November 08, 2015

Stop Bullying Nepal

THE Modi government’s confrontationist policy towards Nepal has led to an unprecedented breach in India-Nepal relations. After adopting a negative attitude to the Constitution promulgated in Nepal on September 20, the BJP government has gone ahead with further exacerbating tensions. For over two months, all the transit routes to Nepal from India have been blockaded. Nepal, a landlocked country depends on the land routes through India for the supply of all essential commodities and trade. The Madhesi agitation, which is backed by the Modi government, has blockaded Raxaul-Birgunj crossing and some other routes. This has led to a severe shortage of fuel and other essential commodities. The people are also suffering since the reconstruction work after the devastating earthquake has been affected. Vehicles are not able to carry construction materials for putting up prefabricated housing before winter sets in. The fuel shortages are affecting helicopter movement which is needed for delivering supplies to mountainous areas. The unavailability of cooking fuel is resulting in the large-scale cutting of trees for wood to be used as fuel and this is leading to deforestation. The Indian government’s stand that it has nothing to do with the blockade and this is a result of the Madhesi agitation and the insecurity faced by Indian transporters, does not wash. There has not been a single statement from the Indian government side stating that they will do everything to ensure free movement of vehicles in the border areas. Nor has there been any visible step to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic. In fact it is reported that India has unofficially sealed the border even in eastern Nepal where there are no protests. A new government has been installed after the Constitution came into force with K P Sharma Oli becoming the prime minister. Following this the deputy prime minister of Nepal visited Delhi. In his talks with the Indian foreign minister he requested that some of the crossings in the eastern part be opened for traffic, to which there has been no response from the Indian side. The Indian government is making no bones about its support for the Madhesi agitation. The Madhesi groups are openly claiming support of Narendra Modi and India. A delegation of Madhesi leaders visited Delhi to hold consultations in the last week of October. This is a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of Nepal. When the Nepalese authorities sought to clear the protesters from the Birgunj side, there were clashes which led to police firing and the death of an Indian boy. The Nepali authorities claim they have arrested some Indian nationals who were amongst the protesters. The arrogant stance of the Indian government is exposed from the recent statement made by the foreign ministry spokesperson who said “Issues facing Nepal are political in nature and cannot be resolved by force. Causes underlying the current state of confrontation need to be addressed by the government of Nepal credibly and effectively.” This is like pointing a gun to the head and asking Nepal to accede to the Indian backed Madhesi demand. The undeclared blockade by the Indian government has aroused strong feelings in Nepal. Popular anger against India is running high. Cutting across the political spectrum there is outrage against the crude effort of the Modi government to browbeat the Nepal government and the political establishment. Nepal was compelled to approach China and an agreement was arrived at whereby 1000 metric tonnes of petrol are being supplied by China through the land route from Tibet. The foreign minister of Nepal has gone to the United Nations to complain about the Indian inspired blockade. Most of the Saarc countries have expressed concern about the blockade faced by the Nepali people. The Modi government’s attitude to Nepal does not stem from any ham handed approach. It is an outcome of the Modi government’s projection of India as a big power in the region and national chauvinism. The RSS-BJP combine was affronted by the decision of the Nepal Constituent Assembly to declare Nepal as a secular republic. Narendra Modi and the BJP were also willing to harm relations with Nepal for the sake of winning support of the Madhesis who have a substantial transborder presence in the neighbouring areas of Bihar, keeping in mind the assembly elections there. It seems that the Modi government’s foreign policy in South Asia is being shaped by the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, who primarily wants India to be a national security state. This policy has already resulted in worsening relations with Pakistan and now Nepal which is the closest to India in terms of cultural and civilisational ties, has been forced to go to international forums to demand protection and justice from Indian depredations. The damage done to India’s image is substantial. The Modi government should stop this bullying policy. It should immediately take steps to clear the obstructions in the border crossings in consultation with the Nepali government. The problems of Madhesis and janjatis should be amicably resolved by the political process within Nepal and the Indian government must exercise its influence with the Madhesi groups to see that the negotiations are resumed for this purpose. (November 4, 2015)