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Nepalese thorn to get worse for India

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New Delhi: Among the chattering diplomatic community of New Delhi, Nepalese Ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay is certainly one of the exceptions. A suave, but no nonsense personality, he is also known for his economy of words.

So when he asks India “not to press Nepal to the wall” as it seeks help from other countries, including China, the strategic threat to New Delhi looks close at hand. India has all along maintained that non-supply of essential commodities to Nepal is entirely due to agitation by the Madhesis and the janajatis (people of tribal origin) on the Nepalese side of the border. Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel however confirm that at least till the third week of September, they had orders from above to intercept fuel shipments to Nepal.

Khadga Prasad Oli, the new Nepalese prime minister, represents the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist – Leninist), which is known for its virulent anti- India approach and, given this changed political scenario, Upadhyay’s threat does not look like an empty boast. Since the time of king Mahendra in the 1960s, Nepal has been using its position as a buffer between India and China but from New Delhi’s perspective, the situation has never been so worrisome as it is now.

This is because China has greatly increased its presence and influence in Nepal in the last decade, mainly through pecuniary help, financing of infrastructural projects and cultural programmes. It is even planning to dig a tunnel beneath Mount Everest for extending the Qinghai-Lhasa railway line to Kathmandu. This project is strategically important for China as it is now aiming to penetrate the economies of various South Asian countries.

For quite some time now, China has been breathing heavily down on India’s neck by its presence in Nepal and Bhutan and its influence on Kathmandu can be gauged from the fact that before the convening of the last Constituent Assembly, leaders of almost all political parties had gone to Beijing for confabulations.

For the present, we may leave aside the Everest tunnel question because its technical feasibility has been questioned even in China. It is undeniable that India is still far ahead of China in matters of investments and building up of projects in Nepal. But it is also true that China is catching up very fast. Beijing will invest $1.6 billion towards constructing a 750 MW hydropower project in West Seti. Another Chinese company is constructing a similar project in the Upper Tamakoshi region. Moreover, China is involved in the modernization of the Araniko highway which connects Kathmandu with the Chinese border near Kodari. Most importantly, Beijing will invest $20 million for upgrading the 17-km-long dirt track between Syaphrubesi and Kyirong (in Tibet). On the Chinese side of the border, Beijing has constructed Highway No.318 which leads to Lhasa and ultimately to Shanghai. This highway is not far off from either Kodari or Kyirong.

The focus of China’s internal and external policy has now shifted from its eastern seaboard to the interior part of the country encompassing Tibet, Quinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Kunming and Xinjiang. Of them, Tibet occupies the central position due to its huge mineral and water resources. As Nepal has a long border with Tibet and more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees, China will never allow its growing hold on Nepal to slacken.

For this China is invading Nepal culturally too. Reversing an earlier trend, Nepalese students, particularly from the elite families are now going to China, instead of India, for higher studies. To facilitate the process, numerous China Study Centres have come up in Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu and in the Terai region bordering India.

But the agitating Madhesis and the janajatis also have reasons of their own. Their anger stems from the fact that 14 districts inhabited by them have been integrated with regions dominated by the hill people. It is a fact that the Madhesis constitute more than one-third of the country’s population. More than 70 percent of Nepal’s agricultural produce comes from their areas, which contribute 65 percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product and 76 percent of the country’s revenue – but they constitute only 9.9 percent of the gazetted-level government employees.

Prolonged unrest in the Terai region, with its long borders with India’s Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states, may help China to a great extent. Already armed fissiparous groups like the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MFJ), the Terai Cobra, the Nepal Defense Army and the like are operating in this area. China is known to be backing one faction of the MFJ. All of these groups have close ethnic identities with the people of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. If the situation goes out of control in the Terai belt, then China might also try to foment trouble on the Indian side of the border.

The going for India certainly seems to be rough.

(By Amitava Mukherjee, IANS)

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India, Nepal Review New Developments in Ties

There were also perceptions that Oli was leaning more towards China than India

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Sushma Swaraj, External affairs minister of India. Wikimedia

Recent developments in India-Nepal ties across various sectors came up for discussion during a meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali on Thursday.

“The two ministers reviewed recent developments in bilateral ties across diverse sectors, including progress achieved on the three transformative initiatives launched in 2018 in the areas of agriculture, railways and inland waterways as well as pace of implementation of ongoing bilateral development and connectivity projects,”the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

“They expressed satisfaction at the significant progress made in different sectors of cooperation as a result of intensified bilateral exchanges at all levels in recent months,” it said.

According to the statement, the two leaders reiterated their commitment to maintain the new momentum and to further strengthen the traditionally close and friendly ties between the two countries.

India Pak relations
India, Nepal review new developments in ties.

India reset its ties with Nepal last year through a visit by Prime Minister Modi, his first after K.P. Sharma Oli became the Prime Minister.

During the visit, both sides agreed to boost trade and economic links, connectivity via air, land and water, people-to-people ties, with Modi declaring that India will work like a sherpa in the Himalayan nation’s development endeavours.

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This happened after there was a chill in India-Nepal ties during Oli’s earlier stint between October 2015 and August 2016 when a border blockade blamed on New Delhi crippled Nepal’s economy.

There were also perceptions that Oli was leaning more towards China than India. (IANS)