India Blockade Nepal - and its link with Madheshi Protest

Big brother’s blockade

Can a sovereign parliament, after having passed such a vote, be expected to yield to overt outside pressure? Modi’s neighbourhood policy is about to suffer a mortal blow — if it has not already. 
Let's take a look at following photos first :

Protesters throwing stones from Indian side on no-man's land

67 Madheshi leader voted for Constitution where 61 didn't

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visits to Kathmandu had pushed back the anti-Indian feeling that often afflicts the Nepalese elite. But it has now come roaring back in the last two weeks. This follows the abortive visit of the Indian foreign secretary, who reached Kathmandu only hours before the constitution was to be promulgated. The Constituent Assembly had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the constitution. Can a sovereign parliament, after having passed such a vote, be expected to yield to overt outside pressure? Modi’s neighbourhood policy is about to suffer a mortal blow — if it has not already.

People in Kathmandu say that an informal economic blockade has been imposed by India. Memories of 1989 are flooding back as people are faced with six kilometre-long queues for petrol and medicines, LPG and other essentials. Detailed accounts of Indian custom officials abandoning their posts out of fear of life and limb are doing the rounds in Nepal. Apparently, oil tankers were also not plying for the same reason. But why did the Indian Oil Corporation tell its Nepalese counterpart to contact New Delhi to augment supplies? Is this friendly behaviour?

We should have kept economics and politics separate. The number of vehicles in Nepal is nearly 100 times that in 1989, and so the collateral damage and resentment against India will be greater. Even third-country imports into Nepal via India are now blocked, unlike in 1989.

India’s stand is that nothing has been officially ordered. But it is evident to all that Delhi has not taken well to its post facto advice being ignored. India’s support of the movement led by a few defeated leaders in the Terai is puzzling. Of the 116 members from that region in the Constituent Assembly, nearly 100 had voted in favour of the constitution.

Even among the Madhesis, certainly not a homogeneous community, the majority voted for the constitution. Those who are leading the current agitation — Rajendra Mahato, Anil Jha, Upendra Yadav, Mahant Thakur — lost the elections and do not represent the majority of Madhesis. Do we really want to be seen as championing the cause of these discredited leaders? Our agencies’ calculations that these leaders have influence over the Bihar electorate are simply wrong. Modi will do well to ignore such advice from those who want to keep the South Asian pot boiling for their petty self-interest.

Of the nearly 15 million Nepalese who live in the Terai, only 30-32 per cent are Madhesis. Tharus are another 10-12 per cent. The remaining are Paharis and Janajatis, who migrated to the Terai in search of a livelihood. Why has Delhi chosen to be supportive of a small section of the Terai population acting out of selfish interests? “One Madhes, one pradesh” will never work, as it would be a 500 mile by 20 mile province in which the upper Madhesi castes would rule the roost to the detriment of the majority Doms, Musahars, Tharus and Muslims.

There are, of course, flaws in the constitution that will hopefully be corrected, as the Nepalese already recognise them. First, population, not geographical area, should determine the size of constituencies. Second, Morang should be included in province number two, so that Madhesis are not outvoted. Third, the demand of Tharus to carve out a province in the region from Kailali to Nawalparasi in western Nepal, without the six hill districts, needs consideration. Fourth, the retrograde provisions on Nepalese women must be withdrawn. Should Delhi not let Nepal rectify these flaws and restrict itself strictly to behind-the-scenes advice?

Three issues have particularly irked India’s friends in Nepal. First is the assertion by Indian commentators that theirs is an unequal, upper caste-centric and retrograde constitution. Second, that the provision
for keeping a few constitutional positions out of reach of naturalised citizens is regressive. Finally, India’s big-brother attempt to enforce its will on a sovereign nation. No country is too small to defend its dignity. Remember Vietnam?

The good news is that after a week of stoppage, some oil tankers have crossed into Nepal. Modi should retrieve the situation by overruling the mandarins and agencies, and not let them derail his neighbourhood policy.