Chanakya had said, “Neighbouring states are most relevant in foreign policy”.Nations should do everything possible to protect vital national interests even if it means according greater privileges to smaller and economically weaker nations. Relationship with a foreign nation should be based on their potential with regard to security, economy, political stability/ instability, historical cultural and religious linkages. Thus the relationship should not be based on size, geography and fault lines but profound impact that a nation can bring if it turns rogue or adversary.India and Nepal have shared geography, culture and religion and more importantly Nepal is a nation that has great geostrategic significance for India. In fact India is a natural ally of Nepal and qualifies to be a partner in ensuring mutual security and prosperity of both nations.
There is no indignity in accepting wrong reading of a situation and trajectory of a relationship if for some reasons they have gone wrong; what is important is to correct it in time rather than allow it to deteriorate to a point of no return. Let us be candid the relations have hit some uneven political landscapes. Time has come when India needs to take a relook at its approach to engage with Nepal.
India’s relationship with Nepal has been a roller coaster ride since 1947 and somewhere the perception has been created for some unknown reasons that Nepal has survived and muddled through with the support and favours extended by India. The geography that was considered its fault line today has become even more strategically important because China has bridged the geographical fault lines by developing infrastructure in Tibet and extending the communication lines to Nepal. The US had realized the potential of Nepal when they considered that Nepal an important geographic entity to create leverages against China, however, due to strategic compulsions, the US had to leave the region to India to deal with Nepal. There is a need for India to sit back and take a look at why Nepal is slowly moving out of the sphere of influence of India. Have we as a nation gone wrong in spite of the deep cultural, religious and economic relationswithNepal or is it economic pull that is acting as catalystand leverage to draw out Nepal from India centric relations?
For any mature nation the trajectory of future relationship are based on net assessment of current and future potential of a nation. India should have invested and enabled Nepal as an ally and strategic partner and not as a subordinate dependent state. One often hears how Nepal has benefited over a period of time by thespecial treatmentgiven to it by India. But if we carryout net assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), one would realise that over a period of time India has forgotten how Nepal has benefitted India in all its growth story. Enough has been written on India’s contribution to Nepal but rarely a mention has been made how Nepal has contributed to India’s economy, development and security.Few examples that substantiate above statement how Nepal has positively contributed to the growth of India:-
Chinakya said, “No other wealth can equal food grains”. Workforce from Nepal has powered agriculture and horticulture revolution in North India. Punjab Haryana, UP, Himachal and North eastern states right up to Manipur have been the biggest beneficiary in agriculture and horticulture sector. Himachal has become the largest producer of apples, stone fruits and potato seeds due to the hard work by the workforce from the Himalayan kingdom. The number of labourers coming down have decreased over a period of time and replaced by the cheap labour from other parts of India and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But Nepalese workforce are the one who brought such galvanizing change in agriculture and horticulture sector.
Human resource of Nepal propelled the growth of India post-independence when it was needed the most. Infrastructure development including roads, river head works and urbanization of India till early 2000 in North and East India especially the hill states was spearheaded by work force from Nepal.
Approximately 32crore (25%) of the national population lives in the Gangetic Plains of India. The perennial rivers flowing from Nepal are a life line to the agriculture sector in four states (UP, Bihar, Jharkhandand Bengal) that has become a grain bowl of India. Impact of environmental disaster in Nepal on India is beyond calculation. It impacts life, property, agriculture, infrastructure and lines of communication. This aspect cannot be measured in cost benefit ratio. Thus, purely on the basis of Nepal being water surplus and feeding the perennial rivers that sustain India’s agriculture, is good enough reason to ensure Nepal remain a privileged ally of India. If people of Nepal are not economically enabled they would exploit natural resource that may trigger environmental disasters year after year.
Nepal has geographically contributed immensely to the security of India. Sandwiched between two nuclear neighbours Nepal has acted as a shield to secure heartland of India (Gangetic plains) and strategic lines of communication from direct interdiction or passive aggression by China. Chinese development of road and electronic communication in Nepal would create vulnerabilities from cyber, unrestricted, hybrid and disruptive capabilities of China. Neutrality of Nepal is vital to ensure that Gangetic Plains do not become exposed flank that gives China an opportunity to cause subversion and instability to the region that has close to 25% population of the country. It is in India’s interest that Nepal remains neutral if not ally to prevent Chinese foray into the heartland India.
Nepal offers great military advantage apart from being a shield to heartland India by dividing Chinese forces on two flanks.The geographic location of Nepal has profound impact on military operations since it leads to dislocation and disruption of offensive operations by PLA.
Nepal has 42000 MW identified hydro power potential and at the moment state has been able to exploit only 750 MW. Nepal is dependent on India for electricity supply in spite of the huge potential. Nepal has blamed bureaucratic delays in execution of projects undertaken by India for poor exploitation and deprived it with the much needed industrial and infrastructural development.
If a net assessment of the cost benefit of development of relationship with Nepal is carried out, it will give an assessment whether India needs Nepal more or Nepal needs India more. Depsang, Chumar and Doklam has proved the point that Nepal indeed is a shield that deflect the expansionist designs of China away from the heartland India. This strategical significant aspect should not be overlooked for narrow short term gains.
India needs to learn lessons from China how it has slowly worked on Nepal and changed it being a front state to trigger instability in Tibet to an economic partner of China. The relationship has developed from adversary to ally. China also made sure that Nepal does not remain a classic landlocked nation by giving alternative access to outside world if India exercises option of economic blockade. Whereas India remained locked to the period of 1950s when Nepal was dependent on India for food, health and economic sustenance. India needs to alter its policy towards Nepal and align it with the changing realities unless we lose Nepal as buffer in future. The relationship between India and Nepal cannot be compared with any other nation because both nations complement each other in some or the other manner. Thus a relationship of privileged partner may be in order for Nepal if India wants Nepal as perennial shield to protect heartland.
V K Subramanian, Maxims of Chanakya, Abhinav Publications, Reprint edition 2000, P 11.
 Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan: Energy Sector, Asian Development Bank report, accessed on Sep 12, 2017 from https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/linked-documents/cps-nep-2013-2017-ra-01.pdf.