India polls: What do they mean for Nepal?

NEW DELHI, MAR 14,2012 –

With the results of the recent assembly polls gone awry in the expectations of national parties, the speculations of the much-hyped third front seem to be gaining ground in India. Though the formation of a prospective front of powerful regional parties is ruled out for now by the mandarins who are supposed to reign over this alternative force, their inevitable strength of making larger influence on national policies is growing.

The recent instance of collective opposition from the chief ministers of Bihar (Janata Dal United), West Bengal (Trinamool Congress) and Orissa (Biju Janata Dal), among others, which forced the centre to backtrack on its idea to form the National Counter Terrorism Centre for the time being, speaks volumes of their growing influence.

The situation has been more difficult for the centre after Samajwadi Party emerged as the juggernaut in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls as New Delhi now should spend more of its energy on taking the regional forces into confidence with their growing strength and number. So what does the recent political change in the highly significant Indian border state of UP mean for Nepal?

No two opinions—the foreign affairs are under the realm of the Centre in federal India. But, this does not mean that New Delhi hardly takes into consideration the sensitivities and concerns of the states while formulating the foreign policy. The Centre, of course, has the final say but states and regional forces are being consulted as needed to craft most of the important national policies.

At the same time, it is equally true that with regional forces gaining strength, chances of their concerns being reflected more on national policy are high. In a similar way, it could be anticipated that Samajwadi Party veteran Mulayam Singh Yadav or UP’s Chief Minister-designate Akhilesh Yadav now can influence India’s relationship with Nepal more. The significance of voices of bordering states like UP, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and West Bengal in Nepal could be better understood with the following example.

New Delhi and Dhaka failed to sign the much-anticipated Teesta Treaty during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Bangladesh after the last minute objection from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. It came as a huge embarrassment for the mandarins in New Delhi. Though there are no strong evidences to suggest this incident hampered India-Bangladesh relations, Dhaka clearly expressed its dissatisfaction at the failure to seal the deal. New Delhi, which looks desperate to mend its ties in the neighbourhood, is now attempting to finalise the Teesta Treaty by taking Mamata into confidence.

It may sound a bit hypothetical but if New Delhi tries to move ahead without taking the concerned state into confidence, the Teesta story could repeat in case of Nepal too. For instance, if New Delhi plans to sign some water related projects concerning Bihar, Nitish Kumar will have greater say.

The growing clout of regional forces in Indian polity will have both negative and positive impacts. In some cases, the attempt of New Delhi to go extra mile in relationship with neighbouring countries may find obstruction from the regional forces. Even quality national policies may be victims of ambitious regional leaders.

On the other side of the river, bordering states can also help the centre make relations with neighbouring countries better based on the ground realities. For instance, during this scribe’s visit to Patna a few months ago, the ministers and concerned experts appeared more flexible and open to solving the water resources problem between Nepal and India (Bihar). A minister even went on to say that Bihar will positively react if the Centre asks for its opinion on the possibility of a tripartite cooperation between Nepal, India and China in utilising Nepal’s water resources.

Against this backdrop, Nepal should embrace new strategies to its benefit. The analysis of the 62-year republican history of India indicates a grim possibility of a single party getting majority and having its final say in national policy. Nepal, hence, should also take into consideration the bordering states while formulating its India strategy. In parallel to formal diplomacy with New Delhi, informal diplomatic efforts with bordering states could be the starting point for this new strategy. But Nepal should be careful not to breach the sensitivity of New Delhi and the limitations of international relations.

This analysis originally appeared in March 13, 2012 issue of The Kathmandu Post and Kantipur. Here are the links : http://epaper.ekantipur.com/ktpost/showtext.aspx?boxid=13559328&parentid=16465&issuedate=1432012 and http://202.166.193.41/showtext.aspx?boxid=134522187&parentid=20803&issuedate=1432012

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