Category Archives: Eye on India

Tracking the Indian Ambassador in Nepal: Jayant Prasad

Jayant Prasad Indian Ambassador in Nepal

The new Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Jayant Prasad, presented his letter of credentials to President Dr Ram Baran Yadav on 26 August.

Ambassadors are the most visible faces of Indian diplomacy in Nepal and they are not always thought to be pursuing diplomacy. Some, like the current ambassador Jayant Prasad’s immediate predecessor Rakesh Sood, was widely believed to be one of the worst examples of Indian intervention and failed diplomacy in Nepal. While in India (or in their Ministry of External Affairs) these people are normal employees, diplomats who don’t attract much attention unless they are involved in major scandal or become foreign secretary. But as soon as they land in Kathmandu with the coveted portfolio of the Indian ambassador for Nepal they become celebrities. Media extensively covers the Indian Ambassadors movements and decisions in Nepal and give high priority to anything that is related to an Indian envoy. That is largely because the Indian ambassadors “implement” the enormously influential Indian policy in Nepal- some by diplomatically and some by offensively interventionist ways.  Rarely in the world ambassadors get to hobnob with prime ministers and top leaders of a host country like the Indian ambassadors do with the Nepali leadership. Because of all these factors, we at UWB have decided to keep track of the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu as far as possible. Here are some headlines  that give enough idea about the arrival of the current ambassador and his activities in the first week since he assumed office in August 26.

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Dining with an Indian spy, former king Gyanendra proposes revival of monarchy

Amid escalating uncertainties regarding the extension of Constituent Assembly (CA)’s term, Former King Gyanendra Shah has proposed the revival of monarchy in the nation.

It is learnt that Shah, in a dinner meeting convened with Alok Joshi, official of an Indian intelligence agency, said that assistance will be sought from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), among other parties, to revive monarchy in one form or the other, provided that the CA’s term is not extended in the nation, according to eKantipur.

Parties rooting for monarchy will initiate protests within a few days if the CA is dissolved, sources close to the former king informed.

Here’s a report, in Nepali, by Sarojraj Adhikari in Thursday’s Kantipur daily about Research and Analysis Wing’s officer Alok Joshi’s activities in Kathmandu in the past week: Continue reading

The Spillover Effect: from Bihar to Nepal [and the Maoists]

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

We are waiting for the spillover effect to take hold. China is growing phenomenally. India is following China so very closely. We are tightly sandwiched between them. We are folding our hands and sitting back, hoping that one day the economic progress will spillover from both sides and submerge us. We are hoping to swim. While hoping so we continue to berate both of our neighbors. We call the Chinese the “ex-Maoists who have no idea about democracy and freedom.” We call the Indians “expansionists who have nothing except the Bihari-style democracy.”

spillover effect kathmandu post p6.28nov10

Kathmandu Post 28.11.10

The Bihari-style democracy! Turns out the Bihari-style democracy is much better than what we have been told we have—”great achievement of the great People’s War”. In the past four years since the ‘great People’s War with small help from People’s Movement-II’ gave us republicanism we have gotten nothing but instability and inflation. Life has become harder for the man on the street while leaders are engaged in an endless power struggle. Frustration has surpassed the height of Sagarmatha.

Until recently, Bihar used to represent the worst of India: crime, corruption, insecurity, lack of development and immoral politics. Everything negative. That image of Bihar has changed dramatically in the past five years. And in the meantime, all these negative Bihari traits have crossed over to Nepal. That’s the actual spillover effect taking place. Neither Bihar nor India is to be blamed for that. We are solely responsible for stagnation and the deteriorating situation in our society. What have we done in the past five years when Bihar went through the historic transformation? Okay, we too witnessed historic political changes. We ended a decade long bloody war. We transformed from an autocratic monarchy to a democratic republic. Certainly things to be proud of. But, the question is, is that enough? The answer is a resounding NO. Continue reading

Kashmir and Indian Democracy

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

A Nepali perspective on a South Asian problem: “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India,” declared Arundhati Roy in New Delhi last week. “It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this.”

