Between the Dragon and the Tiger

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By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

The Great King Prithvi Narayan Shah of the House of Gorkha, who had unified the country and was a far-sighted statesman and nation-builder, had admonished his countrymen with the supreme maxim never to forget that Nepal was a yam between two stones, and that the country’s decision-makers were always to maintain cordial external relations with both the colossuses to the north and the south, as it was and would remain in a particularly precarious situation. This precept holds true today as much as ever, although time and again not followed scrupulously by third-rate politicians in power, as at present.

In the modern context, some commentators have used the analogy of the dragon and the tiger to represent China and India, and western writers most of whom are more sympathetic to India compared it to the peaceful, tamed elephant rather than to the ferocious tiger. In the Western imagination, the dragon was a mythical monster like a giant reptile, typically able to breathe out fire, and thus by parallel, China was a fierce and intimidating country. An angel slaying the evil dragon is a recurring theme in the West. However, in Asia itself, the dragon brings luck and benediction. Nationalistic-minded Nepalese would agree that today, India is a major threat to Nepal’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, whereas China’s policies towards it are definitely benign. The fact that contrary to India, China has never overtly interfered in Nepalese domestic matters is perceived as proof of China’s comparative benevolence towards Nepal.

Even during the period of British colonialism and imperialism in South Asia, the Rana rulers strove to keep the British at arms length. Their domestic policies may have been a major disaster by keeping the country in the dark ages through an autocratic regime, but to give the devils their due, the Ranas did indeed pursue a very successful foreign policy. They may have been close friends and allies of the British, but they were never their slaves. They did not tolerate any interference in the internal affairs of the country, and kept Nepal more or less in splendid isolation until the winds of change began to blow in Asia.

The Ranas also pursued a forward policy in Tibet. Commanding General Bakhat Jung Rana consolidated Nepal’s strategic position and stabilized the northern border, which more than a century later was accepted to a great extent by the People’s Republic of China during the re-demarcation process. After 1911 as the Manchu dynasty collapsed and Tibet’s theocratic rulers asserted their autonomy, the Ranas seized the opportunity to establish diplomatic relations. Nepal’s embassy in Lhasa was converted into a consulate-general only in 1955. Thus, in the realm of foreign relations, the Ranas conscientiously took pains to promote the country’s national interest.

In order to hoodwink the British, the Ranas also cleverly insinuated that Nepal had some sort of dependent relationship with China. With this end in view, they continued to send the quinquennial tribute missions (which had a hoary tradition) to the court of the Celestial Emperor. Although on the frontiers of the Chinese empire, the Nepalese were not considered barbarians as many other people (including Westerners) by the Middle Kingdom (the traditional name of China), but a closely related volk. Thus, after the proclamation of the Chinese Republic, the Nationalists even invited Nepal to join the Chinese family of nations, which was, of course, politely and diplomatically declined.

The Ranas also realized very early on that they must diversify the country’s external relations and gradually relax the policy of isolation. There were too many changes taking place in Asia in general and the subcontinent in particular. Thus diplomatic relations were established with Great Britain and the United States. On the other hand, the Tibetan theocratic rulers failed to perceive “the winds of change” blowing after the First World War, and above all to appreciate that it would be impossible to preserve the Roof of the World as an isolated island.

The Ranas’ enlightened and far-sighted foreign policy helped to anchor Nepal’s independence and sovereignty and was a deterrence to Indian expansionism under deputy prime minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Nepal was spared the fate of the many princely states. The Himalayan state of Sikkim was finally annexed, and Bhutan has been reduced to a puppet state. Since then, imperialist-minded Indians have lamented time and again the missed opportunities to “integrate” Nepal. Actually, they have never given up. The Indian hegemonists have always considered Nepal as their backyard and, therefore, within their sphere of influence. Right from their independence, they have attempted (and succeeded to a great extent) to influence policies and events. Currently, this interference can be said to be total. The Indian ministry of external affairs and the external intelligence agency (RAW/Research and Analysis Wing) are dictating terms. At the present juncture, they are actively engaged in a de-stabilizing policy.

The present autocratic rulers of SPAM (the Six Party Alliance and the Maoists) or the Gang of Seven have inherited the unscrupulousness, nepotism and depravity of the Ranas in their domestic policies, without an iota of saving grace in their foreign relations. The present so-called leaders are completely dependent on their Indian masters that are propping them up.

Their whole political edifice – inappropriately called ‘loktantra’ (total or genuine democracy) – would collapse like a house of cards without Indian support. For inspiration, they are only capable of looking south of the border. They are completely oblivious to Indian machinations in the Terai, where ethnic and criminal violence on an unprecedented scale is spiraling out of control. Here and elsewhere, the law and order situation has collapsed. Any other sane government concerned with the people’s welfare would have ordered timely mobilization of the national army.

Instead, the government, the ‘leaders’ and the political parties are busy with non-issues, petty rivalries and futile attempts to cover up their major sins of omission and commission. To illustrate, consider the following recent examples. Maoist boss “Prachanda” Dahal boasted that he had met the ‘royalist’ Ramesh Nath Pandey, foreign minister during the King’s regime. He probably wanted to highlight his wooing of the ‘royalists’ and how open the former terrorists were, now that they were part of mainstream politics. Unfortunately, this attempt backfired, since Pandey was a nincompoop in his chosen portfolio, ignoring China the whole time and with other close royal confidantes succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in totally isolating the royal regime and discrediting the King in the bargain. The Maoists first agitated vociferously to de facto abolish the monarchy, and now they want to sweeten this illegal and unconstitutional act which now threatens to disrupt national unity.

Then we have Maoist ideologue, intellectual and second in command Baburam Bhattarai threatening to take up arms again, if this time around the CA-elections were not held as stipulated. This is definitely double-speak, for even their partners in the ill-conceived coalition (a result of Indian diktat) accuse the Maoists openly of being the main hindrance in this regard. This is also the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the Nepalese people, who also do not truly expect that they will be held. SPAM has lost all credibility and the Indian game plan is in tatters. More to the point, the Maoists are in no condition to return to the killing terraces. First, their support and home bases have vanished. Second, the leadership has no effective control over their cadres, who themselves have lost their revolutionary elan having been corrupted through la dolce vita. Third and most importantly, the Indian hand cannot-overtly and covertly – play the crucial role as before.

The Nepali Congress (NC), the former leading political party (whether it is still so is a moot question, and which makes their leaders tremble at the thought of actual elections) is ideologically in the political wilderness. They had burnt their bridges on the question of monarchy, having opted unilaterally for a federal republic. As we had postulated last week in these columns, the PM’s daughter Sujata K. had spoken out in favour of the monarchy (perhaps with the blessing of her father) and had been elevated to ministerial rank in the PM’s office. As expected, the NC through its spokesman, Arjun Narsingh K.C. has now castigated the PM-in waiting for not following the party line. This is just an indication of party-infighting and jockeying for position in the leadership struggle. This will intensify with the failing health of the PM. The question no longer is only: after Koirala what, but also who?

The writers can be reached at: [email protected]

Alan Gray is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of NewsBlaze Daily News and other online newspapers. He prefers to edit, rather than write, but sometimes an issue rears it’s head and makes him start pounding the keyboard. Alan has a fascination with making video and video editing, so watch out if he points his Canon 7d in your direction.