By Dr. Sawraj Singh
India’s foreign policy seems to be guided by two priorities:
• Trying to please America
• Concern about China’s growing influence
These two priorities have fused, and India runs the risk of being drawn into the American policy of containing China. However, this policy is complicating India’s relations with its neighbours such as Nepal. India’s relations with Nepal have become very strained and seem to be deteriorating further. This should be a cause of concern for us. Relations with Nepal are in a way reflective of India’s overall relations with its neighbors and in the region.
Relations between Nepal and India have been very close and special. Both countries share historical, geographical, cultural, religious and economic ties unlike any other two independent countries in the world. We share history to a point that it almost becomes inseparable. Was Buddha born in India or Nepal? Is Mount Everest a part of India or Nepal? People all over the world do not seem to make a distinction and they associate both of these with India.
Punjab has a very special relation with Nepal. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had Gorkha (Nepali) soldiers in his army. He had very friendly relations with the King of Nepal. After Ranjit Singh’s death, Maharani Jindan was imprisoned and taken to Fort Chunar (near Banaras). From there, she escaped to Nepal and sought asylum there. The King of Nepal (Jang Bahadur Rana) gave her asylum in spite of tremendous pressure by the British on him not to do that. A brand new residence, Char Burja Durbar, was built in the Thapathali Durbar complex, and an allowance was set by the Nepali Government.
Politically and diplomatically, the two countries have been very close. The citizens of the two countries do not need any visa or other documents to travel to the other country. Besides the ability to freely cross the border, Nepalis can work freely in India and are not subjected to the rules and regulations which apply to citizens of other countries. Culturally, the citizens of both these countries can blend with the population at large without looking distinct or standing out as foreigners. For example, it is very difficult for an ordinary person in India to tell the Nepalis apart from the people of U.P. or the adjoining states. When people in Punjab use the words “Bhaiya” or “Poorbiya,” they include the Nepalis in these general categories. For an ordinary Punjabi, Nepalis are not foreigners but are counted as non-Punjabi Indians.
In spite of all the similarities and commonalities, Nepal and India seem to be drifting apart. It is becoming clearer every day that Nepal is moving away from India and is getting closer to China. Nepal feels that all its treaties with India have been unequal, whether this was the Treaty of Sugauli with British India in 1815 or with independent India in 1950. In the Treaty of Sugauli, Nepal was forced to cede a lot of territory to British India, up to and including Sikkim, Darjeeling, Mithila, Nainital, Bashahar and the kingdoms of Kumaon and Gadhwal. The India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1950) was signed by the Prime Minister of Nepal (Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana), however from the Indian side, no equivalent official signed the Treaty; the Indian Ambassador to Nepal (Chandeshwar Prasad Narayan Singh) signed the Treaty. On the other hand, Nepal feels that China has treated it with more respect and equality. The more India tries to prevent Nepal from moving closer to China, the more it pushes Nepal towards China. The Indian policy seems to be stuck in this vicious cycle. How can India get out of this unpleasant situation? India has to set its priorities right. Does it want to give more importance to its neighbors or to America?
It is important for India to have good relations with America. However, it cannot be done at the cost of its neighbors. It is not just with Nepal that India seems to be having problems; almost all of our neighbors seem to share this perception about India that it does not give them the respect and the recognition that they deserve. The end result is that almost all of them seem more comfortable in dealing with China. This phenomenon is not limited to the small countries alone, even a very big country like Russia seems to share this. Russia has moved closer and closer to China in the last two decades, to a point where the two countries have become the closest allies, who share almost identical foreign policy goals.
We can blame the border problem and a war with China for not having the best relations. However, with Nepal and Russia, we never had those problems. Both of these countries had the best possible relations with India. The bitter truth is that because of our misplaced priorities, we lost those special relations. In order to please America, we ended up displeasing these countries. In the case of Russia, a clear correlation between our moving closer to America and farther from Russia can be established. However, it is not that clear in the case of Nepal. If we look more carefully, then we can also establish the American factor in this situation. America is looking at the smaller countries in the context of its rivalry with China and their role in containing China: if a country seems to be moving closer to China, then it deserves to be punished. Is India following this American logic?
Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.