Indian envoy Sood likely to be pulled out from Nepal, Diplomat's unpopularity set to take toll



Ambassador Rakesh Sood is likely to be pulled out of Kathmandu after a controversy-ridden and rather unedifying tenure as Indian envoy to Kathmandu.

He is likely to be replaced by Jayant Prasad, currently special secretary in the ministry of external affairs.

Sood assumed charge at a critical stage in Nepali transition — on the eve of the Maoist ascent to power — but quickly gained a reputation for his blunt style of functioning; critics, Nepali Maoists to begin with, called his manner brash and arrogant.

“He is a viceroy-style interventionist with little regard for diplomatic norms, he often behaves as if Nepal were his protectorate,” Mohan VaidyaKiran”, a top Maoist leader, had told The Telegraph during the raging row over the Nepal Army chief which eventually led to Prachanda’s premature resignation as Prime Minister.

As Sood’s ambassadorship proceeded, many others in Nepal became convinced of that impression.

One senior Nepali Congress leader who wouldn’t be named said: “Sood made his intentions clear early, he had no regard for propriety. He met our Prime Minister even before he had presented his credentials. He talks down to Nepalis and that is hurting India’s image as well.”

Nepali domestic politics --- and the peace agreement between the Maoists and “mainstream” parties --- has remained deadlocked since Prachanda’s resignation, and many believe Sood to be a prime factor.

“Of course, he is pursuing India’s interests in Nepal, but he comes across as a brow-beater and that harms rather than helps India’s case in Nepal,” said a senior diplomat. “His tenure has coincided with heightened criticism of India in Nepal, not only among politicians but on the street.”

The decision to replace him, sources suggest, has much to do with New Delhi’s desire to re-calibrate ties with Nepal, especially with the Maoists.

Prasad, the likely successor, is, like Sood, a former ambassador to Afghanistan. But he may bring to the job a more amenable history. His father and historian Bimal Prasad was sent as ambassador to Nepal when Chandra Shekhar became Prime Minister in 1990 and Nepalis have good memories of his tenure.

Sood had played a proactive and very public role in the reinstatement of Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal, who was dismissed by Prachanda in a show of assertion as Nepal’s elected Prime Minister.

He met Prachanda six times in the space of fewer days, once or twice without an appointment, and verily saw to it Katuwal had the last word. Since then, Sood has been at the centre of many eruptions, domestic and bilateral.

Many find it not strange that he is the first Indian ambassador to Nepal to have had his effigies burnt on the streets; last month, during a trip to northern Nepal, he also became the target of a shoe flung in his face. It missed, but it described the low trajectory of Sood’s image in the country.

Apart from being seen as the prime mover of the effort to keep Maoists, the single largest party in Nepal, out of power, Sood is also seen as a man not above employing strong-arm tactics to get his way.

A few months ago, he prevailed upon Indian corporate interests to stop advertising in “Kantipur”, Nepal’s largest media group, because its journalism had displeased him. It is also alleged he tried to turn the screws on Kantipur by putting a squeeze on newsprint supplies from India. It was only after the issue became public that restrictions on Kantipur were eased.

Shortly thereafter, Indian embassy officials were reported threatening Madhesi members of the Constituent Assembly with unpleasant consequences if they voted for Prachanda in several failed run-offs to replace Madhav Nepal, the lameduck Prime Minister.

One Madhesi MP went public saying Indian diplomats had threatened his daughter would not find entry to the much sought-after Indian embassy run school in Kathmandu.

Sood was also backing a rather unsavoury Indian bid to grab the contract for machine-readable passport technology, for which Nepal had floated an international tender. The Indian quotation, it is learnt, was higher than several Nepal had received but Sood still wanted the job for India. He went so far as to put the Indian demand in writing to foreign minister Sujata Koirala; the letter was later leaked to the Nepali media, to some embarrassment for New Delhi.

(Originally published at The Telegraph, Calcutta, India:

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