Kashmir and Indian Democracy Kathmandu Post

Kathmandu Post. Click to enlarge

By saying so the Booker-prize winning author of The God of Small Things created a tsunami that instantly swept through India—from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The ripples were the biggest in the Capital, the power centre of India. The ruling Congress party asked Roy to withdraw her statement. Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that she be charged with sedition for questioning India’s authority over Kashmir. The government, through its law minister, said her comments were “most unfortunate” because the freedom of speech “can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people.”

Whether India has authority over Kashmir has been a hotly debated issue since 1947. But what the world agrees on, by and large, is that India is a democracy that provides a relatively greater degree of freedom to its citizens. Including, happily, to Roy, who was born in Shillong, Meghalaya, to Keralite Syrian Christian and women’s rights activist Mara Roy, and a Bengali father, a tea planter by profession; Roy now lives in New Delhi. At the same time, rights violations and stiff restrictions on civil liberties have become part of daily life in certain parts of India, almost as a price to keep the Indian union intact and its democracy safe from the ultra-left. That is the reason people like Roy believe India is increasingly becoming a police state.

Every democracy has its flaws. The Indian democracy is no exception. But with strict enforcement of laws like the Right To Information (RTI) Act the Indian democracy has empowered its people like never before. One hallmark of Indian democracy is its crowd culture wherein the collective wisdom of the leadership or the mass outmaneuvers any wickedness of an individual or a small group that may be looking to exploit loopholes—legal or otherwise. There are many instances of flawed decisions of the courts which were later changed to reflect the popular sentiment or public uproar that demanded a more humane and just approach. Despite the controversies surrounding it and despite being branded by opposing parties as a government tool to harass them, public-interest organisations like the anti-graft body of Central Bureau of Investigation are functional. They command public respect and trust. The culture where politically connected and influential people can easily get their work done is still prevalent in India. But thanks to laws like the RTI, the poor and the socially marginalised believe they are also heard by the system. Despite the hysterical nationalistic sentiments and appalling corporate control over some influential media, the public discourse is still open, fearless and impactful because there are too many media outlets in India to be manipulated by governments or business groups or political parties. It is the pluralistic Indian society and its democractic culture that allow vibrant discussions on sensitive issues like the Indian authority over Kashmir. Vague issues like national security are often used as an excuse by Indian authorities and agencies to subvert just voices inside the country and in its neighborhood. But as long as there is stable democracy in India, just causes will find their way to success. Continue reading

India: Congress Election and an Angry Yogi in Tirupati

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

gods and a demi goddess kathmandu post 05.09.10

Kathmandu Post 05.09.10

As it is preparing for its 12th general convention next week, the Nepali Congress is witnessing intense competition among its leaders who want to lead it. Several factions have come up and no one knows who is on which side. Also unclear is who among the three contenders for the post of president commands a majority. Seems like a messy democracy in action in the oldest party of Nepal.

The oldest party of India, on the other side of the border, selected its leader last week without any signs of acrimony. Sonia Gandhi, the incumbent, was reelected president for a record fourth time. No one challenged her. Instead, there was competition among her supporters to propose her name for the post on the last day of filing nominations on Thursday. All in all 55 nomination papers were filed on her behalf.

Rival Bharatiya Janata Party was quick to point out the ‘lack of democracy’ and ‘family domination’ in the Congress organisation. The BJP earlier this year unanimously elected Nitin Gadkari its leader. That election wasn’t without criticism. It was said that the BJP didn’t elect Gadkari but he was imposed upon the party by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a cultural and religious organisation. The RSS is considered the head of a family of Hindu nationalist organisations of which the BJP is a member.

