If India wants to fix its relationship with Nepal, and its position in the region, it needs to treat the Himalayan nation as an equal partner.
With three back-to-back high-level visits by Indian officials, India is hoping that fractured relations with Nepal become normalised.
Of course, there's a belief in Kathmandu that the two nations can sideline differences and coalesce for the greater good.
But with existing border tensions and India's refusal to accept the Eminent Person's Group (EPG) proposal, which seeks a revision of the unfair 1950 Nepal-India Friendship treaty, the relations between the two countries might be heading for rougher waters.
A debate has emerged in Nepal whether the head of state should deal with India's intelligence agencies, army chief, or the Indian prime minister. However, one should understand that since 2002, India has effectively handed the country's Nepal policy over to its security establishment and other officials whose outlook on Nepal is colonial.
Their definition of Nepal as a protectorate state is the first fallacy that leads to misadventures and policy that eventually backfires.
The Nepali-speaking Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla in a recent statement stressed on words like 'symbiotic' and said Nepal cannot realise its dreams without India - the message was clear. The implication that Nepal cannot realise its dreams independently and his reminder of India's contribution to Nepal failed to address Nepal's significant contributions to India's security, economy, and culture.
Nepalis have long complained about this sort of egoism from Indian officials who visit Nepal and treat the country as a subject rather than a partner. Indian officials still act as if they are in the East India Company.
On that premise, India's security establishment has erred over the years in forming Nepal's policies. It has failed to understand that Nepalis' desire to remain independent and robust hasn't wavered despite the imposition of multiple blockades on Nepal by India. And only the resilience of the people has kept the country from going astray.
There was some sense of hope in Shringla because of his ancestral ties to Nepal. The visit was symbolic in the sense that India is committed to normalising its relations with Nepal, which could come true as another Nepal-India foreign secretary-level meeting is expected to take place.
But with India asserting its claims over Nepal's borders and its bickering with China, there's but little hope that India will hand over Nepalese territories given its internal conflicts. So India might come up with an alternative plan as it doesn't wish to damage the domestic image.
In 1989 India imposed a blockade on Nepal simply on the pretext of a trade and transit dispute. The real reason, however, was "Growing Nepalese-Chinese cooperation, culminating in Katmandu's (sic) purchase in August 1988 of Chinese antiaircraft guns..."
In 2015, India imposed another economic blockade as Nepal went ahead and promulgated its new constitution.
In November this year, the Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe visited Nepal and talked about granting military equipment worth 150 million RMB ($23 million) to the Nepali army. Nepal and China signed the agreement last year in Beijing, and concerned eyes wondered how India will react given its past behaviour. Will India impose another blockade on Nepal?
With geographical implications and weaknesses, Nepal has been yearning to strike a balance of power between India, China, and other nations like the United States. With India siding with the US and signing several military treaties, Nepal cannot afford to become another Afghanistan or Syria by either siding with India or China.
Nepal's foreign policy should remain committed to non-alignment and instead focus on rapid development.
There's no doubt about India's contribution to Nepal's economy, but its neoliberal economic tactics have failed and boomeranged. Its continuous emphasis on 'controlled instability' is no longer viable in a changing geopolitical reality.
China, armed with resources and capital, far outweighs India. But Nepal understands how China is aggressively pushing its power in the region and that it needs China for development and not otherwise. Nepal is also aware that India is wary of China and tends to see any independent policies from Nepal as China-fed.
India's Sinophobia is also a significant hurdle in Nepal-India relations and needs a reset.
Both Nepal and India share close cultural and linguistic ties, and with an open border, the relationship is unique.
If, however, India continues with its failed neoliberalist approach, which often steers towards imperialism, then its relationship with Nepal may never normalise.
India also continuously pushes rhetoric that Nepal should assure India that Nepal won't allow anti-Indian activities within its territories. Despite facing serious instability and an economic crunch, Nepal has upheld its end of the deal.
But shouldn't the largest democracy in the world do the same for Nepal? How can Nepal be assured that India won't allow anti-Nepal activities on its soil? Nepalis still haven't forgotten how India gave shelter to Maoists rebels during the civil war, which ultimately overthrew the monarchy. If India claims a symbiotic relationship, then it should be reciprocal.
To reset Nepal-India ties, India must abandon colonial policies, micromanagement, and micromanipulation in Nepal. India should immediately withdraw its military from Nepal's borders, accept the EPG report, and end the tradition of viewing Nepal as a protectorate state.
India also should start talking with state officials and not send its security officials for talks in the future.
India shouldn't forget that Nepal has survived numerous bloody catastrophes since 1768, including the East India Company, Indian blockades, and an India-supported Maoist rebellion.
The resilience of ordinary Nepalis is strong, and if India wishes to win back Nepal, it must start listening to their concerns.
Nepal can dream independently, and it doesn't need either of its neighbours or other nations to achieve its dreams. The sooner India realises this, the better it will be for both countries, or else the symbiotic relationship will transform into a parasitic one - and it will be cancerous for both nations.
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