The Royal Coup in Nepal

India and Britain have supposedly stopped their military help to Nepal in response to the 1 Feb Royal Coup. Even the US has expressed its displeasure on the events in Nepal. Immediately two sets of questions come to any rational mind, familiar with the South Asian developments:

1. Why was not there a similar response to the real coup that occurred on Oct 4, 2002, when the lawfully elected government was toppled? Can this response be reduced to the difference between the attitude, in the case of India, of the earlier BJP government and the present Congress Party’s? But if it is so, then why wasn’t there any hue and cry from the Congress Party and others at that time to force the BJP government to provide a similar response?

2. What makes the Indian, British and American interests coalesce on the issue? Can it be seen as a part of the international alignment between these forces? How do we interpret their designs in this particular case?

Obviously the problem before these governments is not any foreknowledge of the ‘excesses’ by military forces or the violation of human rights in Nepal, as they claim. Nor is there any doubt that the King will not be lenient towards the Maoist revolutionaries. Of course, one of the biggest problems before them, is evidently the “crisis of legitimation”, the problem of legitimising their military aid to Nepal. Since the Maoists were being posed as a force against “democracy”, and this was the prime ideology for militarising the ongoing state repression in the country, the royal coup has definitely been a setback to these foreign powers. However, essentially, their present stand (regardless of its being sufficiently hesitant) and any other stands they might take in future are directly linked to Nepal’s location in their wider political economic and strategic designs.

I Imperialist Preference : Monarchy with a Cosmetic Democracy

Further, another problem that the royal coup poses before these foreign forces is related to the US/UK/India’s choice of the political form for Nepal. It creates a temporary crisis for them in the sense that the incident puts the monarchy and “democrats” in open confrontation. India’s Ministry of External Affairs itself on the day of the coup assessed, “The latest developments in Nepal bring the monarchy and the mainstream political parties in direct confrontation with each other. This can only benefit the forces that not only wish to undermine democracy but the institution of monarchy as well.” And their negligence of the 2002 coup shows aptly what kind of balance between democracy and monarchy they want. Definitely, the global forces have to be resilient enough for any eventuality. They have to depend on the balance of the three political forces in Nepal ­ the monarchy, the democrats (Nepali Congress and CPNUML) and the Maoist peasant revolutionaries, and, of course, their own ability to negotiate with them. The immediate internal options are perfectly clear ­ the continuity of a democratic delusion under Monarchy or a full-fledged democratic republic with Maoists being on the negotiating table. But this was the very clarity that the external forces did not want, since the second option will loosen their grip over the Nepali political economy, shattering its dependent nature, diminishing the parasitic interests in the economy, and providing leverage to the only local productive classes ­ of proletarians, semi-proletarians and peasantry ­ an unprecedented situation in the post-Cold War era. And this is what they fear!!!

The Indians and others have consistently shown their preference for monarchy with a democratic tinge. The difference between their responses now and in 2002 shows sufficiently that they prefer a democratic façade rather than a full-fledged parliamentary democracy in Nepal. This standpoint is directed by their problem of finding a suitable internal power bloc with which they can negotiate, and their interest to sustain a particular hierarchical relationship with Nepal. In more general terms, it is a reflection of the articulation of the imperialist interests with the political economic processes in the country.

The trajectory of Nepali political economic development conditioned by its internal dynamics and external injections has been such that the big rentier and mercantilist interests hegemonise the ‘national’ economy and state. Of course, there are “nationalist”, “intermediate” coalitions of vast fragmented petty bourgeois interests of small intermediaries, traders, civil servants, intellectuals etc. But due to the lack of any centralised political economic interests in the form of ‘national’ capitalists needed for sustaining a vision of national development, these national-democratic forces disperse easily whenever they are enticed by easy attainments, or threatened by hegemonic interests. This situation forces the foreign capital ­ Indian and others – to negotiate with rentier interests in Nepal, whose main motive is to capitalise on their role as intermediaries, on their capacity to rent out the local market and resources. Moreover, it is in the interest of the foreign capital that they negotiate with a few big ‘landlords’, ‘waterlords’, ‘traders’ etc., rather than layers of parasites. So their preference is for a monarch that symbolises a grand negotiator. But on the other hand, the grand rentier can create grand hurdles to gain grand favours, too. Hence, a limited ‘democracy’ would provide a safety valve for the imperialist forces in this regard, enabling them to play democracy against the sole power, monarchy, whenever required. This leads to the foreign preference for a façade of democracy in Nepal under monarchy.

II The Myth of the “Chinese Hand” and Imperialist Interests in Nepal

Among one of the foremost reasons that directs the imperialist bloc under the US to South Asia in general is the proximity of China. In this regard we must note that China’s irritating emergence as a versatile economy hosting conflicting global capitalist interests has kept the rival states and coalitions on run to tighten security around it in order to guard their respective sponsoring capitalist interests. They know that the Chinese can easily misbalance the hegemony of dollar against the euro, and squeeze away the former’s seigniorage. This explains the present American panic over the European willingness to end China arms embargo. This explains the US’ interests in the military and economic cooperation with India, too.

