India-Nepal Relations: Domestic Politics as a Factor of Indian Interference
Nepal’s Foreign Relation with India
Nepal is located in between the arch-rivals China and India. Nepal shares its eastern, western and southern border with India and northern border with China. Nepal is a buffer state for both of the neighbors and manifests their concentration of security. These two countries have been practicing two different and rival political systems and have been in fear of using the territory of Nepal for their reverse ends. Since King Prithvi Narayan Shah ruled Nepal, he isolated Nepal from preventing foreign influences even at the cost of economic adversities in the interests of the security of his own reign. n this case we can say that Nepal has exercised the policy of nonalignment, both regionally and globally. However, Nepal’s over dependence on India for trade and transit routes to the south, and both states’ reliance over same water resources make Nepal’s relation with India especially sensitive and vulnerable. The victory of communism in China brought Nepal an India close and treaties were quickly signed in 1950 and Nepal took the principles of nonalignment and peaceful existence. Indian Prime Minister Nehru created these ideas of foreign policies for India but Nepal also adopted them. These terminologies defined Nepal’s traditional foreign policy more clearly and a kind of Indian influence. Since 1950, these relations have pivoted around the Treaty of Peace and Friendship that gives India a significant leverage over Nepal on economic and security matter. V.P. Dutta, a Professor in Delhi University states in his book India’s Foreign Policy:
There are few countries other than India and Nepal to whom the analogy about the lips and teeth applies so demonstrably and aptly. One look at the map brings home the inevitably intimacy of their relationship. The two countries have been bound together by history, geography, kinship, religion, faith, cultural legacy, and linguistic affinity India does not naturally end where Nepal begins. The natural frontier is the Himalayas that surround Nepal in three sides, Nepal leaving the only outlet the continuous territory with India.
This clearly states that Indian foreign policy towards Nepal from the past till date. From this we can assume that India has never treated Nepal as an independent state. Nehru’s idea about the relationship between India and Nepal exhibits another fact that India finds Nepal in difficult situation extending its relation with other countries due to its geographical location. As he once put it:
Himalayas are high mountains, of course but they are something much more to us and more intimately tied up with Indian history, tradition, faith, beliefs, literature, and culture than, to my knowledge, any other mountains anywhere. The Himalayas are something much more than mountains to us; they are a part of ourselves.
These ideas of Nehru about Himalayas express the theory of Indian foreign policy towards Nepal. Since then the intentional or ill-willed thoughts of Indian leaders have been visible overtly or covertly in Indian dealing to Nepal.
This century is the world of cooperation, virtual communities and geographical communities where functionalism and regionalism have been dominant elements of cooperation. India should learn the example from European Union because ‘the European Union represents a new type of international polity but is a regional one’ so as to make South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) stronger and a meeting of economically strong states. If India can help build Nepal and its neighbors stable, democratic and prosperous, this can only lead opinions India in prosperity and it will gain the position in international forums. Nehru’s opinions are compatible with what realists believe that politics has its root in human nature and humans are the ones to exercise the politics. It means the catalyst is the mankind or the governments of India for relations with Nepal and as mankind, Indian governments have not been inherently benevolent, selfless rather self-centered, selfish and competitive. This can be a short term winning game for India however in the long run as Hobbes opined ‘every man is enemy of every man’. India may lose its friends around eventually and become the victim of multiple threats because not only the issue of security but also the issues of clashes of ethnicities, religions, ideologies and renewed desires of fanatical terrorism are ubiquitous in and around. Indian approach refers to politics and human nature as selfish, self-centered and confliction but unless there is an appropriate condition to come to terms with cooperation or alliance no states can have any benefits. However, the themes of realism are clearly incarnated about the Nepalese-Indian relations be it the treaty of 1950 or others concluded from the time India has been independent. Nepal has always been dominated, submissive and loser where India