the streets facing bullets of the security agencies, on the other. Ultimately, Madhesis,Tharus( Madhes-based parties) and Rashtriya Prajatantra Party voted against the adoption of the constitution that was passed with a big margin.  The Madhes agitation was being suppressed very high-handedly thorough bullets that resulted in the ‘sit-in’ protests on several Indian border checkpoints, which blocked the supplies from India with assistance from the Indian people and the government. M.S.Puri is the incumbent ambassador, whose diplomatic performances are yet to be observed. However, he seems to follow the footsteps of the External Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister by pleasing PM Oli through his first visit to meet him to start with.

Media/Publicity for Diplomacy:

Interestingly, during the last six decades, India and Indian diplomacy could not get support from media in Kathmandu. In the beginning, there was only one Nepali language newspaper ‘Gorkhapatra’which was owned by the state, which was naturally the mouthpiece of the government. The English daily ‘The Rising Nepal’ was owned by the government was started some time later. Radio Nepal was established in 1951, which too was state-owned. These media were just reporting the news provided by the government. With the change of the regime, from autocratic rule to democratic system,  some dailies and weeklies started getting published. Significantly, some of them seemed to be pro-India as they used to support Indian stands on different issues. However, these papers either did not have mass circulation or no circulations at all. Most probably, these were published to show that these were published for record’s sake. After the people’s movement of 1990, some dailies and weeklies came up with mass circulation, as these were critical of the government. The number of dailies has markedly increased in recent years.

Publicity never seemed to capture the attention of the embassy. The embassy did not seem to be serious about its publicity. Of course, it started printing a magazine of its own, named “Bharat Samachar” which continued for some years and was stopped long ago. The reason for the Indian embassy not taking interest in local publicity was that almost all major Indian English and Hindi dailies and weeklies were available in Kathmandu, which quenched the intellectual thirst of the people. Moreover, India and the Indian embassy, perhaps, did not take interest in local publicity also because they always felt their dominance (in both political and economical spheres)

Questionable Role of Diplomats:

The overall diplomacy of a country is a joint venture of the decisions taken by the minister and his ministry meeting the requirements of national and international obligations and also on the basis of the feedback of the diplomat (the ambassador or the minister) together with his action. Ambassadors’ subjective decisions on rewarding fellowships too proved ineffective. The Indian bureaucracy does not seem to bother about the final outcome of the aid given to Nepal.

Scholarships:

Even during the Panchayat regime, students were sent to the then USSR for their education. Most of them, if not all, returned to their native land after either becoming full-fledged communist or pro-Russia. Of course, their number was limited. Just contrary to it, students, who went in hundreds to India for education, came back to Nepal after becoming anti-India and hardly India-friendly. The story continues even today. The government of India or the Indian bureaucracy does not seem to be serious about the political aim of the aid given to Nepal. It never looked into its usefulness and its fallout on the recipients of education in India at the cost of Indian expenses. It was like pouring water on the sand.

Dr.Birendra P Mishra, former election commissioner of Nepal

India’s Formal Diplomacy in Nepal (It covers the Chapter 9 of the book ‘Essays on Indian Diplomatic Dilemma in Nepal’, pub.in 2019 by Adroit Publishers, New Delhi)  By Birendra Prasad Mishra . References: (1)   Joshi, Ram Hari, Atmakatha Tatha Nepali Congress-sanga Gansiaka Samjnanaharu, p-139 (2)   Rasagotra, p, 96, pp 2016, (3)   Ibid, pp-94-5 (4)   Ibid, P-300) (5)   Ibid. pp-301,and 308-9 (6)   Ibid.pp-302-307 (7)   Saran Shyam, How India Sees The World’pp-170-1, 2017,(8)   Saran Shyam, Ibid.

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