Originally Published 2011-08-05 00:00:00 Published on Aug 05, 2011
There will soon be two important changes in the Nepal and India diplomacy, which are of significant importance to both the countries. Nepal's ambassador to India, Rukma Shumsher Rana, has been recalled while the Indian envoy to Nepal Rakesh Sood will be replaced by another career diplomat.
Significant changes in India-Nepal diplomacy
There will soon be two important changes in the diplomatic positions in Nepal and India, which are of significant importance to the two neighboring countries. Nepal's ambassador to India, Rukma Shumsher Rana, has been recalled by the Jhalanath Khanal government and Indian envoy to Nepal Rakesh Sood will be replaced by another career diplomat. While it is more than certain that Mr Sood will be replaced by Jayant Prasad, Nepali government is yet to name Mr Rana's successor. Confusion, however, persists on exact dates of their return to their homelands.

Since Nepal and India maintain a "special relationship," and any change in New Delhi or in Kathmandu is accorded high importance, it is an interesting time to look at what these changes mean for the two neighbors - whether it will usher in a new direction in Indo-Nepal relations, especially in bringing a thaw in the much-strained relations between the UCPN (Maoist) and India. It is also an opportune time to analyze the conduct of diplomacy and the limitations of those put in that positions. An evaluation of the tenures of the two envoys is a must for that.

Mr Sood, who has remained the most controversial Indian ambassador in Nepal for his staunch opposition to Maoist positions, completed his tenure officially on March 28. Although he was certain to leave in the first week of June, it is believed that India has maintained a status quo as it is waiting to see significant progress in the peace process, especially on the matter of integration. India will probably wait for the political actors to agree on the finalization of integration modality, standard norms for integration and rehabilitation package along with fixation of the number of the former combatants to be integrated before it sends Prasad. The takeover by new foreign secretary of India will also play a factor in deciding when Mr Sood will leave.

Mr Sood was perceived as having an "arrogant style" of functioning by most Maoist leaders. They also criticized him for his "brash mannerism." He was portrayed in the media as seen openly interfering in Nepal's internal affairs and for being critical of Maoist positions. He was also perceived to be lacking in being patient, calm and tactful at times. But by passing judgments on the envoy publicly and ridiculing him, the UCPN (Maoist) crossed all limits, which culminated at the incident when the ambassador was thrown shoes at by some Maoist cadres. Such a crude behavior is unacceptable in a democracy.

Second, one has to remember that an envoy is a mere representative of a state and has to follow government orders. Mr Sood's actions all along were in line with the Indian government's position. While Mr Sood was seen to be soft when he took over charge initially, the anti-Maoist position came as a result of the Indian government's hard stance against the Maoists. This scribe had argued in an earlier write-up "India and Maoists" (June 16) why the strain came about. Briefly, when the Indian establishment realized that the Maoists were back-tracking and not fulfilling their past commitments to peace process, India got weary of them. This was aggravated by the Maoist party trying to play China card against India. Mr Sood's "arrogance" toward the Maoists emanated from the distrust toward the party and its continuing attack on Indian ventures in Nepal.

But it is futile to think that the change in envoy will bring any drastic change in India's position vis-à-vis the Maoists. Although Mr Prasad is said to be "soft" and "willing to listen to all," there will be no drastic change in India's stance on the Maoist party in the near future till the PLA is disarmed and the party reconciles with the norms of democratic polity.

The third aspect is the time factor. Mr Sood took office at one of the most crucial juncture of Nepal's political history - on the eve of Maoists' accent to power. Nepal had experienced a historic people's movement and was headed to a transition from monarchy to republicanism. India had opted to go with the popular mood and had just begun to welcome, although reluctantly, a total transformation of Nepali polity and society. Thus it was challenging times for a diplomat. He was expected to maintain a delicate balance at the most sensitive times. India's interest had to be protected while not seeing to be interfering in the internal affairs of Nepal. But protecting and promoting India's interest required direct dialogues with the Maoists, and at times strong words which were interpreted as grave interference in Nepal's affairs.

The fact that the Indian government rubbished all media speculations that Mr Sood was to be pulled out of Kathmandu unceremoniously should speak for itself. That was in any case not happening for it would hurt India's image.

Mr Prasad's arrival will certainly change one thing: Nepali people's attitude to Indian embassy. It will have to be seen how he will conduct diplomacy in a country full of chaos and where Indian ambassadors are criticized for acting like viceroys. Peace process is far from over, constitution writing is dragging and Maoists have not surrendered their weapons. With anti-Indian sentiments running high, Mr Prasad could face strong waves ahead.

Mr Rana's case is different in nature. As a political appointee, allegiance dictated that he favored party lines rather than work for the overall interest of the country. After the formation of the Khanal government, Mr Rana was asked to tender his resignation. He chose to ignore the directive. As a result, Mr Rana faced one of the most humiliating situations wherein the envoy was sent a letter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking him to return at the earliest. Mr Rana is set to leave within this month. He also came under much controversy for holding the position of General Manager of Darbur Nepal, an Indo-Nepal joint venture.

Ambassadorial appointments are government prerogative. With the change of establishments, political interference in envoy nomination is widespread especially in a country like Nepal. Had Mr Rana accepted the reality and taken a graceful exit, it would have saved him much dishonor. But having said this, it is equally unethical on part of a sitting minister to go public criticizing conducts of an envoy in office. Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav openly said that Rana "disobeyed" the government decision and has been recalled.

The manner in which the government took to his character assassination and passed derogatory statements speaks volumes about our politicians as well. They should have remembered that Mr Rana comes from one of the most democratic backgrounds. His father Subarna Shumsher Rana is the founder leader of Nepali Congress. Born in Calcutta, when his father was in exile in India, Mr Rana got education from Prince of Wales and Doon School, Milfield School, and St Xavier's College in Darjeeling. He also has an MA degree in History from Calcutta University. Subarna Shumsher was deputy prime minister and finance minister in B P Koirala's government in 1959-60. He was associated with the 'Mukti Sena' which fought against the then Rana regime in Nepal and had to spend years in exile in India. Subarna Shumsher also served as President of Nepali Congress and died in Kolkata in 1977 during his exile.

With his high-profile background, Mr Rana maintained high-level contacts with important personalities in India. During his tenure, he also concentrated in strengthening economic ties between the two countries. He has focused on bringing more Indian investments to Nepal.

As past experience shows, we do not know how long the post of Nepali envoy to India will now lie vacant for the government is yet to name Mr Rana's successor. The position remained vacant for almost a year when the then Maoist government recalled Durgesh Man Sigh, a Nepali Congress appointee. The then Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government had named economist Chandra Kanta Poudel as the new envoy to New Delhi but before he could get endorsement, the government fell. It is ridiculous that the Khanal government has given into pressure to recall Mr Rana even when they are bickering who should be sent to New Delhi. It is equally ridiculous that the government would rather leave such an important position vacant then to recall the envoy only once his replacement is finalized.

As Indo-Nepal relation is mired in controversies and is hyper-sensitive, diplomats have difficult jobs to perform. But what we must understand is that diplomacy is not conducted in vacuum. It is advanced with national interest in backdrop. Unless issues pertaining between the two countries are resolved at the highest level, diplomats will keep facing challenges at ground.

(Akanshya Shah is an Associate Fellow with Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: myrepublica.com

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