Two of the largest political parties of the largest democracy in the world may not be entirely democratic when it comes to selecting their top leadership. The domination of the Gandhi family and inheritance of leadership from one member of the family to another has been the tradition of the Congress for long.  Similarly the influence of the RSS in the affairs of the BJP is no secret. But vibrant discussions do take place in their organisations and opposing views get enough space to create healthy internal debates. The most impressive part of Indian democracy can be witnessed at the moments of crisis when opposing political parties come together, thrash out differences, and move the nation forward. It is because they have realised that democracy is the biggest asset and weapon that India has to face its grave challenges. For example, in the recently concluded summer session of the parliament the government worked closely with the main opposition party, the BJP, to pass some key bills. Continue reading

India, Universities and World Ambitions

south asian university logo

By creating quality institutions like the SAU and reviving old ones like Nalanda (below) India is trying to establish itself as regional hub of excellence.

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

All the chaos surrounding sloppy preparations for the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi in October may give an impression that India has a long way to go to become a global power. One may cite the overflowing Yamuna running into residential areas of Delhi as a proof that India is still an improvised third-world country that has million of hungry stomachs to feed. True. But make no mistake. India is not watching this all quietly with its hands folded. There are so many progressive activities happening in India today that it is sometime difficult to keep track of all of them. Highways are being expanded all over the country, for example, and competition among foreign companies to open shops in India has only intensified. Take, for example, the two incidents on Thursday which offer an insight into India’s preparations to become an advanced nation with global influence.

Nalanda University India ruins

Nalanda University India. Ruins

The Indian parliament passed a bill that authorises the government to revive an ancient university in Nalanda, Bihar. Nalanda University will be an Indian answer to Oxfords and Cambridges of the West, said parliamentarians across the political spectrum before ditching their ideological differences to vote unanimously for the bill. Lawmakers were full of praise for the Indian heritage that once produced universities like Nalanda, Vikramsila and Pushpagiri centuries ago that, as centers of excellence, attracted students from foreign countries.

On the same day, in a quiet corner of the mammoth campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, the South Asian University began its first ever academic session without much fanfare. Continue reading

New and Old India

By Dinesh Wagle

Old India trudges through waterlogged roads; new India flies. This is because Indian democracy is dictated by the flourishing middle class, according to a professor.

facets of india kathmandu post

Facets of India. Kathmandu Post (15.07.10)

The eagerly awaited monsoon arrived last week in Delhi bringing great relief to the residents. The temperature dropped by as much as 10 degrees celsius to 30. Clouds covered the sun. A cool breeze could be felt while walking on the streets. Heaven. But then another problem appeared soon after. Roads were waterlogged forcing vehicles to move at a snail’s pace. At some points traffic signals stopped working. A trip to the swanky Select City Walk mall in Saket from Jangpura took almost two hours. It’s normally a less than half an hour journey. This is Old India.

New India, on the other hand, flies. That too from a newly built world class terminal soon. With the completion of work at Terminal 3, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has gotten a facelift. Prime Minister Manmonah Singh inaugurated the three billion dollar terminal on June 3. While doing so the Prime Minister declared the forceful arrival of his country to the powerful stage of advanced nations. “An airport is often the first introduction to the country,” said Singh. “A good airport would signal a new India, committed to join the ranks of modern industrialised nations.”

The world has certainly taken note of the arrival of new India. Powerful nations are seriously considering enlisting the country along with a few others as permanent member of the UN Security Council. To take part in such meetings that have a lasting impact on world affairs, the Indian prime minister travels to Washington as frequently as Nepali prime ministers arrive in New Delhi. But New India has some confidence issues too. Terminal 3 is an example.

The biggest public building of India was scheduled to open to the public on July 15. But citing some “confidence issues” and alleged lack of necessary equipment, the terminal will come into full usage from July 28. The terminal needed some trial flights, argued the company that runs the IGI airport, so as to gain confidence to operate fully. Airlines, on the other hand, have complained of a lack of necessary infrastructures like backend offices and wire connections at the counters.

