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India Will See Nepal PM Prachanda’s True Colours After He Meets Xi Jinping

Prachanda literally means the “fierce one”, but he came across as uncharacteristically conciliatory in India.

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Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal Prachanda has come and gone and his visit is being generally perceived as a success from India’s perspective and hence there are smiles of quiet satisfaction in South Block.

But I think that a clearer picture of New Delhi’s gains and losses from Prachanda’s visit to India will emerge only after he travels to China in July or August, the reception Beijing accords him, the agreements he signs and the assurances he gets from the top leadership there.  

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Prachanda's Harrowing Time in India

Prachanda literally means the “fierce one”, but he came across as uncharacteristically conciliatory and completely in awe of the southern neighbour during the four days he spent in India.

His warm, friendly, and unquestioning demeanour begs the question: Will Prachanda be still as compliant and sweet to India after his confabulations with President Xi Jinping and company?

If the truth be told, he had a pretty harrowing time in India, but he masked his emotions well. The visiting dignitary endured a lot with a smile. So there is indeed a high probability of Prachanda coming into his own if China gives him a pat on the back and whispers sweet nothings into his ear.

All this might sound too simplistic but a hurt ego can damage and derail diplomatic relations as much as personal ties in our daily lives. 

Notably, Prachanda’s India visit got off on the wrong foot. He was received at New Delhi airport by junior Foreign Minister Meenakshi Lekhi, a political lightweight — first-time minister of state and second-term MP. Considering Kathmandu’s geo-strategic centrality in New Delhi’s external calculus and the Neighbourhood First Policy we daily swear by, is there any doubt that Prachanda deserved better?

Foreign Minister Jaishankar's Snub

Moreover, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar did not give Prachanda the time of day. News agency ANI quoted an Indian embassy official in Kathmandu on 25 May saying that both Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval would call on Prachanda on 31 May, the first day of his visit.

But, shockingly, Jaishankar decided to give Prachanda a miss. He took off for Cape Town for the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the Friends of BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Jaishankar clearly prioritised BRICS Foreign Ministers over Nepal’s visiting PM. It offers a glimpse into the international pecking order Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has quietly drawn up after a lot of brainstorming to protect our national interests!

Prachanda had brought along Foreign Minister N P Saud with him. But, Jaishankar, instead of engaging with his Nepali counterpart in New Delhi, chose to work and party with BRICS Foreign Ministers in faraway Cape Town.

After all these snubs, Prachanda met Modi on June 1 in Hyderabad House for talks. Subsequently, Prachanda singled out his meeting with Modi as the “most significant aspect” – or the biggest achievement - of his state visit to India.   

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Throwback to Prachanda's 2022 Visit

Honestly, only a saint can be so gracious. Or was Prachanda being sarcastic and speaking with his tongue firmly in cheek?

Consider this: Prachanda visited Delhi in July 2022 as a guest of BJP President J P Nadda. He was then a pillar of the pro-India Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress-led coalition government and the Modi government owed him a debt of gratitude for supporting a regime which cared for India’s interests.

Apparently, he had been promised a meeting with Modi during his three-day stay, but the meeting did not materialise. Before flying to India, Prachanda had told journalists at Kathmandu airport that he was going to Delhi to meet Modi. But Modi refused to meet him.  

On his return, Prachanda had candidly disclosed that on the last day of his visit, he kept waiting in his suite for a telephone call from the PMO. But the call never came and he flew back to Nepal without meeting Modi. It was no doubt very insulting and humiliating for Prachanda, but it also proved that New Delhi didn’t have the faintest idea that the man Modi had no time for would become the PM six months later!

But can the sense of achievement Prachanda voiced after finally meeting Modi negate the hurt and pain inflicted by the earlier rebuff? Is it possible for ruthless and powerful men like him to forgive and forget?  

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Prachanda is at India's Mercy

In December 2022, Prachanda dumped pro-India Deuba and became the PM with the backing of pro-China K. P. Sharma Oli. In February, Oli and Prachanda fell out over the selection of the presidential candidate and the former withdrew support. But Prachanda survived as PM thanks to the support promptly extended by India’s proxy - the Nepali Congress.

The harsh fact is that Prachanda’s complete dependence on Nepali Congress to remain the PM compelled him to put on his best behaviour in India. Let’s face it - he is at India’s mercy. He knows that if New Delhi wants, the Nepali Congress won’t think twice before toppling him.

Because of his compulsions, Prachanda’s lips were sealed despite being greeted with the Akhand Bharat mural in our new Parliament building which shows Nepal’s Kapilavastu, Biratnagar and Lumbini as part of India. He refused to raise the matter with Modi ignoring pleas by two former PMs, Oli and Baburam Bhattarai. And neither did the obliging Prachanda bring up, according to Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary, other contentious and prickly issues like the revision of the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, the report of the Eminent Persons Group, the issue of the recruitment of Nepali Gurkha soldiers in the wake of the Agnipath scheme, or even the border issue centred around 350 sq km in the Lipulekha area.

So far so good. One of the most significant outcomes of the Prachanda-Modi meeting is that India has agreed to buy 10,000 MW of power in 10 years against the current 450 MW. This is a quantum jump. But there is a rider. India won’t buy any electricity generated in Nepal with Chinese funding or even Chinese machinery and equipment. This stiff condition, Saran says will “require (Nepal to build) direct and dedicated transmission lines from non-Chinese-aided or Chinese-built power projects to India”.

This is an impossible ask. Nepal’s economy is badly crippled; it doesn’t have funds to squander new transmission lines. If Beijing wants to instigate Prachanda, this is the red hot button it will hit.­­­

(SNM Abdi is a distinguished journalist and ex-Deputy Editor of Outlook. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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