Protracted blockade hampers Nepal
For many, celebrations for the Dashain festival, the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese calendar will be muted this time around. Tens of thousands of Hindu Nepalis are in a pensive state amidst a pervasive economic crisis, thanks to the obstinacy of the majority of lawmakers to grant full freedom to the Madhesis and Tharus, who dwell in the plains. The new Constitution – apparently progressive – denies full citizenship to any Indian married to a Nepali. Such spouses will be barred from higher posts in government jobs. Although the two nationalities account for 50 percent of 27 million population of Nepal, they shall elect 65 representatives to the parliament while Pahadi (Hill) community will choose 100 members to the law-making body. The demand for a Madhesi province too has been shot down. The constituency delimitation is asymptotical towards the Madhesis. Furthermore, the constituency delimitation is asymptotical towards the Madhesis.
The seven party combine including the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) went back on their promise of inclusive and just character in the structure of the Constitution. There is no denying that the federal-provincial demarcation is unfair to the people of the Terai, reflecting a somewhat colonialist attitude towards the Madhesis and Janjati population of the Terai region. As a result, the two nationalities had no other option save the road blockade along the Indian border. The protest has crossed two months. Prices of essential commodities have risen to levels that are inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of Nepalis. Buses, trucks and private automobiles between the Birganj border and <g data-gr-id="53">Simra</g> – a 20 km strip – are stuck. The protesters have converted a “no man’s land” near the Raxaul-Birganj border with India. Sadly, the hill people (mostly Nepalis) and their counterparts in Plains (Madhesis and Tharus) are pitted against each other as the two aggrieved nationalities account for 50 percent of the country’s 27 million population. What we have now is a landlocked Himalayan state, heading towards civil war as nearly 50 people have been killed.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, an anti-India hysteria is triggered by quicksand revolutionaries who never learn the futility of shortsighted politics. Landlocked Nepal is overwhelmingly reliant on imports from India, including much of its food, consumer goods, and 100 percent of its fuel - aviation fuel, petrol, diesel and cooking gas. The role of the NDA government is not above criticism as it overtly denies that there is a blockade, but it is alleged that the Indian Oil refuses to service Nepali tankers.
Small wonder, a few civil society groups have strongly condemned the Indian government’s intervention in Nepal and its unofficial blockage of the border. Among them are two groups: <g data-gr-id="51">SAAPE</g>, a regional-level civil society network of eight countries of South, and People’s SAARC-India. They want a “collective punishment India, raking up the SAARC sentiment (interpreted by them)”. We deplore the Indian government’s arm-twisting tactics and demand that it stop punishing the common people of Nepal and immediately withdraw the blockage”, stated those groups that have pro-China leanings. They are not concerned about the stepmotherly attitude towards the Terai people in Nepal Valley on the Indo-Nepal border.
The new government under Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, belonging to the CPN (UML), has from the very beginning embarked on a populist stance. One of the first decisions of the new PM is the replacement of high-wire crossings over rivers in the country with footbridges. The PM proposes to replace 365 precarious crossings with modern and safer in the remote areas within two years in addition to existing 6,000 suspension trail bridges. Now, these will be at intervals of three-hour walking distance. The existing wire crossings are very risky for women, children and the elderly. The initial monetary allocation is Rs 3.25 billion. The new bridges will be technologically and longevity-wise superior to the existing footbridges. But this again will mainly benefit the hill people.
The Nepal Oil Corporation has approached the ministry of commerce and supply suggesting that diplomatic channels be used to import petroleum products from China. This move follows the NOC’s call for global tender to supply petroleum products to Nepal, which, last Thursday, received the majority of bids proposing to supply petroleum products from China. Needless to state, the NOC hopes to get rid of dependence on India through this move. But that is an absurd idea. The easier path is to give up confrontationist attitude towards the two angry nationalities and strike a compromise by suitable amendments to the new Constitution. But that is wishful thinking.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)