The reasons may vary but the fact remains that India has built a world class airport terminal and nothing can stop it from coming into operation very soon. Yes, there are critics who question why there is so much extravagance in a country with millions of people who can’t even imagine buying an air ticket, let alone fly. That is where democracy comes in.

“I am proud of India because it is a democracy,” said Prof. Dr N Sridharan of Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture. “But democracy is also the system of survival of fittest,” he told me. The fitter and more powerful you are the greater the chances of you receiving better treatment. As the Indian middle class is becoming larger (300 million and counting), richer and more powerful, the professor said, it’s also becoming influential over the government. The Indian democracy may not have become “for the middle class and to the middle class” yet but there’s no way political parties can stay in power without appeasing them. As they become richer, they demand more facilities and better infrastructure. The common man (aamadmi), meanwhile, watches the extravaganza from the sidelines. [Related link: New Delhi of Old India]

The second part of this article, published in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post, is related to July 5 Bharat Bandh which is available here

Meghalaya Diary: the Gorkhas, Migrant Nepalis and India

The Nepali-speaking Indians are fighting for their identity in India under the banner of the Gorkha which puts them at odds with Nepali migrants in northeast India

Shyam Prasad Pokharel, a migrant Nepali coal mine labourer in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya
Shyam Prasad Pokharel, a migrant Nepali coal mine labourer in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

JUN 05- During the course of my week-long stay in Shillong (and other parts of Meghalaya and Assam) I interacted with many Gorkhas and Nepalis both in their homes and offices. Some of them came to see me at the guest house in Jhalupara where I was staying. Jhalupara neighbourhood resembles most Nepali towns where Narayan Gopal blares at the music kiosk and youths playing Counter Strike video game scream Nepali expletives. A person I was meeting at the guest house called me beforehand to ask an unexpected question: “Do you think you are being followed by the Meghalayan intelligence?” Continue reading

Khasi Nepali Ethnic Conflict in Meghalaya, India

Existing mistrust between the Nepali-speaking population and the Khasis has widened after the recent ethnic clashes

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

Shaym Prasad Pokharel, a coal mine labourer from Nepal during an interview near a mine in Ladrampai, Meghalaya

Shaym Prasad Pokharel, a coal mine labourer from Nepal during an interview near a mine in Ladrampai, Meghalaya

MEGHALAYA, INDIA- “Ethnicity-based enmity,” said a Nepali-speaking Assamese coal mine labourer in Meghalaya, “is the most frightening and unpredictable thing I have ever experienced.” “The man you were friend with in the morning”, Bhumi Raj Limbu continued, “becomes your killer in the evening.”

This is what is happening in Meghalaya today. Existing mistrusts and contempt between Nepalis and Khasis have widened as the latter recently killed and assaulted several Nepali migrant workers and Gorkhas (Nepali-speaking Indians).

At the heart of this conflict lies a beautiful village called Lampi (or Langpih), claimed by both Assam and Meghalaya. Both states are strongly backed by villagers sharply divided along ethnic lines. The Gorkhas want the present Assamese authority in the village unchallenged, while the Khasis feel the area belongs to Meghalaya. Continue reading

Rising Naxal Insurgency. Challenge for Rising India

DW’s article on India’s Naxal war for Kantipur भारतको ‘नक्सली’ युद्ध

naxal war challenge for india

click to enlarge

Why can’t those who can bring peace (or create war!) in other countries do the same in their own society?

By Dinesh Wagle

Do you know what the update was from India’s commercial capital a day after the ghastly Maoist attack in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh last Tuesday? “The stock market barometer Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) Sensex crossed the 18,000-mark for the first time in 25 months on Wednesday,” said a report posted on the website of The Hindustan Times. “Crossing 18,000 is a healthy sign and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) support continues,” said Divyesh Shah, CEO, Indiabulls Securities. Continue reading