Religion, caste, creed, region, indifferences of past, friend or foe, don’t stand on the way to rush help in a humanitarian crisis. I am sure every Indian is proud of being apolitical in times of neighbor’s crisis. That is Vasudhaiva Kutimbakam – right approach for a Secular India. But, does Indian Government’s response to earth quake in Nepal on 25 Apr 2015, qualify that? Answer is a big ‘No’. Does India walk the talk of ‘Good Samaritanism’ with her neighbors, at least to Nepal, notwithstanding her misnomer? Why and how the Himalayan Kingdom got slowly and steadily weaned away from India? What are China’s interests? What are the politico, socio and military implications of Nepal’s drift to China? What are the security
issues to India? More so, why at this time, when India-China border issues are opening up, and Nepal decides to project her strong anti-Indian stance? India needs introspection, retrospectively with open mind.
Nepal is the only Hindu kingdom in the Globe, though politically it adores the hat of ‘Secular State’ since 2015. Its population, over 80% is predominantly Hindu, having religious affinity with India. India had nurtured the Himalayan Kingdom as a most favored child, obviously to prevent falling into China’s influence. India expects Nepal to be sincere in implementing security interests against physical threats as per formal treaty that stands: not to allow foreign countries in Nepal’s soil against the interest of India. ( Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship dated 31 Jul 1950) SARRC has its HQs at Kathmandu and India has a lead role.
Let us not forget the sizable Nepali domiciles occupying important assignments both in Government and in Private sector in India. Indian Armed Forces has a reasonable strength of GURKHAS, especially in its Ranks and files, drawn from Nepal or having close links at Nepal. It has a role in narco trade and terrorists transit. In short, Nepal is so near, dear and
important to India: socially akin to own constituent States, politically a likeminded secular neighbor and a security buffer between India and China.
Earth Quake Diplomacy: Mole made a Mountain.
With all its political, social and security relevance behind, what was India’s response when earthquake shattered Nepal, worst in 80 years history on 25 Apr 2015?. A peanut. India, a giant, land-link neighbour with its morality of leader in SARRC delivered only 3.5 tonnes materiel and 39 NDRF personnel, and that too after more than 12 hours when it enjoys road connectivity at six points and over half a dozen air fields / air ports available to it adjoining Nepal, within flying time of 15 minutes – 2 hrs (100 – 500km).
India sent 3.5 tons of materials and 39 personnel. China sent a 60- strong emergency team with over 100 tons stores. Pakistan’s army was sending four C-130 aircraft with a 30-bed hospital, alongwith search and rescue teams and relief supplies. (yahoo source)
Is the assistance timely and sufficient enough, considering the gravity, worst in 80 years history? When compared with China and Pakistan’s response in first 12 hours, India’s response was a lip service and is awfully inadequate. Having experienced four major disasters in a span of 50 years – Lattur, Bhuj, Tsunami and last in J & K, (then) doesn’t India know the immediate needs for Nepal on 25th April 2015 ? It’s here, Nepal’s weaning away from India started; not that India had only lost the‘Gold in Foreign relations’ but had also sown seeds of mistrust in its neighbourhood. China rightfully exploited. It started winning hearts and minds of Nepal slowly and steadily to an extent of calling it today an ally and friend. Not just a friend has turned foe, but a foe has turned your friend: China gets a ‘mole’ in Himalayas and the Fire was lit then.
In an article in The Hindu, Suhasini Haidar quotes Mr Rakesh Sood, former Ambassador to Nepal, saying perception of PM KP Sharma Oli “changed in 2015” after the Blockade, from strengthening ties with India. The public as well as bureaucrats of Nepal, construed the economic blockade (Sep 2015 – Feb 2016) as handiwork of Indian Govt. If it is not true, what were the actions taken by Indian diplomats to ease out the agony of Nepal or to get rid of this erroneous perception? Did India attempt to pacify, smoothen or mediate with blockaders? Biswas Baral in his article in THE DIPLOMAT on Feb 2017, on “After the blockade:
China’s push into Nepal”, says “….during these months at least 100 Nepali Government Officials went to China with expenses met by Chinese Government”. Politicians, Government officials, bureaucrats, civilians, Security Officials made many trips and reversely Chinese personalities also visited Nepal. Blockade only added fuel to the fire that was lit a few months back due to India’s poor response to Earth Quake as against Chinese overwhelming support. China played their card well this time too. Its influence was evident when Mr. KP Sharma Oli could not be removed from PM. The interest of Tibet is no longer the reason. It is now clear that it sees Nepal with its ultimate interest against India. Mole got patronized to become a mountain. What’s Taiwan to China, why not Nepal is to India?
