They did not rise above the performance of hired hands entrusted with the task of obediently following what they were directed to do.

By Professor P Kharel

Professor P Kharel

An Indian-born academic at the Peace and Conflict Research in Sweden’s Uppsala University, Professor Ashok Swain recently told The Rising Nepal that India refused to learn from its mistakes and thus failed to treat the neighbouring country with respect. He pointed out how, unlike some other neighbours, Nepal had always sought to address the border dispute through bilateral talks and negotiation. He described New Delhi’s unilateral opening of a new road through the disputed area at Limpiyadhura to be “absolutely unnecessary and highly provocative”.

Interestingly, Swain did his doctorate from the School of International Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1991. JNU is conspicuous by its reputation in Nepal and the rest of South Asia for harbouring also academics who, more often than not, chorus comments that almost invariably coincide with those of the union government when it pertains to foreign and defence policies. When intellectuals in their professional garb turn pawns or paid agents, they kowtow to their paymasters: There’s not to reason why but to do the hiring agency’s bidding. The task is to defend, promote and stave off issues as per the directives from the bosses.

Delhi dateline

Back in 1989-90, when the Rajiv Gandhi government in India imposed the longest economic blockade on this country even after initialing the renewal of trade and transit treaties, the Gorkhapatra Sansthan decided to assign me as Nepal’s first full-time correspondent in New Delhi. Although reluctant to accept the appointment, the Sansthan’s executive chairman Shrish S. Rana’s persuasion—“It will be another significant opportunity to prove your mettle” and Chief Editor Shyam Bahadur KC’s valued advice—chased me for several days. Eventually, Prime Minister Marich Man Singh Shrestha informed me that King Birendra wanted someone as “capable as you” to take up the assignment at the earliest. That proved to be the clincher to the reluctant me.

From the very beginning of the New Delhi undertaking, Indian officials were cool and some, including immigration officials and security personnel made taunting remarks. Several times during the year-long stint, the External Affairs Ministry’s Publicity Division dared to tell me the “stuff” I produced did not contribute to promoting bilateral relations. Quoting profusely the Indian media, including regional papers available at the Press Lounge in Sashtri Bhawan, the reports and a fortnightly column, Delhi Dateline, filed from New Delhi, yours professionally attracted South Bloc’s wrath. Some Indian journalists writing for foreign media were sympathetic to Nepal’s cause and shared information to this foreign correspondent debutant.

The daily Tribune, established in 1881 and headquartered in Chandigarh, reported in August that South Bloc had launched an aggressive media strategy “to counter criticisms against its policies in different fronts, including its policies on Nepal. As the most subtle scheme, the South Block identified middle and senior level journalists of proven experience and competence, to plant on them exclusives about the official line on such contentious issues as the future of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, the Nepal trade talks, Punjab policy and Pakistan policy. Regular meetings between these journalists and officials close to the Prime Minister’s Office take place in many a rendezvous in Delhi. Out of these scribes’ pens flow such ideas as the economic blockade of Nepal, Cyprus solution for Sri Lanka and so on.”

Consequently, the Indian government’s deep displeasure was demonstrated in the manner in which the Information Office simply refused to issue a permanent press card to someone who wrote “inimical” items against India. I thus became a record senior-most temporary press pass holder deputed by a neighbouring country’s leading media organisation. This meant the correspondent’s name not being acknowledged in the Information Office’s official booklet that was circulated to various offices and foreign missions. The card had to be renewed every moment, often having to wait for hours until the officer concerned was free or available.

Journalists, academics, civil society leaders and their ilk undergo this acid test for their ultimate standing as far as history is concerned.

Paymaster’s piper

Among those pitching their tents in New Delhi under the guise of university faculty, members of some government-funded foundations or scholarly society, the establishment zeroes in on a select few for assured incentives in exchange for the willingness to do the government’s bidding. They did not rise above the performance of hired hands entrusted with the task of obediently following what they were directed to do. Against such background, Swain’s candid comment comes as a fresh air and something rare to the ears of Nepalis in general. Not that anything stemming from an intellectual of India-born or Indian national automatically merits special notice just because his views happen to rhyme with those of Nepal government’s.

Indian leaders, senior opposition party leaders, academics and retired army generals have expressed concern over the manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Narendra Modi has dealt with Nepal. Used to inexplicably uniform views that so routinely and predictably synchronise with the establishment’s stand in India, people in Nepal note the meaning of early indications of a visibly assertive but very small elite group active in airing their independent views without fear or favour.

He who pays the piper plays the tune is a valued adage. In the 21st century, the lasting quality of any academic pen and opinion is singularly independence wedded to professionalism. Opinions differ but, shorn of biases, they deserve respect, whatever the fate of their conclusions. That’s the key difference between populism and discerning views. Journalists, academics, civil society leaders and their ilk undergo this acid test for their ultimate standing as far as history is concerned.

A new incarnation in global diplomacy is emerging and power equations—both economic and political—shift to changing realities tossing up new thrusts and pushes. No nation wants to outsource its foreign policy which otherwise would severely compromise the state’s inalienable sovereign quality. The oil-rich but tiny Qatar rejected such idea in July 2017 when four Arab countries imposed a blockade against it, and it has withstood the exacting task on firm footing.

Diplomats are not determined by their strength to serve as doormats of those nominating them.

The academic and the rest of the elite class have nothing to lose their independence and intellectual integrity aired with the expertise expected of them. Everyone needs to grow with the times for proven track records of critical outlook and honest conclusions. To boost the morale of his troops on the Sino-Indian border last week, Modi observed that the age of expansionism is over. And it should be in all directions.

Professor Kharel is a political communication expert

Courtesy: The Rising Nepal

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