On the current situation in Nepal, centering on the events in the Pashupatinath Temple, the following general/basic precepts should guide the Indian approach and thinking to the problem on hand, both from an official as well as a nonofficial perspective.
The Maoists are definitely on the wrong path and are courting long term problems. As such, nothing should be done or said which will give them an opening to turn the tables against India on the emotional plank of Indian cultural “chauvinism/imperialism” and seek public support among Nepalese, even on the weak wicket they are currently on, through false allegations of India trampling on traditional religious sentiments of the Nepali people.
From this perspective, it will be eminently advisable, nay imperative, for India and Indians to genuinely approach this as a strictly internal problem of the Nepalese and the Nepalese people which they have to solve within the country and among themselves, and repeat this from roof tops ‘ad nauseam’, to leave no scope for any propaganda to the contrary. This should be both an ingrained axiom for India to follow as well as proper tactics in statements and actions.
It will be counterproductive, and will be playing into the hands of the Nepalese Maoists to lay any emphasis, as has been done so far, that Pashupatinath is a temple sacred for all Hindus, Indians as well as in other countries, and as such India has an interest and stake in the ongoing problem. Though valid and true, this will be a politically inadvisable stance under prevelant circumstances and has to be strictly eschewed by one and all from the Indian side.
The valid objection to the nonemployment of Nepalese priests (Brahmins) for performing the puja rituals in Pashupatinath is the cultural habit of Nepalese Brahmins being meat eaters, and not strict vegetarians as required by the scriptures. This is the basic reason why the kings of yore had chosen to get the qualified priests from (South) India. India’s approach should be that it is interested only in maintaining the sanctity of the temple rituals which is an interest common to all devotees.
Basically, India should also be seen to be endorsing/advocating the principle that it is quite natural and legitimate for the Nepalese to have their own priests performing the rituals and worship so long as they ensure the sanctity which includes the lifestyle of the priests not only of the current ones but also of their lineage. There should be absolutely no hint whatsoever that it is an Indian privilege or right to send the priests from their country just because it had been the practice for two centuries.
The Royal, historical background to this practice should be entirely downplayed as this will give an undue/unwarranted handle to the Maoists, to exploit the popular sentiments in their favour.
India and Indians should be very vary of doing or saying anything which can even be remotely, on this and on every other issue, construed or give scope to be misrepresented as an effort to intrude, interfere or impose in any manner and in any sphere including cultural, religious and linguistic, besides political, economic, etc.
The undobted Indian interests and influence had to be secured in the most subtle invisible manner with great astuteness and least demonstrableness.
The other point may concern the possible Chinese hand behind this development in Nepal, which needs to be carefully studied, watched and validated.If one searches for the clues among the facts and recent developments there should be sufficient evidence to validate this surmise.
The basis for this view is the overall recent developments where the Chinese have taken a demonstrably hard anti India stance in a number of directions. For example, their blatantly irrational pro Pakistani propaganda and statements on the “26/11” Mumbai terror attacks which fly in the face of facts, including their stand at the UN Security Council on the outlawing of the LeT front organization JUD, can be attributed only to a delibrate anti India bias.
The other straw in the wind is their statement on the border dispute deliberately laying claim to Arunachal Pradesh and backtracking on Sikkim. These, and probably many others not readily coming to mind, seem to fall into a pattern.
Why they should make this turnaround in their attitude towards India, which definitely it is, one could only speculate. A plausible explanation could be that their earlier assessment was that India will always remain a weak entity compared to China and as such they can “afford” to show a condescending “friendly” attitude, a sort of “noblesse oblige” .
The developments of the past couple of years when the world assessment of India’s growing potential as a future power, which tends to bracket India and China more or less in the same breath as possible members of one league, could have led to a basic reapprisal of how they should view and treat India in the long term. This possible thinking could have contributed to a decision to make things difficult for India wherever they can.
It will be necessary for the active students and policy makers to observe Chinese actions and statements closely from this perspective. These, conscious as well as subliminal, change of attitudes are bound to show up in a variety of ways on a variety of fora in India-China bilateral and multilateral dealings and relations.
The concerned in the Indian Government and other “think tanks” should also study the personnel changes in the Chinese power structure and hierarchies including those in charge of China’s Defense and Foreign Relations. Change of personnel right from the Politburo to the India desk in the Chinese Foreign Ministry could give clues to the really knowledgeable observers as to what is happening.
However, it is dobtful whether India’s China watchers have developed the necessary personality profiles of Chinese policy makers at all levels in sufficient depths and detail to be able to make even tentative, plausible surmises, leave alone reliable conclusions.
( The writer, Mr N.Narasimhan, is former Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Govenment of India, New Delhi.Views were jotted down,impromptu, on 7 January 2009, at the request of a journalist acquaintance. Email:email@example.com )