China is beginning to loom large even in Nepal, a nation not long ago firmly in India’s corner. Of course, a major share of the blame has to be borne by the mandarins in South Block. Their big brother attitude over a period of time has recoiled on India. The increasing marginalisation of the India-friendly forces and the rise of pro-China parties signals a sharp shift in Nepal’s polity.
The huge success of the left alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the CPN-Marxist-Centre in the recent election underlines the waning influence of the pro-India elements. The middle-of-the-road Nepali Congress has been relegated to a poor third position and will have very little influence in determining the domestic and external policy of Nepal.
Since the two left parties are committed to merge, it is clear that the united party would be demonstrably China-friendly, though, for the record, it may assert that it would follow a neutral stance between India and China. Given that the leftists in Nepal have furthered their political cause by openly bleating about the big brother attitude of India, and by accepting China as a friend and mentor, India would have to do some quick recalibrating of its approach in order to safeguard its strategic and security interests in the region.
Locked between the two nuclear-powered neighbours, India and China, even if the new rulers of Nepal were to cast aside India, it would be well-nigh impossible for them to do so. So strong are the geographical, cultural, religious, social bonds that bind the two people together that it is inconceivable that India and Nepal can live in complete separation. The leader of the left alliance, K P Oli, of the CPN-UML, who is most likely to be the next prime minister, has left none in doubt about his pro-China preference.
But even Oli cannot wish away the ties that bind Nepalis to India in multiple ways, including work, religion, culture, etc. The difficult terrain between Nepal and China further complicates closer people-to-people ties between the two countries, though China’s superior money and military clout is a factor for the policy-makers in Kathmandu. India does not have to compete with China in seeking influence in Nepal. South Block should learn to treat Nepal with respect and due dignity, unlike the times when the monarchy was ruling the roast in the land-locked State.
The new rulers of Nepal will soon discover the true face of the Chinese dragon, which insists on extracting a high price for every penny invested and generally tends to arm-twist national governments in need of its financial help. The cash-rich Chinese are known to have put the backs of every nation up against them wherever they have invested their surplus millions.
Even the educated elites of Pakistan are worried at the high and mighty ways of the Chinese, some suspecting the rise of another ‘East India Company’ via the huge investments in the much-vaunted road and port projects. The newly-elected communists in Nepal too are patriotic enough not to yield undue influence to the expansionist Chinese hegemon. India has nothing to worry but needs to be careful of the Nepali sensibilities and sensitivities.