Dragon’s influence grew into Nepal rather so fast and deep: Roads’ constructions assistance and contracts with inert aim of linking to Beijing to alleviate future blockades, increase in academic cooperation, increased trade, increase in Chinese tourism, going up by 250 times from 2013 and now moving on to drawing board status of Nepal-China joint military training, which otherwise Nepal had never-ever done earlier except with India and USA. Gaininggeo-situational advantage for one’s own interest is a natural political process. In this case, China and Nepal have their own hidden agenda but they matched together in Indian context: turn Nepal away from traditional friend India, and Nepal to pal China, a traditional adversary to India. For Nepal, it is near compulsion to turn to China when the traditional friend India did not play in Nepal’s interest on two occasions in 2015: the Earth Quake and the economic Blockade. Obviously, the Mole was getting molded into a Mountain.
Impact on Indian Military.
Indian Army in particular, has Nepali domiciles and Indian GURKHAS in Ranks and files. In all both Indian and Nepali domiciles together may constitute around 40000 personnel and mostly in front line fighting arms : GURKHA Regiments & Rifles. This, equals to a fighting strength of nearly three Corps; Corps is the formation capable of taking independent operational maneuvers. This fact needs serious attention in light of Indo-Nepal relations escalating to new major strain between them. How will China view this weak-link? Will Nepal Communists toe Chinese ideology? Will Nepal politics and public allow it to that brink? If so, how can India tackle? Notwithstanding the impeccable loyalty of Gurkhas, can they still be indoctrinated against India? Can India afford to lose three Corps? Lot many questions need to be discussed. Some are dealt here and some left for obvious reasons.
Assuming Chinese diplomacy and political will succeeds in ‘mesmerizing’ Nepal, does India have security forces to cater the new front, ‘a classical Northern’ Front, all along its 1750 Km of Indo-Nepal border? A casual estimate says India need minimum of three Corps just to defend. Overall, a hostile Nepal means a theatre sized forces (3-5 Corps) are required to be off-set from existing Indian Army or a ‘New Northern Command’ is to be raised when India has to face any serious Chinese venture. Obviously, raising new Command is the best option. Is Indian GDP and budget favors’ it? Certainly not. Hence only option to India is to make a special budget and woo back Nepal from the clutches of China before it is too late.
Even if strained relations with Nepal is sustained without allowing to escalate and China makes any one single gain along its border, under the current crisis in Ladakh region, then the opposition parties in India will make it very difficult for BJP to look beyond this tenure in the Centre. China has made it certain that Indian Government is actually riding a tiger in Nepal.
Global Image and Regional hegemony
Can one imagine, India joining G7 and on the other hand, Nepal or Pakistan proposing to expel India from SAARC and renaming it as AARC, just dropping the letter of ‘S’ (south) from it, as China gets in to be ‘Asian’. China can stage manage this through Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh/ Sri Lanka. If such event occurs or even if it is discussed amongst SAARC, India will have no local standi in the region. China will make up all that is lost in trade and diplomacy after Covid19 and also would eliminate the military advantage of India confronting ‘One Front war’ or ‘One and a Half Front War’ with Pakistan or China. Let it be known that China always believes in ‘consolidation’ than exploration alone.
Above notwithstanding, India’s regional image is very much at stake, if it cannot carry along Nepal, a small neighbor that had traditional blessings of India over centuries. Mistrust by neighbor is cancerous yet infectious. Bhutan will not wait for long to increase her stakes or to toe the line of Dragon. Bangladesh finding a wave may tilt her interest in favor of China. In any case earlier we have had some indications similar to that. Even Sri Lanka, with Hambantota in Chinese hand and the lingering smoke of Tamils with their support base in India as an ever hanging as Damocles sword, may change its interest from India. In politics there are no permanent friends. Sub regional hegemony of India would be questioned.
China’s Big Game?
