Political forecasting is a fraught endeavor, as the analysts who based their prognostications on polls ahead of the US presidential elections and Bihar’s state-level elections are finding out. Politics is not hard science, with neat causes and effects. We must perforce exercise caution when talking of the impact on Nepal of the election of Joe Biden as American president or of the BJP’s stellar showing in Bihar. Heck, Biden has not even been legally elected the US president (the Electoral College votes are tallied only on Jan 6). And Bihar’s attitude towards Nepal is as predictable as the course of Koshi River.
Not long ago, people were livid with Prime Minister KP Oli for granting an audience to RAW Chief Samant Goel. The Nepali government head meeting the chief of India’s external intelligence agency generated a lot of hullaballoo. Why were diplomatic protocols being so openly flouted? Why had the Nepali PM descended so low? Personally, I saw nothing wrong. Goel had come to Nepal as PM Modi’s envoy and as such Oli could not have declined to meet him. I would also rather that our top politicians did these meetings out in the open, rather than in hush-hush, as if they had something to hide.
Then, look at the results. Yes, the optics might have looked bad. But soon after Goel, Indian army Chief M.M. Naravane came to Kathmandu. This in turn cleared the way for the visit of Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. And Shringla’s trip, if we are to go by feelers from New Delhi, could be a precursor for the coming of Indian Home Minister Amit Shah. All these are signs that India-Nepal ties are slowly getting back on track. Yet if you believed some of the commentary in Nepali media following Goel’s visit, Nepal-India ties were doomed.
Nepal-US relations are less complicated than Nepal-India ties. Yet the contours of the former may be even harder to track. The US, after all, is oceans away. Yet we have already started speculating about the Biden administration’s Nepal outlook. I don’t think it will have one. It all depends on how the Biden administration hedges between India and China—and that will be just one variable factoring into US calculations.
Further complicating things these days is the impact of social media and fake news. Without a shred of evidence, over 70 million Americans unquestionably gulped down Trump’s trope on election fraud. After our cable TV provider cut the broadcast of CNN and BBC (which I now see on YouTube), I started watching Turkey’s TRT World and Russia’s RT. The American, Turkish, and Russian broadcasters report on same events and yet with different facts—yes, different facts, whether on US electoral fraud or Nagorno-Karabakh or Syrian refugees. Likewise, the Nepali (social) media landscape has become so crowded and noisy, it’s getting hard to discern fact from fiction.
Nepal-India ties seems to be on better footing than was the case before Dashain. But it will only take one little poke to the nationalist Nepali psyche for the ties to come tumbling down. The MCC compact remains in parliamentary limbo. Our top leaders continue to cuddle up to China. If Nepal was sure about what it wanted from its international friends and if there was broad consensus on Nepal’s foreign policy, perhaps we would not have to rely so much on the crystal ball of international relations.