The ‘Chinese element’ is definitely there in the overall composition of the Indo-US response on the present political uncertainty in Nepal. This is obvious taking into consideration the frequent invocation of China’s name in the strategic discourse before and after the Royal coup. Many have even gone to the extent of posing it as a Chinese ploy. This opinion seems to be quite popular outside Nepal, but none of the Nepali “democrats” has gone to the extent of saying so. However, some of the King’s pronouncements show that at least he would love to make the world believe this, as only this can guarantee the required legitimacy to his action. Only this way he can bargain with the powers world over, making them unnerved.

In the history of Nepal there have been other occasions too when such coups have been staged and the Chinese card played to bargain with India. It is not that the Nepali rentiers and political elite will ever shift their allegiance, but the continuous presence of China definitely allows them to use this fact to gain favours from the only organized imperialist coalition present in the region ­ the Indo-US Imperialism.

The “Chinese element” in the present happenings in Nepal has started showing its effect in the opinion mobilisation in India too. Some “security” intellectuals have started proposing that India must not insist on any immediate restoration of democracy. They argue that “the official reaction has rather been hard and unnecessary” and that “it is necessary to ensure that the King is not pushed to the corner. Some space has to be given to him to save his face.”

Till recently, the trick of calling the Maoist revolutionaries Chinese agents (or even Pakistani/ISI agents) and faking evidences to prove this (which are simply naïve to the extent of idiocy, fit only for the ever patriarchal and chauvinist Indian middle class influenced by a new brand of panic-producing “security” intellectuals) too served a similar purpose. On the one hand, it allowed the Nepali dependent interests to bargain enough military and economic aid from foreign interests, especially India. On the other hand, it sufficiently provided ammunitions to the ideology of “national security interests” to legitimise and militarise Indian expansionism and the American intervention in South Asia.

Understanding the US/UK/Indian response on Nepali events in this scenario makes it very clear that they want their continuous military presence in Nepal as part of the coalition’s wider agenda in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, for particular material interests, and the royal coup is definitely a temporary setback for the legitimacy of their agenda.

III The constitution of Indian Imperialism and its immediate agenda in Nepal

The similarity of the responses of these forces can be further comprehended as an Indian mobilisation for setting its own agenda within that of the Anglo-American coalition, in return to its own subservience to it. The Indian interest is self-evident. The Economic Times (Feb 22) reports “Returning here after consultations with the government in New Delhi, the Indian ambassador to Nepal on Tuesday talked tough, asking Nepal not to target its joint ventures in the kingdom under the garb of emergency ‘We have expressed our grave concern over discriminatory targeting of Indian joint venture establishments, including UTL (wireless telephone service), which has been restricted to operate its service since the February 1 royal coup,’ Indian ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shanker Mukherjee said.” It is clear that the Nepali rulers themselves are doing this to obtain legitimacy and have gained much as the envoys have started returning to Nepal after consulting their respective governments.

The only foreign force that is immediately concerned with the Maoists is India, taking into consideration the extent of its interests in the Nepali economy, which are thwarted by every small strike and road blockage there. Further, the installation of a revolutionary government, if it happens by any chance, will have a terrible impact on the Indian neo-imperialism, that controls the Nepali economy to a large extent. According to UNCTAD, seven countries account “for over four fifths of cumulative FDI [in Nepal]. India alone accounted for one third [owning 35% of the enterprises with FDI and 35.8% share in the total FDI], followed by the United States and then China.” Hence, India has a two-pronged agenda for its intervention in Nepal ­ to allow its business interests to remain profitable and functioning, and to thwart any competitor-rival interests, especially Chinese, from superseding it. The Maoist insurgency is threatening India on both counts ­ the threat on the first count is direct and immediate, the second being its corollary. Hence, its military help to Nepal has been essentially to pre-empt these dangers.

Now, the royal “coup” has, at least temporarily, shaken the wits out of the bogey of the Indian security interests and of protecting Nepali democracy from the Maoists and unseen threats. India will have to take time in remobilising the necessary legitimacy for its continuing military aid to Nepal. But it cannot be expected to stretch its intransigence shown initially, considering its need for a political stability in Nepal to derive sustainable economic gains from there, and thwart any rival interest from evolving. The return of its ambassador clearly indicates this. However, the dilemma for India is multiplied seeing the amount of political support for the Nepali “democrats”, at least within the ranks and leadership of the parliamentary left. The Indian State’s only hope in this regard resides in the fact that the latter is too much ‘nationalist’ and has been very much prone to compete with the mainstream forces for serving the “national interests”, finding every armed insurgency within the country and around it as anti-national. They might help in stopping the evolution of a united front of the democrats and the Maoist peasant revolutionaries in Nepal, and hence by effect not allowing the full-fledged republic to come up.

IV Conclusion ­ the Agenda for Anti-Imperialism

It is high time for the genuine “anti-imperialist” forces in South Asia, especially in India, to go back to their basics and utter what there predecessors in Europe did when they were facing chauvinist conflicts during the World War I that “the main enemy is at home!” Or else they will be repeating the mistakes of the social democrats who stooped to social chauvinism. If they are serious about defeating the global imperialism, they must stop looking for only enemies abroad and must defeat the “enemy at home”, of course, cooperating with people of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists and their agencies. They must ally themselves to “the international class struggle against the conspiracies of secret diplomacy, against imperialism, against war” in which the Indian state is willingly entrenching itself day by day.

PRATYUSH CHANDRA lives in Hyattsville, Maryland and can be reached at: