Kathmandu: Just a year ago when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed 10 agreements with Nepal and launched a bus service between the two countries, his popularity soared and soared. It is a different story now.
The reason is not hard to comprehend after talking to locals facing the brunt of blockages at the country’s entry points along India’s border that has caused widespread shortages in the landlocked nation.
“It’s a self-managed economic blockade by our long-time friend India,” said Deepak Shah, a shopkeeper in Kathmandu.
Shah said that New Delhi was retaliating against the Nepalese government since it approved a new constitution not to India’s liking.
“The Modi government sees the new constitution as discriminatory to one ethnic Indian community, Madhesis, who are settled along our borders (with India),” he said.
Shah’s sentiments were echoed by 35-year-old housewife Bimla Baidhya.
“The BJP-led Indian government is wooing Madhesis in Bihar where elections are due,” she said. Bihar along with Uttar Pradesh shares a long border with Nepal.
Many Nepalese say they are skipping one or two meals a day owing to a huge shortage of cooking gas in Kathmandu.
Cab driver Pradip Sapkota said China was the new friend of Nepal.
“We will get all our fuel and ration from China now. Even when the earthquake hit this country (in April), China proved to be a more trusted friend than India,” he added.
Picking holes in Modi’s address in Japan, college going Bikash Shrestha said his speeches in Nepal and Japan showed his diplomatic colours.
“When he was in Kathmandu (in August 2014), he said Lord Buddha was born in Nepal. But a month later when he visited Japan he said ‘India is a land of Buddha’. We don’t take it as a slip of tongue,” she said.
Shortly after assuming office in 2014, Modi made a high-fanfare visit to Kathmandu — the first by an Indian prime minister in 17 years.
The Madhesi parties from the Terai region bordering India have been protesting at Nepal’s entry points to build pressure on the government to meet their demands to amend the new constitution.
Nepalese officials say 70 percent of their trade comprises mainly essential goods such as fuel and cooking gas and comes from India.
There is another side to the crisis in Nepal.
People here have formed car pools to overcome the fuel shortage resulting from the blockades along India’s border with Nepal.
Long queues in front of petrol pumps, shortage of essential commodities resulting in price rise, lack of public transportation and cramped buses are common sights across Nepal since the new constitution came into being on September 20.
To overcome the problems, the government has rationed fuel — 10 litres a week for cars and three litres for a motorbike.
For some, the fuel shortage is a positive thing.
“Now there is not too much vehicular congestion on the streets of Kathmandu. A majority of people walk. This improves their health and also checks pollution,” octogenarian Dalip Rana said.
On Sunday, Nepal got some relief as over 100 trucks, stranded on the Indian border for over 10 days with essential and petroleum goods, entered the country.
(Vishal Gulati, IANS)