| Bastola in New Delhi. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Aug. 5: India must have a “people-friendly policy” towards Nepal and not back any individual, former Nepalese foreign minister Chakra Prasad Bastola said here today.
Bastola said he recognised that India did not want a “big-brother” image in the neighbourhood. “But as an alternative what you are justifying is not being a brother at all. Democracy and good neighbourliness do not grow without careful nurturing,” he argued.
The Nepali Congress and other democratic parties in Nepal are stung by the fact that India is not backing the legitimate representatives of the people but a government appointed by a king they see as “activist”.
Nobody in Nepal wants India to be very direct in espousing the cause of democracy in that country. But Bastola felt: “Recognising the peoples’ aspirations can be the bottom line defining the Indian policy towards Nepal. The alternative to a bad democracy can only be a better democracy — not an active monarchy. And we expect India to recognise that.”
However, he said the media talk in Kathmandu was that India was backing the Surya Bahadur Thapa government appointed by the king. “We in the Nepali Congress consider this as supporting a non-democratic dispensation. Why should individuals be backed' India should have a people-friendly and a democracy-friendly policy towards Nepal. An active monarchy is only going to disturb the political and emotional foundations of India-Nepal relations in both the countries,” Bastola said.
Bastola, among the top Nepali Congress leaders, lamented the ineffectiveness of Indian foreign policy towards Nepal. “Whether it is the split in the Nepali Congress, responding to the Maoist movement or to the expansion of the role of the king, I feel that India could have reacted much more effectively. To put it bluntly, helping stop the split in the Nepali Congress would have been more productive than New Delhi expecting us to back Surya Bahadur Thapa now,” he felt.
What should India be doing, in his opinion' “I can only say what India should not do. It should not rely overly on foreign office bureaucracy to formulate its Nepal policy by giving up on a more direct, more political and more personal policy formulation. It should not give the impression that it is supporting Surya Bahadur Thapa. It should not give the impression that it is encouraging the Maoists to invite the political parties to the negotiating table. The legitimate representatives of the people should be inviting the Maoists for the talks,” Bastola said.
“Sometimes when India does something it overdoes it and when it decides not to act it does absolutely nothing,” Bastola quipped. The Nepalese leader, however, clarified that he was not arguing a case for a greater Indian role in Nepal. “All that I am urging is to recognise that there are issues which affect both the countries equally and therefore, we need to have a practical and balanced approach to our relationship,” he said.
Bastola traced what he called India’s relative indifference to Nepal to a larger malaise. “My feeling is that India is losing sight of its neighbourhood for distant and greener pastures. Perhaps that is important for India but its own backyard should not be any less important,” he said.
The Nepalese leader said India was giving the impression that its policy in the neighbourhood was a hands-off policy — “almost a policy of non-concern”. But he asked: “Is this the way to conduct the foreign policy of a country as important as India' In the coming days, India will play a bigger role globally and in the region. Can it then afford to forget or neglect its own backyard'”