Why China’s growing footprint in Nepal is a concern for India

As the Kathmandu elite, then led by UML prime minister K P Oli, cosied up to the Chinese during the blockade, India watched uncomfortably.

Written by Jyoti Malhotra | Updated: June 16, 2017 9:39 am
Sher Bahadur Deuba Newly elected Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba smiles as he arrives for his swearing-in ceremony at the presidential building in Kathmandu, Nepal June 7, 2017. Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

Sher Bahadur Deuba has been elected Prime Minister of Nepal at an especially fragile time in the life of the 11-year-old Himalayan republic. Two years after the majority Madhesi population in the Terai blocked several trading points along the southern border with India, there remains deep-seated resentment in large parts of Nepal against the Kathmandu elite.

Deuba inherits a divided Nepal, divided between the Madhesis and the upper caste Bahun-Chettris of Kathmandu Valley, with whom New Delhi has been doing business since it bailed out King Tribhuvan in 1950.

But what is interesting in todays Nepal is that India, which had supported the 2006 jan andolan against the monarchy which forced King Gyanendra to hand over power to the people; has all but distanced itself from the Madhes agitation and its demands: the right to be represented in Parliament and other state organs on the basis of population, or the one-man-one-vote principle.

Some would say that states must pursue power, and that in Nepal, power has always rested in Kathmandu Valley, not the Terai. And therefore, they would say, India cannot afford to take the high moral ground and continue to interminably support the Madhesis, who constitute 19.3 per cent of Nepal’s 28.5 million population. They would also argue that the Indian support of the rights of the Madhesis, and consequently the 135-day blockade they mounted from October 2015-February 2016 to demand those rights, has run its course and that it’s time to turn the page. (Forty five people were killed in the agitation then, including one Indian national, and all of Nepal, especially the Terai, had suffered hardships as essential supplies grew scarce.) However, among the Madhesis in towns such as Birgunj, Janakpur and Biratnagar there is a feeling that India has abandoned the Madhesi cause.

As the Kathmandu elite, then led by UML prime minister K P Oli, warmed up to the Chinese during the blockade, India watched uncomfortably. Certainly, it is this fear of the Chinese dragon expanding its presence across Nepal including in the Terai plains which neighbour Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and West Bengal that has forced India to postpone the big fight on behalf of the Madhesis.

K P Oli began to openly woo both the Chinese as well as King Gyanendra when he suspected that the Madhesis may actually come into their own with the help of his former benefactor, India. India watched with growing apprehension as Oli and his foreign minister, the pro-royal Kamal Thapa, promised the Chinese in March 2016 that it would allow them to open another consulate in the picturesque hill town of Pokhara. Beijing had already tempted Oli by offering him Nepali consulates in Lhasa and Guangzhou.

In addition, Oli agreed that the People’s Bank of China could open two more branches in the Terai, apart from the one it already had in Lumbini, where the Chinese are helping revamp the birthplace of the Buddha. The Chinese Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group is building the Gautam Buddha international airport in nearby Bhairahawa.

Then Deuba’s predecessor, Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda — who knows India well since 2005 when he lived underground in the neighbourhoods of Delhi and Noida to escape the wrath of King Gyanendra did something interesting. He put the Chinese bank projects on hold.

India, which had ironically played a key role in Prachanda’s dismissal in 2008-9 and helped Oli become prime minister, once again came out in support of the Maoist leader. It is no secret that Delhi, upset with Oli’s ‘betrayal’ of Madhesi aspirations as well as his solicitations of the Chinese, persuaded its old ally, the Nepali Congress, as well as Madhesi parties to unseat Oli; soon it had brokered a rotating prime ministership between Prachanda and Deuba.
Deuba’s ascension to the prime minister’s chair last week, for the fourth time in his political life, is part of this Delhi-brokered agreement. But sometime midway during Prachanda’s tenure, Delhi lost its nerve on the Madhes issue, fearful that the Chinese were expanding its presence in India’s traditional sphere of influence.

The Chinese were pouring money into Nepal, announcing projects everywhere, including in the Terai. Prachanda’s deputy prime minister, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, flew to Beijing to sign on the Belt and Road Initiative. For the first time, Nepal agreed that its defence forces would participate in exercises with the Chinese.

Meanwhile, after the Madhesi andolan ended on an indistinct note in February 2016, several Madhesi leaders went their own ways. Bijay Gacchedar and Upendra Yadav floated their own parties and fell in line with Kathmandu. Others, like Rajendra Mahato and Mahant Thakur, were persuaded by Delhi to form a coalition, the Rashtriya Janata Party of Nepal, along with the smaller Madhesi parties.

Delhi now hopes that Deuba, an able Nepali Congress leader, will amend the Constitution on the provincial boundary question as the Madhesis have long demanded; after all, the RJPN and others supported Deuba’s election on June 6.


