Nepal: Worrying signs for Indian leadership
A couple of recent events do not bode well for the well-established relations between Nepal and India and call for immediate attention. As Nepal promulgated its Constitution, India had grave reservations that were announced in seven points that required rectification. This was followed by supplies not reaching Kathmandu. Allegations flew thick and fast from Nepal’s side and till date the law and order situation there is not stable for trucks to ply on a regular basis. The death of an Indian national in a shoot-out by security forces bears testimony to India’s fear of law and order problems spilling into Indian Territory. As supplies remain choked off, New Delhi just can’t wash its hands off. A vigorous policy would have resumed supplies. The way the situation is being allowed to linger on, hurting the common man in Nepal, the truth is a bitter casualty.
A litre of petrol is reportedly selling between Rs (Nepalese) 400-500 while an LPG cylinder is costing anything beyond Rs 3000. The fact of the matter is that these shortages are coming after a devastating earthquake which made shortages endemic. Feeling a threat to its energy security, Nepal has signed a pact with energy-starved China for oil. China has agreed to supply a thousand metric tons, but, can China sustain this supply, is the key question. The fact remains that Kathmandu has played the China card, and this single act in the new, charged atmosphere allows China greater leverage in Nepal.
In the leadership battle, a democratic party - the Nepali Congress, which is the single largest party, has been sidelined while the two communist parties have joined hands to bag Nepal’s four top Constitutional posts. The PM of Nepal K.P.Sharma Oli belongs to Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) while again Bidya Devi Bhandari of CPN (UML) is the first lady President. The Vice President is Nanda Bahadur Pun of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and again the speaker is from the Maoist party Onsari Gharti Magar while her deputy is Ganga Prasad Yadav from a party who believe in the revival of the monarchy RRP-N. Thus, the President and PM are from CPN (UML), while the VP and speaker are from the Maoist party. In their last avatar, the Maoist, led by Prachanda, were thoroughly leaning towards China.
New Delhi had to protest as the Constitution was not broad-based. The unrest in Nepal’s southern borders would create law and order problems here in India with the Madhesi people inhabiting a porous border region. What was not anticipated was the violent reaction of blocking the border and causing such an upheaval in Nepal, especially during the annual festive season. The reality is that the two nations have a tough situation on their hands. India does not stand to gain by blocking Nepal as it allows China to make huge inroads. As far as the people of Nepal are concerned, the shortage has come during festive times and the memory of it will be very long and lasting. Is it about timing, or is it out of old mindsets, or did Nepal just go out of the India’s radar? Whatever it may be, the timing could not have been wronger, and a stitch in time saves nine.
New Delhi will have to operate with whoever is in power. But the trend is anti-India whenever the Maoists have been in power, and the current climate in India has ensured that the feeling persists. Events in India’s periphery show that foreign policy requires greater zest. The Pakistan policy is at a stalemate and India stands sidelined at Maldives. As Myanmar prepares for polls, India seems more intent on watching again from the sidelines. The Bihar polls and the polarization debate have taken the foreign policy off the political radar, the consequences of which are far reaching, especially for Nepal.
Is this a repeat of the blockade of the previous time history will tell? But the truth of the matter is that the common man in Nepal is hurt, the very same common man for whom the Indian PM went out of his way twice in his first year of office. A vigorous situation needs a political situation. The wider ramifications of geostrategic thought need to be taken into consideration. The two nations have cultural, religious, and deep historical ties. The Chinese can never replace that, but why to allow for such a situation to develop. A very porous border can ensure a lasting friendship. A few Madheshi cannot hijack Nepal-India friendship. It is not in national interests to be seen as breaching an international treaty, the 1950 peace, and friendship treaty which will be re- discussed as per the new Constitution of Nepal. In the meantime, Nepalese civil society, through social media, is chiding Gorkha soldiers, which is an avoidable situation.
India must still ensure that China remains in check, and in the current impasse the way the situation is, the bottom line is that India must ensure a solution. There has to be magnanimity and it has to come from the big brother. India must ensure that by diplomacy the Madhesi people get their due, as do the Tharus, and also the common man with his oil and LPG. Diplomacy means ensuring all get their due in a manner the Indian state wishes in its supreme national interests, and not be seen as just big brother India.
(The author is a retired Brigadier. Views expressed are strictly personal)