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Nepal’s New Foreign Face

Nepal’s New Foreign Face


Professionally a hard term lies ahead for the ‘Madhesi Supremo’…

By Kanchan Jha

There are many playmakers in Nepalese politics and Upendra Yadav – the first ‘foreign face’ of republic Nepal, is no exception. The incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs as well as the madhesi-supremo of the largest party in Terai, Yadav is surely a power to reckon in the newly ‘half-formed’ government. A self-professed socialist, who is also close to political quarters in India, is an adroit politician adept at making accurate political calculations to arrive at a winning formula in the cabinet power play. That over the past two years he has been able to usurp the electoral base in Terai of both the Congress and the UML and has acquired four ‘influential seats’ in the ministerial cabinet, speaks volumes about his political acumen.

In his latest avatar as the Foreign Minister, Yadav will have loads on his plate as his job is to make a paradigm shift in Nepal’s foreign policy, based and guided by the principles of Panchasheel. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for Yadav to prove his worth as a national leader. Political spectators observe that the big challenge he will soon confront and will continue to do so in future is to strike out hard negotiations with India with regards to the Indo-Nepal 1950 treaty and all other ‘unequal treaties’. The receptive issue which he will cautiously inch towards is the settlement of ‘sensitive border-land’ dispute with the South.

The opportunity in the north is China’s excessive willingness to nurture Nepal as part of its ‘superior-security’ agenda in South Asia and to offer itself as Nepal's counterweight against India that enjoys a special position owing to the 1950 treaty. Beijing is interested in building Nepal as a separate entity that will not safeguard the Hindustani interests and helping the Himalayan nation to emerge as an independent ‘strategic buffer’ between China and India. As regards with the reds coming to power in Nepal, despite some noises about reviewing the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, it remains vague how Yadav will maintain equidistance between China and India though with improved Sino-Indian relations, Nepal's leverage to use the China card is fading away in the horizon.

There is a buzz that the Indian quarters are content with Yadav overseeing the Foreign Ministry in Nepal. Apparently, Indian diplomats envision that with Upendra Yadav in the office, one can be certain about the fact that he will not disturb the long-established Indian pre-eminence in Nepal. Above all speculations, will the Foreign Minister continue undaunted on the path of Panchasheel? Or will he crumble under the intense political pressure induced by New Delhi’s South Block?

One can refrain from speculating on Upendra Yadav’s fortunes and fate. But how can one avoid looking at things which are likely to confront the sovereignty of the state like always? One of the biggest challenge will come in the event of restructuring Terai under the republic umbrella and political pundits wonder if he will still take a tough stance on the India-directed “Samagra Madhes –Ek Pradesh” agenda. In tune, political gurus question what ‘foreign light’ Upendra will now throw on the new political formations to take shape in Madhesh.

What position Yadav adopts in such situations will, to a large extent, define his future in Madhesh. If he continues to play the role of a ‘shrewd musketeer’ simply repackaging ethnic-oriented ‘fustian rubbish’ to appeal to Madhesi mass perception just for the sake of personal benefits and power, it will not be too long that the party will lose its faith in its chief. At present one would hesitate to state that Yadav has been able to fully check the ‘slow-downward’ slide of the party especially in the districts and put a firm lid on the internal dissensions, but what one can be sure about is that he has been able to reinforce the external ‘power game’ especially with the ‘dual reds’ – CPN (M) and UML. At home MJF cadres are dissatisfied with the way their bosses are handling politics in Kathmandu. They feel the party leadership has lost its morality in quest for power and has failed to politically bind itself in the fight for new Madhes. Sadly, the chief has lost his charisma to mark a political revival and rejuvenate the lost spirits of its cadres in the districts.

But the moot is, will Yadav’s leadership in Terai come under severe strain in the event of MJF performing ‘feebly and unnaturally’ in the government? The answer, of course, is ‘yes’- others waiting in the wings would pounce on any chance to grasp the control of Madhesi politics. Party insiders say this will lead to further dissensions within the party and its supporters. An ominous fact is that MJF has to now deal with the peril of TMLP, a baby Madhesi bloc, born just months before the CA elections is a factor which worries Yadav a great deal, because Mahanta Thakur’s power base among the Madhesi intelligentsia gives him the control to disturb MJF’s apple cart in the contemporary politics of Terai.

TMLP’s decision to not be a part of the cabinet and instead support the government in terms of basic ‘political morality’ has helped them emerge as a principal shouting opposition in Terai. “Thakur’s current routine has been primarily to take time out from external political game and get the internal organization of the party on an even keel, before launching his tirade against his arch rival – the MJF party”, says a party insider and a close aide of Thakur. However, in the event of MJF performing poorly in the government, the clamor for party-leadership change to meet the challenges of Madhes politics will gain momentum. How will Yadav handle the UML and other blocs who are ready to corner him on the subject of ‘one madhesh-one state’?

This will definitely not augur well for Yadav’s ambitions and more likely he will endeavor to engineer a Congress -led alliance supported by India and structure Terai the way New Delhi aspires. In the face of the situation, experts fear there are many stumbling blocks and hurdles to come in the constitution-making process. The top of all is designing the federal structure of the state. The Madhesi issue is a telling example with many pockets in diplomatic politics mirroring the situation. It appears that MJF leaders care only for petty-fogging things and are troubled by the greed of loaves and fishes in the shape of electoral seats and administrative posts.

This bugbear of communalism is spreading like a plague preying upon ‘uneducated mass en villages’ in Terai. Overall, the people of Madhes and Pahad have to understand that the freedom of Nepal is superior to the disease which for the time is corroding some segments of the society and if the madhesi-pahadi constitutional rights are satisfactorily served without any Bharatiya influence, the communal distemper will immediately vanish and the atmosphere would be clear as if by magic. The moment the alien wedge is removed, the divided communities are bound to unite.

Lastly, will the ‘shrewd-musketeer’ continue to be one of the important play-makers in Nepalese politics? If so, then one is bound to presume that politics is not the last game of scoundrels but the very first and the only one…

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