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Madhesi crisis: India needs to buckle up to maintain significance in Nepal


New Delhi: Nepal, a country landlocked between the two Asian giants – India and China- is forced into an economic blockage due to the internal anguish of its multi-ethnic populace. The foundation of a new constitution unveiled on September 20, 2015, led to violence and riot-like situations in several parts of Nepal by the Madhesi community who felt left out in the new Constitution.

Madhesis living in Terai region of Nepal are purportedly finding themselves being sidelined in the newly formed Nepalese Constitution. To show their resentment against it, they imposed an economic blockade across the Indo-Nepal border. This led to an obstruction of transportation on either side of the trade route, that is still continuing. There are trucks lined up on both sides of the border, which has resulted in shortages of food and fuel in the Himalayan nation.

The Madhesi community consists of migrants from India. This demographic advantage resulted in an age-old partnership and informal trade between the countries. The Madhesi people had high expectations from the new constitution, but the government didn’t show much interest in implementing their concerns.

The Nepal government is accused by the Madhesis for constituting exclusionary policies. The constitution ignored the demands of making the whole Terai region a province as over 40% of the people there have been denied citizenship. Only eight districts have been given the status of province whereas the remaining 14 districts are to be joined into the hilly province.

This Madhesi crisis has led to blockading of trucks across the border hindering the supply of food, medicines and oil. The Terai region, as a result, is in dire straits to sustains their routine lives.

This disadvantageous situation has led Nepal to discontinue its four-decade long dependency on India for fuel. Nepal has currently signed a Memorandum of Understanding for oil trade agreement with China on October 28.

India is being perceived to not to be concerned on this issue, as the Nepalese perceive a lack of alternative solutions from this side. The press statement by the MEA to restrain transference for safety and security reasons is being observed as an indirect fortitude to enforce a blockade on Nepal. They have also accused India of being cold in their response to Nepal’s appeal to re-route the movement of tankers (10 tankers per day as against over 1,000 earlier).

The terrain from China to Nepal traverses Himalayan passes which draw a difficulty in the long-term arrangement logistically. But with China it is clear that they would try to strengthen their relationship with Nepal to break India’s huge influence in the state’s affairs.

As a result, despite its rocky topography, China succeeded to make some deliveries. Since China is putting in excessive efforts which are missing from the Indian side, it can possibly lead to better relations between the countries in the energy sector.

India needs to put its international as well as national strategies in place. In context to Nepal, national strategy is equally important due to its old cross-border migration and social interrelations.

If the state wants to maintain its significance in Nepal’s socio-political affairs such issues ought to be given prime importance as China’s better relation with Indian neighbours can put the nation’s Southeast Asia prominence in jeopardy.

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Misunderstandings with India cleared, says Nepal PM Oli


By Deepak Goel

New Delhi: Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, on returning home, has chosen to describe his six-day state visit to India as “very successful”, contending that it helped to clear misunderstandings between the two neighbors and restore harmonious relations.

The assertion comes after Kathmandu during the past six months had accused New Delhi of intervening in its sovereign constitution-drafting process; of imposing a blockade which caused a humanitarian crisis in the landlocked Himalayan nation; and of stoking and supporting the Madhesi agitation in the southern Terai plains.

New Delhi, in turn, accused Kathmandu of not addressing the internal political conflict in the Nepali Terai, which has cross-border security implications. India also raised, on international platforms, the issue of Nepal’s human rights violations.

It also accused Nepal of stoking ‘anti-India’ sentiment and has been irritated, though not particularly worried, about Nepal’s attempt to use the ‘China card’.

However, the two neighbors, for now, appear to have chosen to forget the mutual recriminations and get down to the task of much desired economic progress.

During Oli’s state visit, the two sides signed nine agreements, ranging from infrastructure to rail and road transit. They agreed on post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal, strengthening of road infrastructure in the Terai area of the Himalayan nation, transit routes, rail transport, and the 400 KV Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar transmission line.

Oli’s visit also took him to Bhuj, in Gujarat, which has risen like the Phoenix after the destruction wreaked by the January 26, 2001, earthquake. Oli described the Bhuj visit as significant, as he thought the reconstruction activities there after the 2001 temblor could be tremendously useful for Nepal’s own reconstruction.

Oli, on return to Kathmandu at the end of his February 19-24 visit, said his main mission was to “clear the misunderstanding” with India and take ties between the two neighbors to the same level as in 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nepal.

After the bilateral talks with Modi in New Delhi, Oli said: “The misunderstanding that persisted in the last few months is no longer there. I believe our relationship will greatly benefit from our discussions. It is high time to look at India-Nepal relations with a forward-looking approach in the interest of the two countries and their people.”

However, while Oli described Nepal’s Constitution — promulgated on September 20 last year — as “historic”, Modi called it a “major achievement” and stressed that its success depends on “consensus and dialogue”.

With the Nepal PM listening, he said: “The announcement of the new constitution in Nepal came after decades of struggle there… I appreciate the contribution of the political leadership and the people of Nepal for it… But its success depends on consensus and dialogue.”

“I am confident on the basis of these principles and through political dialogue and by taking all sections together, you (Oli) will be able to resolve all issues relating to the constitution satisfactorily and take Nepal forward towards the path of development and stability.”

Modi’s assertion amply demonstrated that India did not fully endorse the new constitution as it needed a wider ownership and inclusion.

The conversation took place only a month after Nepal’s parliament passed two constitutional amendments which avowedly sought to address the grievances of the Madhesis and other minorities of the Nepali Terai.

While the two leaders described the document differently — showing the distance in the understanding of issues, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said the Nepali PM has given assurances on issues pertaining to constituency delimitation and citizenship, and that India was confident these would be followed through.

A significant feature of Oli’s state visit was the absence of a joint communique at the end of the visit. The development marked a departure as the tradition of issuing joint communiques at the end of the visits of Nepali heads of state or government to India has usually been followed — at least since 1990.

Officials privy to the visit said preparations were afoot in New Delhi earlier on the joint communique and senior officials from both the sides were engaged in finalizing its wording. But at the last moment, no joint statement was issued after India refused to say categorically that it welcomed Nepal’s new constitution.

On the other hand, Nepal wanted to get the phrase ‘India welcomes the new constitution in Nepal’ incorporated in the joint communique, a Nepali official said in Kathmandu.

Oli is learnt to have assured that the pending issues regarding the demands of the Medhesis would be addressed in a time-bound manner. Modi told Oli that India has always wanted peace, stability and prosperity of Nepal and that it would extend all possible help to ensure its all-round development.

What emerges from the Oli visit is that Nepal is more interested in appeasing India rather than reaching out to its own people in the Terai. This may have partially satisfied India’s desire to reassert its centrality in Nepal but it does not solve the problem of Madhesi and Tharu alienation. (IANS)