Goel’s visit indicates RAW’s bid to revive past links with Oli
A visit by a top or senior ranking official of the Indian intelligence agency RAW to Nepal will normally go unnoticed. It could either be because of the frequency of such visits, or because their activities on vital issues including internal affairs of Nepal are not so 'covert'.
Many Indian and Nepali authors, some of them insiders, have brought out graphic details of the role the Research and analysis wing (RAW) played in planning and executing the radical political change in 2006 that involved collaborating with the Maoists, a Nepali insurgent group that the government of India called ‘terrorist’, to get the Monarchy abolished to keep the Chinese away.
But despite the abolition of the Monarchy, Nepal saw a rapid growth of Chinese presence and unprecedented influence in Nepal's politics, governance, power-centers and development. The current tension between India and China, and India losing good will and influence in its neighbourhood, had put New Delhi to a real test.
It was in this scenario that Samant Kumar Goel, Chief of RAW, came to Nepal on Wednesday (Oct 21), with a strong team of nine members, in a special aircraft. It was parked at the Tribhuvan International Airport for a full 16 hours.
Who all the Indian team met is still not known, but his spending more than two hours with Prime Minister K P Oli one-on-one on Wednesday night, without the Foreign Affairs or the Home Ministry being briefed before or after the meeting, has triggered speculation about the opaque nature of the whole visit, and its hidden agenda.
The Prime Minister became the target of severe criticism for the'secrecy' maintained, and in an apparent breach of protocol. This was highlighted by senior leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Finally, Oli’s press advisor, Surya Thapa, came out with the official confirmation of the meeting and said: “India was keen to keep Nepal-India friendly relations intact, resolve existing issues through dialogue and enhance bilateral cooperation.”
Nepal-India relations are at a low-ebb. This time around, after Nepal came out with a new political map including 370 sq km territory that both India and Nepal have been claiming along their border with Tibet. Nepal refused to budge when India, that had included Kalapani, Limpiadhura and Lipulek in its map published in November, asked Nepal not to have these areas in its map. But by consensus, Nepal's parliament gave concurrence to the new map and a national emblem including the new logo. India declared that this is an “unacceptable cartographic aggression” by Nepal, along with a message that this act would come as a hindrance for dialogue to sort out the border dispute.
But with China's influence and presence in the region on the rise, a stiff, ‘no dialogue’ position appeared to be harmful to India's interest. But the interesting thing is that Goel, and not the regular diplomatic instrument, was chosen to convey the change of mood by Delhi.
Was the Indian perception hyped beyond reality when it came to measuring the Chinese presence in Nepal? Going by Thapa's version, the only official version available so far, Goel's proposition was to have the existing problems resolved through dialogue which was in clear contradiction to the position taken by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on the border issue.
India also perceives that it was China that brought the two major Communist Parties--Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and the Nepal Communist Party Maoists --together to form the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Goel's visit took place at a time when the two erstwhile components led by Prime Minister K.P. Oli and Party's co-chair Pushpakamal Dahal Prachanda are at loggerheads. Undoing what China ostensibly did would be something that India will be happy to do.
However, both President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and PM Oli have established close contact with the Chinese communist party. Prachanda has already criticized Oli for the way he handled Goel's visit.
Oli also enjoys an unsavoury reputation of being someone who is most trusted by India before the 2015 blockade. Oli apparently used to have regular interactions with the intelligence outfit of India rather than the MEA. It appears that it was at his initiative, his quest to break the ice, that brought Goel to Nepal. What transpired in the 'secret' meeting could convey to China that India's interest in Nepal has not receded.
India's security establishment has a large role in diplomacy in the neighbourhood, but will the intelligence apparatus also be the public face of Indian diplomacy here? India appears determined to neutralize the Chinese presence and popularity in Nepal.
Whether Goel's visit is a one-off calculated act or the first in the series to follow, will unfold New Delhi's future modus operandi. But whether China will just grin and bear it is the million-dollar question. And will also impact how much Nepal will be at peace with itself in future.