By Indrani Bagchi
NEW DELHI: Nepal’s new Maoist PM, Prachanda, has made his choice clear. Within a week of taking office, he is breaking bread with the Chinese leadership at the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, preferring it over meeting the Indian leadership in New Delhi.
The political overflight of New Delhi has not gone unnoticed here. Prachanda would be the first Nepalese leader to make Beijing his first stop and not New Delhi.
However you look at it, it’s a snub, particularly since New Delhi had invited him to visit much earlier. It doesn’t begin the new government’s ties with India on a promising note. Prachanda even chose to ignore signals from India that it would not be “helpful” in relations with New Delhi.
There will be little comment from South Block, but it might be a while before Prachanda visits New Delhi. It’s more likely that the new Nepal president, Ram Baran Yadav, whose invitation to India is already in process, may make it here first.
Prachanda swore in his new government on Friday, and was off to Beijing on Saturday with an 11-member delegation. However, the Maoist minister for law and justice, Dev Gurung, said Prachanda’s visit to China cannot be regarded as directed against India. He said the Maoist-led government has vowed to follow the policy of “equidistance” from India and China.
Prachanda’s actions, said sources, follows his earlier statements where he wanted to review the India-Nepal friendship treaty, because it was “unequal”. This has been his way of showing that it would no longer be business as usual between India and Nepal, and henceforth, Nepal will be overtly open to Chinese overtures.
And there was no dearth of that in Beijing. According to reports, Prachanda met both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Hu was reported as saying that China and Nepal were “good neighbours, good friends and good partners”. Hu noted that “the two countries have established a good neighbourly partnership and enjoyed friendship generation upon generation”.
Hu added, “This fully demonstrates the great attention Nepal attaches to relations with China and its profound friendship with the Chinese people. We highly appreciate that.”
Clearly, Prachanda is building up China as a hedge against India, much in the manner of all of India’s other neighbours. Which, in its own way, is not cause for alarm in New Delhi, except for what it might bring in its wake, in terms of greater Chinese access into Nepal. China has also promised a lot of assistance to Nepal, which widens its choices, from being dependent on India, a dependence that has ramifications in its domestic politics.
On the other hand, Beijing was never a supporter of the Maoists, and in fact, during the jan andolan, it had taken the side of the now deposed monarchy. Even now, China remains worried about Tibetan protesters continuing their protests in Nepal. The effects of a Chinese hug will soon be felt in Nepal, because China can be quite single-minded in advancing its interests rapidly. New Delhi has floundered with the Maoist victory and is yet to strike the right notes with the new formation there.
Despite the popular linkages between India and Nepal, more hard-nosed approaches may now become the norm between India and Nepal, said sources.