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South Asian Values; Re-Imagining India-Nepal Political Relations

Shinoj S

October 6, 2021

10 MIN READ

South Asian Values; Re-Imagining India-Nepal Political Relations
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The term ‘reimagining’ requires an idea or philosophy to make a change. Scholars view that the transformation of ASEAN (Association of South East Nations) as a largely successful organization lies in an idea of ‘unity’.

Within ASEAN, a culture of peace has evolved as a result of assimilating the Indonesian custom of “musyawarah” and “mufakat”-consultation and consensus. 

South Asia as a region plagued with numerous issues needs a common idea to effect a reframing of the relationship. Enormous factors are supporting the regional integration in hand, the area remains as the least integrated region of the world.

There are commonalities in terms of culture, social composition, religious pluralism and anthropological traits.

However, the region remains as a whole consisting of several “others”. It is a region with extreme intra-state and inter-state conflicts.

The area has two nuclear-weapon states and states with unsettled borders. A reframing of relationships is the need of the hour. It needs an idea for change.

The concept of South Asian Values is defined in terms of the unique culture grown and developed in the specific geographical setting of the region.

Assimilation and Synthesis were the dominant principles of the culture. Decision-making on consensus was the idea very much inherent in the politico-cultural life in the area since ancient times.

South Asian Values is based on the common civilizational traits and religious ideas developed in the region in ancient times.

The spirit of South Asian Values is already inherent in the bilateral relationship between India and Nepal. The already existing unique practices must be promoted to a higher level. It is the solution to the problem of political fragmentation in South Asia general and India-Nepal relations in particular.

The Indus Valley Civilization is a shared culture of all the nations in South Asia. In the same manner Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism emerged as a shared heritage in the regional context.

The most important feature of the Indus Valley Civilization is the commitment to Pluralism. The civilization was the handiwork of four different races- Proto-Australoid, Mongoloid, Mediterranean and the Alpines. Another important feature is the absence of hatred and enmity with any other group.

As noted historian Romila Thapar noted, the culture is identified with the near absence of a ‘Satan”. Commitment to Group life is the third significant characteristic. Human beings started their settled life for the first time in South Asia.

The evidence of the first agricultural community was reported from Mehargarh in Pakistan, a pre-Harappan site, around 7000 BC.

The State of Nature in South Asia was not the one of intense conflict and war as suggested by Hobbes. The spirit of settled life in Mehargarh continued in Indus Valley too.

Common Religions sprouted in the Region presented a world view based on mutualism and cooperation since time immemorial.

The worldview of Hinduism is linked with the Upanishad philosophy of Vasudaivakutumbakam or ‘world as a family’.

Another feature is the centrality of the concept of Dharma. Dharma establishes that everyone has a place and corresponding duty in society.

Rajadharma talks about the duties and commitment of a monarch. It is a kind of monarchy based on democratic responsibility.

Buddhism mainly concentrates on Dharma or teachings by Buddha. It recognizes human relations based on ethics or morals.

Under the influence of Buddhism, King Asoka gave up his thirst for war and surrendered to the concept of dharma. He becomes an exception to all the kings in this context. Jainism emphasizes the idea of renunciation and non-violence.

Chandragupta Maurya, the first Indian empire builder, was converted into Jainism in the end. He gave up his political power and took a sojourn to the south. Finally, he practiced Sallekhana (fasting unto death) at Sravanabelagola.

Pluralism and democracy are the hallmarks of the religions which were emerged in South Asia. These religions do not believe in any single truth.

They believe in the plurality of truths. Above all these religions are organized based on democratic means of election. Consensus is the hallmark of the working of these sects.

Moreover, they provide a common platform to all the countries in South Asia and India and Nepal deserve special mention.

The religious shrines and holy places are scattered across the political borders. Above all the higher ideals of democracy, wisdom and cooperative life are well-knitted with the people across the borders.

The common civilizational and religious heritage put forward the idea of consensus rather than confrontation.

India-Nepal Relations

Both neighbors have failed to develop a stable relationship and all-weather friendship. The relationship between India and Nepal has experienced several ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ since the founding of Nepal as a modern state in 1768.

The real factor behind the issue is the colonial legacy of foreign relations and the application of realist solutions. India’s approach to Nepal has been directed by the security-centric perspective of the colonial rulers. India resorted to economic blockade against Nepal two times in the decolonized era.

These two instances created an atmosphere of mutual distrust. The blockade is the application of economic coercion to produce a favorable outcome. It is a strategy that comes under the Realist School of international relations.

On the other hand, Nepal viewed India from the perspective of nationalism based on anti-hegemonic propaganda.

The fear about national security persuaded the Nepalese leadership to visualize its relationship with China as a balancing act.

Foreign policy is a matter of domestic political significance in Nepal. Political instability at the national level always exercises a negative influence on the country’s relationship with India. It is true in terms of the pre-democratic and post-democratic regimes in Nepal.

After the inauguration of Republican rule in Nepal, the Maoists vigorously used the anti-India campaign during elections.

For all the ills like underdevelopment to unemployment, the Maoists blamed India. When Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda became the first Prime Minister in the Republican era, he tried to make certain changes in Nepal’s foreign policy though unsuccessful.

This mutual distrust acts as a major hurdle in exploring the real potential of bilateralism. As a result economic blockade was resorted two times by India. Nepal made certain commitments concerning the Chinese investment in the region as in the case of BRI (Belt and Road Initiative).

Moreover, the Kalapani dispute was dragged by the Nepalese leadership to provide parliamentary backing through law recently.

Scholars argued that Nepal had started a sojourn with the dragon across the mountain, China. Balancing diplomacy itself transforms into a kind of close understanding with China.

Unique Elements in Bilateralism:

India and Nepal followed several unique practices concerning bilateralism. They show the efficacy of South Asian Values.

First among them is the Open Border between the two nations which negates the basic principle of the nation-state system.

Easy convertibility of currency is another main point of distinction in a diplomatic relationship. People-to-people contact between the two neighbors has reached the level of extended matrimonial relationship crossing the borders.

It is another important positive outcome that influences bilateralism. Last but not least the military level understanding and cooperation play a vital role.

Practicing democracy up to the local level will bring stable political relations in South Asia. Enjoying all the unique aspects of bilateral relations between India and Nepal can herald an era of greater South Asianism through better understanding and democratic engagement.

The Gorkha contingent in the Indian army completely rejected the realist notions and definition of international relationships.

Both countries have mutually conferred the honor of military generalship. These are certain unique gestures that existed between the neighboring nations.

Above all the cultural connections between the two nations are very strong. Both countries have a shared space in terms of culture and religion.

The existing relationship between the two neighbors must be redefined and reframed in the context of South Asian Values.

The spirit of South Asian Values is already inherent in the bilateral relationship between India and Nepal. The already existing unique practices must be promoted to a higher level. It is the solution to the problem of political fragmentation in South Asia general and India-Nepal relations in particular.

Emphasize on South Asianism coupled with good governance is the urgent need of the hour. All engagements between the members of the region must conform to democratic principles.

Practicing democracy up to the local level will bring stable political relations in South Asia. Enjoying all the unique aspects of bilateral relations between India and Nepal can herald an era of greater South Asianism through better understanding and democratic engagement.

The distinct foreign policy practices that have been followed by India and Nepal show the practical side of the South Asian Values.

(Shinoj S is the Assistant Professor in Political Science at KSMDB College, Sasthamcotta, India)

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