has stood dominant, bold and winner. As Nepal felt that India has always been coercing Nepal, in response to Indian approaches to Nepal, Nepal has long exercised to distance itself away from Indian influence however the obstacles have been so strong that it has not been able to grasp the desired ends because ‘landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan hardly can survive economically without India’s cooperation’. Nepal has made several initiatives to disengage itself from the patterns of relation with India that had been imposed by the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship and Peace of July 1050 but to no avail because Nepalese rulers and ministers have little or almost no knowledge about how to resolve such grave issues. The people of Nepal have recently acknowledged that the dominance of India must be resisted to be an independent state. However India is not entirely responsible for this situation, internal conflicts of ruling elites and political parties, Maoist insurgency and currently renewed conflicts and deadlocks are also equally contributing factors for wider role of India in Nepal. Briefly let’s see India-Nepal relation in different historical time in the following paragraphs to understand the reality of Indian interference.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950 primarily focused on the concern of security and states that ‘neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor’ and if realized ‘consult each other and devise effective counter-measures’ to prevent any such threat. From this, we can assume that Nepal might be bandwagoning with India but in the essence the ruling elites had signed this treaty in their benefit. Although there are many clauses in this treaty, primarily this treaty keeps Nepal under Indian security umbrella and it degrades the state’s independent existence. Following the 1962 Sino-Indian war, the relationship between Nepal and India thawed significantly. India suspended its support to India based its dissidents or opposition forces. In 1969, relation again became stressful as Nepal challenged the mutual security arrangements and asked that the Indian security check posts and liaison group be withdrawn. The resentment was against the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. India grudgingly withdrew its military check posts and liaison group although the treaty was not abrogated. Still the treaty is in effect although two countries have formed an eminent persons’ group (EPG) to sort out the issues. Indian always fished in the troubled water of Nepal, it continued to support the Nepalese oppositions who were political leaders of Nepal but enforcing their missions from India in Nepal and refused to endorse Nepal as a “Zone of Peace’ which was propose by then King Birendra in 1975, relating the realists issue of security . Further the expulsion case of Nepalese settlers in 1987, gave another shock to Indo-Nepal relation because of India’s dominant behavior. As professor Subedi opined, ’New Delhi remained silent on this issue and when Nepalese were forced to leave north-eastern states’. Relations between the two countries sank tp a low when Nepal signed an agreement with Beijing to purchase weapons soon after a report that China had won a contract for constructing a road in the western sector to connect China with Nepal. Indian embargo in 1989, which was imposed by India, caused another fall in the relationship. However, India tries to justify by saying that India always supported democrats against autocratic king; people of Nepal are less convinced on it. After the restoration of democracy, The Joint Communique of 1990 brought the new concepts like ‘common rivers’and political leaders let India play the greater role in Nepalese politics and its natural resources. The concept of common rivers is very different from the concept of international rivers and ‘could seriously weaken Nepal’s bargaining power with India when it comes to negotiating economic cooperation projects regarding the exploitation of Nepalese rivers to generate hydropower’.
After long civil war, Maoist and Nepal’s political parties reached to the consensus with the help of Delhi government and on 10thApril 2008, the election of Constituent Assembly was held. The Maoist stood as the first party but the assembly could not promulgate the constitution. Second round of election was conducted on 19th November 2013 and recently new constitution has been promulgated. Other countries have welcomed this success but India has just noted it and supporting the regional based parties indirectly. This has also brought the dissatisfaction among Nepali citizens and some political parties. Nepal’s participation in China’s One Belt One Road has been the headache to India. And now, the relationship of Nepal with India has gone deep down although it is not explicit. That is why, to understand the actors in the Foreign policy choices let’s observe theoretical approach.