Is there an interest for China to consolidate entire Himalayas as its southern fortress? Is that required? Will there be a war to that depth, given the Nuc Scenario? Possibly not. But China’s intentions are best known only to her. Full scale war with India cannot be ruled out, if not now, at least in the later part of this decade in achieving world hegemony. In such a game, China needs Nepal on her side. Current border conflicts with Nepal will assist if it is taken to its brim. China can establish her political will over Tibet and later develop it into a full pledged South-Asian Military Region. Otherwise as its stands today, China’s immediate interest appears to be limited to protecting or giving depth to her strategic roads like Karakoram Highway -NH 219 in Aksai Chin and in Tibet. Tibet and Nepal are alternative pivots for the tentacles extending to Indian Ocean. Hence as of now, consolidation of depth along its border is premium to China.
In 1962, India was no match to China. Today, though overall asymmetry may prevail between India and China, India is capable of achieving a near parity or at least tactical symmetry at points of contact. China is well aware of it and desires to upset even this capability and gain tactical asymmetry too. Going by the treaty, Nepal should not allow China to use its soil against India, but Nepal can confront India for her own border issues under the pretext of own security. India, if confronted with hostile Nepal along its extended border, will lose this tactical advantage too. In that context, Nepal fits the bill in big game plan. Otherwise, even for a localized border conflict, China must dislodge India’s capability of mustering local superiority and make decision making that much complicated for India. China’s intentions cannot be predicted in the absence of any political statements. But this much is certain that it synergizes every small thing in her favor. Overkill, use of every single mode and mean to ensure victory, is Chinese philosophy. If not it will stand a ‘Recce in Force’ (by a proxy) for any big game in offing at the end of this decade.
- Immediate diplomatic intervention is needed with Nepal, be it political or diplomatic rapprochement, less the malignancy goes uncontrolled and neighbors may also follow suit.
- Implications of military; besides losing three corps worth trained loyal force, India has to raise and train another six corps worth size force; it is not in the remote possibility of India, given its economy and military budget today. Consolidate and hold the manpower by motivation and reassurance.
- Redrawing map, and claiming Limpiyadhura –Lipulekh- Kalapani as part of Nepal, is a clear ‘anti India Stance’; it causes a major blow to Indian Army in Operations and a severe reverses in Force Management. It is a political slap on the face. India should modify tools of diplomacy; Policy to be revisited.
- LOSING NEPAL is unpardonable and irreversible. It is as bad as India’s return of HAJIPIR PASS to Pakistan after capturing it. Despite PM Narendra Modi agreeing in 2014 to make Foreign Secretaries meet on Kalapani issue, it never met till date. Indian Foreign Ministry had either dumped Nepal in a back seat or it failed to grasp the nuances of potential strategic security fabrics linked to this Himalayan State. Let us not forget, a security treaty of 1950 vintage stands alive with Nepal: not to allow foreign countries in Nepal’s soil against the interest of India. All the more for the Foreign Ministry to have acted proactivey on 25 Apr 2015 and again in Sep 2015, during blockade giving no compulsion for Nepal to look up to China. Rather, the Indian PM, given the importance of Nepal, should have taken an aerial survey as a friend and even landed in Nepal to reassure all support. During blockade, aerial administrative support should have been extended besides mediating with Madhesis. Alas, India lost Gold; China succeeded in her economic diplomacy.
- There is a need to revamp and revisit Indian diplomacy for a ‘steady and stable neighborhood in Himalayas’ and not allowing it to slip under its own feet and that too with grave consequences. ‘Trump’ing glories with US relations or on some evacuations of Covid19 are insignificant when we cannot mend with friendly neighbors of strategic interest. Areas of ‘exclusive interest’ be redefined and identified and agencies be asked not to fault therein, be it Ministers, Diplomats or
Intelligence agencies. In fact, tweets of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy @swamy39 on 01 Jun 2020, reads :
“Time for NaMo Govt to admit that our foreign policy also in tatters.
It needs a reset”
- There is a clear indication of failure of Intelligence too with regard to border episodes with China and Nepal.
- At any cost, India cannot afford her Himalayan friends to be weaned away by China.
- Any border dispute with Nepal is not an Army Problem; it is Modi Problem.
- Whether India finds it included in G7 or not, it should not be excluded from SAARC and China should not rename it as AARC.
Nepal should be won over by hearts and minds even at a cost of spending a given percentage of GDP
(J M DEVADOSS retired as a Brigadier in the Indian Army after 35 years of distinguished service and now heads theMadurai School of Management)