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Border blockade gnaws Nepal

Border blockade gnaws Nepal
After a brief stopover in the temple town Janakpur, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Friday evening, reached Kathmandu on a two-day state visit. In Janakpur, he offered special prayers at Janaki temple and attended a public felicitation programme organised in his honour. He, along with Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, also flagged off a direct bus service between Janakpur and Ayodhya. Janakpur is considered as the birthplace of goddess Sita and has been included in the Ramayana Circuit which is aimed at promoting religious tourist destinations associated with lord Rama and Sita. Modi also announced a grant of Rs 100 crore to develop the city of Janakpur. Apart from Janakpur, Modi is scheduled to pay a visit to the Muktinath temple in Mustang. Prior to his Nepal sojourn, Modi announced that his visit is in line with India's Neighbourhood First policy. Recently, Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was in New Delhi on his first visit overseas since he became Prime Minister of the Himalayan nation. The two leaders held extensive talks on bilateral issues and signed a number of agreements. One of the important deals that the two leaders signed related to the development of a rail network between Raxaul and Kathmandu. At the moment, there is a brief rail link that runs between Jainagar in India and Janakpur in Nepal. Because of its difficult topography, Nepal desperately needs more roads and a modern transport infrastructure. But the country lacks both the expertise and the funds to develop such infrastructure. It looks to India for support.
The relations between the two countries have not been normal since India imposed an unofficial border blockade in 2015. At that time, Nepal was going through the process to demarcate its provinces and the country was anticipating the promulgation of a new Constitution. After a decade of Maoist-led insurgency, the country had just ushered in a period of peace and amity, marked by unstable governments. A new Constitution was in the making and the provinces were being demarcated. Some ethnic groups and people in the terai region were in agitation mode fearing that in the new scheme of things, they will be politically and socially marginalised. There were violent protests and scores of people were killed in police firing. Cargo trucks were burnt down and the supplies of essential commodities came to a grinding halt as the truck drivers feared for their life. Though India did not announce an official blockade of supplies, thousands of trucks remained stranded at various entry points. They refused to venture into the country as they feared they can come under fire from the violent mobs. This continued for nearly six months and the condition inside the landlocked Himalayan nation turned from bad to worse. The country faced an acute shortage of essential commodities. The supply of petroleum products dropped and even hospitals and embassies had to make do with a curtailed supply of the fuel. The suffering masses blamed India and Modi for their plight. The current Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, who was Nepal's Prime Minister at that time also, signed a number of MoUs with China to ensure that the country does not face the situation again. But since there were no Chinese roads leading up to Nepal, the supplies did not come to the country even after signing the MoUs. The border blockade and the problems faced by the average Nepali left a deep scar on the relations between the two countries. Modi became extremely unpopular in Nepal.
Three years since the border blockade, when Modi is once again in Kathmandu. The two governments have a progressive agenda before them to follow. There are talks of enhancing connectivity and investment. But some sections of the political class in Kathmandu has still not overcome the haunting memories of the 2015 border blockade. They are not opposing the Modi's visit to the country, but they want the Nepali government to be cautious and keep the blockade issue in the background while negotiating deals with the Indian Prime Minister. An oil pipeline has already been inaugurated, which will carry petroleum products from India to Neal. Agreements have already been signed for a rail link up to Kathmandu. There are talks of upgrading the inland waterways, enhancing connectivity between the two neighbours. The problems that Nepal faced during the unofficial border blockade were due to the fact that most of the supplies came through road transport, which was vulnerable in the face of a nationwide agitation in Nepal. The country now wants a multi-level connectivity with India so that a 2015-like border blockade does not cripple the country once more.

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