Neoclassical Realism and Nepal’s Foreign Policy
Known as the youngest version of Realism, neoclassical realism deals about the foreign policy of the states within realist theoretical tradition. The Neoclassical realism was coined by the most prominent realist Gideon Rose. Neoclassical realists also accept the notion of nonrealist theory that the given state’s foreign policy is driven by its place and its relative material power capabilities in the international system. The distinct theoretical system of neoclassical realists is, it adds the domestic factors such as politics, economy, material capability and leaders’ perception to react the structural pressure while making state’s foreign policy choices because in the unit level analysis, each state is free to accept or reject the structural pressure and they are also free to react and redirect the external threats and opportunities within the state’s interests and goals. The basic element of neoclassical theory combines both the classical realist approach and neorealist approach of international politics while explaining and analyzing any given state’s foreign policy. To understand the reality of world politics and how power shapes the state’s intention they often cite Thucydides’ formula “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. For neoclassical realists, the most important theoretical explanation while analyzing foreign policy is the relative material capability of a given state and systemic pressure as an independent variable explaining how these things affect the state’s foreign policy outcome in the realm of world politics. Neoclassical realists assume other several factors in a unit level that could have causal weight into the foreign policy outcomes such as domestic politics and leader’s perception defined as intervening variables. According to Rose, neoclassical realist uses the domestic politics and leaders’ perceptions as ‘transmission belt” to filter the systemic pressure at the unit level that is why they are neoclassical. Neoclassical realists argue that to get the more accuracy and specificity in the foreign policy outcome, one must open the ‘black box’ of the state and see the intervening variables of domestic factors contributing to fulfill the state’s interest and goals of through foreign policy. Here, domestic groups may include the domestic interest groups, state interests, elite perceptions and society in general. Rose states that the country’s foreign policy choices are made by actual political leaders and elites, not by the state as a whole; in this sense relative material power capability is more important to them because accommodation of foreign policy choices is a tricky game if unable to understand the systemic constraints in a domestic level could cause severe consequences.
There is a long history of foreign interference on Nepal’s domestic and foreign policies due to the inefficient internal political culture that often invites external intervention on domestic matters. The domestic political environment was always vulnerable in inviting external influences intentionally or unintentionally. More importantly it seemed true that Nepal’s foreign policy generally runs by leaders; personal imperatives rather than global practicing of diplomacy according to the country’s need and interests.
To study Nepalese foreign policy, one must see its dynamics of relationship with its neighboring states India and China. Since the independence from Britain, India claims itself as a region’s first player and always compares with China’s capability. In the other hand, China is considered as the global level great power. If we consider power is the chief determinant factor in the international system, Nepal is in the least advantageous position. Nepal’s real relative capabilities cannot be compared with India and China in terms of land size, population, economy, and military technology. India and China are the highly influential foreign actors in Nepal’s foreign policy choices as they are the next door neighbors of Nepal and they possess the higher capabilities than Nepal. Nepal’s foreign policy maneuvering was and is seriously constrained by its least relative capability. However, Nepalese statesmen use ‘China Card’ to counter balance India. In such, the monarchy was successful in exploiting Sino-Indian differences, when Indian influence was heightened in Nepal. Neoclassical realist theory is good enough to explain Nepalese foreign policy as it offers various domestic factors with leaders’ perceptions as intervening variables while analyzing and filtering the systemic pressure into decision making process. Since 1950s, various domestic factors like geography, economy, and domestic politics have always played a crucial role in determining Nepalese foreign policy. Along with other domestic variables, Nepalese political and foreign policy development have proved since many decades that the political elites and leaders’ perceptions have the greatest impacts on its external policy choices and decision making processes and outcome. To understand it, let’s see the impact of domestic politics on Indian interference.
Domestic Politics and Indian Interference
We can see the growing political rivalries and mirror images in Nepal from 1950 to till now and it is likely to be in the future as well. The elites who are interested in power politics of Nepal have always been divided into at least two or more than in two groups until 1990 and more than two afterwards. These divisions within have provided the time and space for foreign governments to demonstrate their active roles in Nepali politics. It is one of the results of intra-conflicts between the two groups in Nepal.
