Prashant Jha, noted journalist who spends most of his time in Delhi, is often suspected by Nepali readers to be too close to India’s RAW, India’s external intelligence agency. This is not based on suspicion and paranoia but from intelligence gleaned from some of his columns, in which he’s written about the change of guards at RAW and shown an all too close familiarity with its upper echelons.
Mr. Jha, who regularly makes appearances at Nepali events in the USA, was a fellow at the Asia Society of New York, a visiting fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India (UPenn), and is a 2016 Poynter Fellow at Yale, recently put out an op-ed from the esteemed Hindusthan Times, in which he claimed several Chinamen were seen approaching various members of the Nepali political world, including Maoist leader Prachanda, telling them to desist from regime change, and to support Oli’s government. His May 10, 2016 article, titled “Chinese advice behind Prachanda’s U-turn on support to Nepal govt?”, seemed to be based on speculation and heresay more than facts, but this has never stopped the esteemed Mr. Jha from putting out an article from his newspaper, where he is now associate editor. Now this sort of interference would be a very unusual move indeed for the Chinese, who play no part in Nepal’s domestic politics, unlike the Indians who have been breathing down the necks of the Nepali politicians every hour and every minute since King Tribhuwan took refuge in their embassy in 2007 bikram sambat.
The ostensible reason for this alarmist P.Jha article, it appeared, was the fact the Chinese finally opened a train-link from China to Nepal. The train, carrying household goods, made its way to Nepal in 10 days—unlike the 45 days it took for Nepalese goods to reach the Indian seaport, according to the Chinese newspaper reports. This is the first time a train has linked China and Nepal, and it promises to open up the much delayed routes of trade and transit between the two countries.
To Mr. P Jha, who specializes in creating ripples of alarm in India’s South Block and uses that as his major modus operandi, the bogus Chinamen was a way of proving greater Chinese influence in Nepal’s politics, when in fact the event in question was less Machiavellian—a greater trade and transit linkage between Nepal and China, much delayed and much needed.
Of course this event would be cause for celebration for any Nepali who’d suffered the six month blockade in which India brutally cut off all gasoline supplies and other trade goods to Nepal. Coming shortly after the earthquake, the blockade brought Nepal to its economic knees, made inflation soar, and severely affected the 400,000 people who’d lost their homes but could not reconstruct due to lack of building supplies. The elderly and sick were also severely affected. Medicines, normally imported from India, ran out in the marketplace, and the lack of gas meant people not only had to live through 14 hour electrical loadshedding but also had no way to cook their meals. Nepali business have had to pay thousands of dollars in demurrage charges to the ports of Calcutta to hold their goods, adding to their losses. Surely any sane nation would try to ensure their citizens would never have to go through such a moment, ever again?
But to another scion of the Nepali intellectual world, this doesn’t even seemed to have registered on the radar. Noted journalist CK Lal, writing for Catch News, titles his article: “Nepal: India's emasculated responses have emboldened KP Oli.” In this article, seems to imply Nepal is only making ties with Beijing to pique India: no mention of the six-month Indian blockade that crippled the economy and devastated the process of recovery; no mention of the fact that India controls most of Nepal’s trade by holding its transit routes over Nepal’s head as a Sword of Damocles; no mention of why landlocked Nepal may want a second route other than India to the sea.
The distinguished and much revered journalist, who’s also done a stint at Yale University, chooses to use the word “emasculate,” usually used as a means of provocation and an incitement to violence, to describe India’s response to KP Oli’s government. Surely a more masculine response would entail more crushing force, in the same mode as the blockade? Is this what the noted journalist CK Lal is calling for?
And why would he assume that ties with Beijing would undermine Indo-Nepal bond? Why the sudden anxiety on the part of both Prashant Jha and CK Lal to bring up the “China bogeyman” to scare India, when its perfectly obvious to any neutral outsider that Nepal as a nation-state has to seek a second trade route, or perish from Indian suffocation?
Here’s CK Lal’s understanding of Nepal’s Beijing ties:
Indians are perhaps correct in their assessment that the government under Premier Oli has taken up the task left incomplete by the ousted monarchy, which is to render the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, on which Indo-Nepal special relationship is based, superfluous. This can only be achieved through a slew of agreements and understanding with Beijing that look perfectly normal on surface but succeeds in undermining the spirit of longstanding Indo-Nepal bond.
Why would CK Lal assume that ties with Beijing would undermine the Indo-Nepal bond? Surely those are two bilateral relationships that are unrelated to each other? If India goes to Sri Lanka and makes some bilateral agreements on trade and transit, Nepal will not throw a fit of hysteria because its undermining the Indo-Nepal bond. So why should India act in this manner?
Unfortunately there’s an army of people out there who subscribe to CK Lal’s absurd PEON theory, and who are willing to fight to prove this man, whose writings are very elegant but who often verges on the extremist spectrum, right.
Prashant Jha’s greatest contribution to Nepali history may not be his noted book on federalism, but his call in the Hindusthan Times for “overt and covert action” against Nepal, which was subsequently and coincidentally followed by the devastating blockade. While its hard to pin all blame on a single journalist for what may have been a geo-political event, I think its time for the intelligensia of both countries to examine how far journalism, in all its ethics-free form, may have incited a major breakdown of Nepal-India relations, one from which the two countries will take a very long time to recover.