For all the latest Explained News, download Indian Express App

  1. P
    Jun 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm
    Every socially aware Nepali is asking who manufactured these Maoist against peaceful,small himalayan, hindu kingdom and for what purpose. Author is right they sheltered at Noida (although it was during Italian Sonia regime). It was double standard of then establishment. Intention was to fragment the country. With eyes on water resources and possibility of making another Sikkim. EU and US had their own interest of spreading christanity for funding Maoist insuregency. Saw and reap is natural law and applies in politics also. So concern about instability in Nepal is natural for India. Because they are unique neighbours, ties with people to people. Authors remarks about discrimination on the basis of skin colour is a show of her immaturity on subject. Deuba is only another puppet who who has happily accepted maoists radical agenda.
    1. N
      Jun 17, 2017 at 6:24 am
      You people have audacity to lecture regarding how we should elect our leaders. You have problems all over your country- from Kashmir to Jharkhand, Manipur to Nagaland, from Punjab to Gujarat and so on. If Nepal adopts the system of electing representatives based on population, most of the hilly and mountain regions will be devoid of any leader to lead them. Now tell me, how this is justice. Madhesis have intention to create a poor Bihar-like country carved out of Nepal but they don't know how hilly people have been bearing their nonsense. If patience runs out, most of the fake Madhesis (read as recent Bihari migrants) will be chased all the way to the Indian ocean. Enough said! Peace!!!
      1. B
        Bert Brech
        Jun 17, 2017 at 6:12 am
        China will soon start arming Islamist violence in India, where there are over 170 million Muslims.
        1. K
          Jun 18, 2017 at 7:03 pm
          Dont worry India has already trained our brother's Tibetians, if it comrs to that. This time be assured china will remember for generations to come. Jai Hind.
        2. B
          Jun 16, 2017 at 9:06 pm
          This article is clearly favoring India and demonizing Nepal and China.
          1. B
            Bihari Krishna
            Jun 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm
            India's long-running penchant for double dealing is quite well known to Nepal's Madhesi people. In 2015 the handful of first generation Indian immigrant, self-declared Bharatbadi Madhesi politicians with little or no support locally, had, by their own public admission, sat at the Raxaul border only after two days of the onset of the Indian blockade and only at the persistent behest of their Indian handlers who provided sumptuous meals three times a day in Raxaul bazaar. The episode again showed the invincibility of the Babus in Delhi who had the temerity to show that even PM Modi did not count in Indian decision-making, because just a few months earlier the Indian PM had ingratiated himself with Nepal's parliamentarians and people by his assurances that India had no business interfering in sovereign Nepal. That being the reality in the "biggest democracy", Jyoti Malhotra clearly had no option but to stick to South Block 's lies, and for the poor Indian Express to dutifully carry them.
            1. M
              Jun 16, 2017 at 11:24 pm
              Well said ... add that many of these "Madeshis" are often of recent bihari extraction , that is newcomers ... some of their leaders have even Indian IDs. Original populaton, of Nepal Terai are Tharus, and Maithili people, plus various small adivasi groups ... not Yadavs. The goal seems to be derailing elections in Nepal, divide Nepal on ethnic lines ... disaster ahead, made by babudom Contrary to some received ideas in India, the maoists insurgency was also a made in India thing, not from China
            2. D
              Dirgha Raj
              Jun 16, 2017 at 7:33 pm
              This article-'Why China’s growing footprint in Nepal is a concern for India' by Jyoti Malhotra. But the it is itself controversial because the Chinese intention is not bad on Nepal, but the oOne road belt is very dangerous for Nepal including India. The present PM Sher Bahadur Deupa is one of the culprit and dubious leader of Nepali Congress. He has joined his hands with the terrorist Maoist for the sake his personal benefits. Yes! One road-One belt is not only the concern of India, it is very concern to Nepal because, in this situation, if One road one belt will be forwarded will be very dangerous not only Nepal for India also. Yes! If monarchy and Hindu kingdom will be in existence in Nepal, One road one belt will be the gift because that agenda can never harm to Nepal and India. But, In such situation in republic and republican system, one road one belt will be dangerous not only Nepal but also India. So, first of all, Nepal's monarchy and Hindu kingdom must be restored in Nepal.
              1. P
                Jun 17, 2017 at 12:30 am
                Can you explain more on how OBOR will be dangerous for Nepal?
                1. K
                  K. K.
                  Jun 17, 2017 at 9:26 am
                  It is dangerous because it will diversify Nepal's dependency, and debts.
                2. S
                  Simon Dan
                  Jun 17, 2017 at 3:49 am
                  Don't quite get you. Can you speak in simple English?
                  1. B
                    Jun 17, 2017 at 4:44 am
                    OROB is a concern for not only India but to the entire world and also to all those aliens in the Milkyway galaxy too. Lord Krishna is coming in Vedic inter galactic space ship soon from Andromeda galaxy to save all arya-pigs. So chill!
                    1. P
                      Proud Kafir
                      Jun 19, 2017 at 11:06 am
                      Muhammad's daughter Fatima had $ex with dogs and other animals.
                  2. M
                    Jun 16, 2017 at 8:38 am
                    Simple. Indic arya brahmin pigs cannot digest a neighboring country developing more than themselves. That is their scoundrel Chanakyan nature. They need to be destro !
                    1. S
                      Jun 17, 2017 at 1:13 am
                      Read history judiciously and grow your knowledge. You look like a complete here.
                      1. P
                        Proud Kafir
                        Jun 19, 2017 at 11:05 am
                        Muhammad's daughter Fatima had $ex with dogs and s.
                      2. E
                        Jun 16, 2017 at 3:25 am
                        Indian Express should stop publishing news about Nepal. STOP. Back of Indian Media. This news is so untrue and so biased, any indian reading this or any other news, if you find news about Nepal, please read the same news from some other non-indian source. These Indian sources are totally untrue, false and incorrect. It may be long standing policy of indian government and indian media. BACK OFF INDIAN MEDIA
                        1. B
                          Bert Brech
                          Jun 17, 2017 at 6:13 am
                          Who are you?
                        2. Load More Comments