Unofficial blockade or black marketing hub?
The Madhesi issue simply refuses to die down and is causing a temporary estranged relationship between two time tested friends with deep cultural and religious ties - India and Nepal. The Madhesi have blocked the border, thus not allowing any connectivity between Nepal and India by land. The protests centre on the freshly promulgated Constitution of Nepal which the Madhesi feel is discriminatory. The agitation is now four months old and the unofficial blockade now in its twelfth week. The Government of Nepal upholds that India is supporting the blockage, while India says that the awry law and order situation does not permit plying of transport and the Madhesi are blocking the border. Simply put if an issue cannot be resolved early enough, human nature ensures other means are deployed.
There is a question of demand and supply. The common perception that the Nepali political class has built in Kathmandu is that India is responsible for the blockade. With a gas cylinder costing NC Rs 1000 and petrol available at NC Rs 400 a liter, the common man believes the same. Each time the common man pays a disproportionally higher price and his kith and kin are forced to cook on wood, he believes the Nepali politician. This anti India feeling is being exploited by the Maoist who are pro China and pro communist party of Nepal, their new found friends. What the Nepali political class does not tell the common man that they are least interested in solving the issue.
The Madhesi issue hits at the federal structure, discrimination and representation in the Parliament which the Brahmin-Chetri elite combine in the hill dominated politics of Nepal refuse to give up. The blockade has come as another silver lining to them. There is a huge thriving black market, and in such cases those in power always benefit. This is very lucrative as the distance between the border outposts and Kathmandu is just 118 Km which is easily manageable for the black market. This is an unexpected windfall and is not going to be easy to give up. All concerned are lining their pockets and also their constituencies, as the political class will only act once its voting base is threatened. In this case there is no urgency as India bashing is common. This is also a key result area for the Maoist, whose then PM visited China first and India later to send a political message. Thus, they gain both ways, with new found cash and votes. The problem is for how long and at what cost?
Nepal is trying to play the China card on India. For the Chinese this is a logistical nightmare, yet they exploit this situation because of New Delhi mishandling of the situation. The track record of China in Tibet is not very good either. The Han Chinese have completely overtaken the local Tibetan by sheer numbers and Nepal should be aware. China is also building one road one belt, but all these roads lead to China alone. There is also the question of 20,000 Tibetans refugees in Nepal of whom the Chinese are very suspicious.
The fact of the matter is that international perception with every passing day is growing stronger. They believe that there is an unofficial blockade is created by New Delhi. There are more than two affected transit points; commodities can be rerouted through these ten other transit points. Some such solution should have been worked out in the past four months. In case Indian trucks cannot ply, goods can be bulk broken at transit points loaded in Nepal’s truck, and let them manage thereafter. This will send a strong message that India is not blocking and how goods are transported in Nepal territory is Nepal governments’ headache. The onus will shift on Nepal. New Delhi needs to find ways and means to change the common perception. This certainly is one of India’s worst foreign policy decisions. The reason is simple with one bad decision China improves its foot hold in Nepal, which is best avoided.
For the Madhesi, it is going to be long haul. Just a couple of days ago the talks between the Madhesi parties and the Kathmandu-centric political parties broke down. The Madhesi need to carry the issues through. They have a cause and it requires a solution. There has been a historical distrust in Kathmandu regarding the people of this region, because they have historical links with India. Nationalism is not restricted to the region alone and the Kathmandu centric political class needs to trust these people.
There are a few issues that need to be highlighted, India will never permit law and order problems on its boundary with Nepal as it has security implications. As far as Nepal is concerned this issue has grave trouble for Nepal, it could turn violent and that will sap Nepal’s energy for development. It could also turn communal, in which case it will be that much more difficult to resolve. The last option is that it turns secessionist. This will become a nightmare for both the countries and will gravely affect the historical precedence of open borders. The time to act is now. How Nepal solves the crisis is their business. Meanwhile the Nepalese social media continues to target soldiers of the Gorkha Regiment in India which is a cause of concern.
(The writer is a retired Brigadier. Views expressed are strictly personal)