The people were deprived of any political, social and educational rights during Rana regime in Nepal which lasted from 1846 to 1950. During Rana regime not only the people but also the Kings of Nepal were victimized. ‘The Ranas did everything they could do prevent dissent. They discouraged the development of education so that literacy rate in 1951 stood only 2 percent. Trichandra College, established in 1918, was open only to the sons of aristocrats. They suppressed ruthlessly any attempts of political change. In 1950, there was the rivalry for power was heading ahead with no sign of cessation among the Kings, Ranas and the elite people for democracy. So King Tribhuvan coupled knot with Nepali Congress, a political party for democracy so that he could enjoy the power again. The King and Congress partnership with the help of India were able to overpower to end the Ranarchy in Nepal. After that the treaty of 1950, opened the way to Indian interference in Nepal. Again in 1990, there was a people’s movement in Nepal for the democracy, this time also India got its upper hand in Nepal because it had supported the political parties to fight against the King. In 1990, then King Birendra introduced new form of democracy and he became ready to remain a constitutional monarch.
Nepal had two parties: one The Kings and another all dissidents of political parties under one umbrella term called ‘forum for democracy’ till 1990. The people’s revolution in1990 could not cut apart the distances, selfishness and greed of political parties in Nepal. The politically elected Nepali politician always thought that India was a savior and that could supply them onto power as long as they tender good service to their rescuer. This again made India as a powerful actor in Nepal.
Governments of Nepal have always been highly unstable and easily dismissing. None of the governments have survived for their assigned term of five years since 1990. There we can see that till this day political parties have not been able to think about the development of the country but thinking just to reach to the power. Even after the Maoist revolt and the election of Constitution Assembly, leaders have not changed their mindset yet. The political parties of Nepal have been suffering from mirror image disease. . These political parties have not had any motive for the national development and leading the state towards the strong economic state conducting first rate guiding principles and by sustaining high quality relation with neighboring countries and others. As Hachhethu has portrayed ‘ the state has become a husk, to be captured by whichever party wins election under Westminster-style winner takes all system that does little to encourage consensus-building and cross party cooperation’.
Political leaders of Nepal have been acting on the basis of their personal interests and they are always dependent towards India in any decision making process of development or of foreign policy. In such case, India is always there to guide and act as a big brother. This situation is created due to the domestic politics of Nepal that is why; India is not only to be blamed. Since the history, Nepalese leaders have always consulted Indian establishment or the political groups for any changes and Indians expect the same even today. To end this chain of interference Nepal’s domestic politics needs to be improved. Political elites or leaders of Nepal must think to break the chain of the longstanding interference.
Buzan, B., & Waever, O. (2003). Regions and powers: The structure of international security Cambridge University Press.
Dutt, V. P. (1984). India's foreign policy Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division.
Gellner, D. (2007). Resistance and the state: Nepalese experiences Berghahn Books.
Hobbes, T. (1958). Leviathan, parts I and II, ed. AP Martinich (1651,
Joseph, S. N. (2008). Understanding international conflicts: An introduction to theory and history (p. 59).
Juneau, T. (2010). Neoclassical realist strategic analysis: A statement. European Consortium on Political Research,
Kapur, H. (1994). India's foreign policy, 1947-92: Shadows and substance SAGE Publications, Limited.
Nehru, J. (1961). India's foreign policy: Selected speeches, september 1946-april 1961 Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
Rose, G. (1998). Neoclassical realism and theories of foreign policy. World Politics, 51(01), 144-172.
Rose, L. E., & Dial, R. (1969). Can a ministate find true happiness in a world dominated by protagonist powers? The nepal case. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 386(1), 89-101.
Rose, L. E., & Fisher, M. W. (1970). The politics of nepal: Persistence and change in an asian monarchy Cornell University Press.
Series, I. M., & Comment, I.(2010). India-china power game in nepal and the consequences.
Suvedī, S. (2005). Dynamics of foreign policy and law: A study of indo-nepal relations Oxford University Press, USA.