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Crack in the wall

India must seize the opportunity to arrest the downward spiral in the relationship with Nepal.

Published: December 7, 2015 12:09 am
Nepalese students holding placards take part in a protest to show solidarity against the border blockade in Kathmandu, Nepal November 27, 2015. The middle hills and the capital Kathmandu have suffered fuel and cooking gas shortages after protesters in the south switched to blocking supplies from India, Nepal's largest trading partner, almost two months ago. Many in Nepal accuse India of supporting the protesters - a charge New Delhi denies. India has expressed its dissatisfaction with parts of the constitution, although it also says it cannot allow trucks to enter Nepal while conditions are unsafe. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar Nepalese students holding placards take part in a protest to show solidarity against the border blockade in Kathmandu, Nepal November 27, 2015. (Source: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar)

Nepal’s top political leadership has agreed to amend Nepal’s controversial, new constitution “within three months” to address the demands of the agitating Madhesi population in southern Nepal, but an important meeting on Saturday among the concerned parties failed to end the deadlock. It is to be seen now if any progress occurs once the Madhesi leaders — in Delhi to meet senior Indian leaders, including the prime minister — return to Kathmandu. Last week, the talks between Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj — which, according to Thapa, helped clear existing “misunderstandings” — appeared to be the most positive development in India-Nepal ties in a long time. The bilateral relationship hit its nadir against the backdrop of the ongoing blockade of Nepal’s southern borders. While Kathmandu has accused New Delhi of sanctioning and continuing the blockade, which began soon after the promulgation of the constitution in late September, the Union government has cited the violent unrest in Nepal’s southern plains by those aggrieved at the allegedly exclusionist constitution. The suspension of essential supplies has caused a humanitarian crisis in Nepal.

The downward spiral in bilateral ties is a lose-lose for the two subcontinental neighbours bound together by civilisational, political, economic and demographic ties, symbolised by their hitherto open border. Despite the renewed warmth in the relationship, which began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s August 2014 visit and culminated in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, Delhi’s apprehensions about Nepal resurfaced with the promulgation of the constitution, seen widely as discriminatory against the Madhesis, Tharus and Janajatis.

Whether known India-baiter K.P. Sharma Oli’s assumption of office as PM in October worried Delhi further or not, India took the unprecedented step of reporting Nepal to the UNHRC. Nepal hit back by cosying up to China and opening border trading points with its northern neighbour.

While Nepal’s leadership has wasted no time in exploiting the situation for political mileage at home and abroad,

Delhi’s handling of the affair has been far from diplomatic and effective. The hardening of its stance hasn’t led to Kathmandu addressing the alleged problems of its constitution so far. But it did paint Delhi into a corner. If India is to fill the symbolism of the PM’s “neighbourhood first” foreign policy with substance, it will need political leadership and direction from the top. It can’t leave ties with Nepal hostage to the bureaucracy’s penchant for knee-jerk reactions and sticking to outdated scripts.

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  1. Armugam
    Dec 7, 2015 at 7:41 am
    For how long can India deny calling it a blockade? The items are not being supplied for FREE, they all are being paid for by Nepal. India under Modi has become a bigger bully, and this does not bode well.
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      Harry
      Dec 6, 2015 at 8:55 pm
      Northern border of Nepal are full of China-Tibetan origin original and immigrants, but they are not demanding separate state and China has no interest for this as India is supporting Madhesi Indian Origin for separate state.
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        Raj
        Dec 7, 2015 at 7:21 pm
        For how long can Nepali pahadis refuse to address the MAdhesi issue ? And how long can they blame India for a blockade done by Madhesis when there are hundreds of trucks crossing the border into Nepal everyday! Nepal was always a bananna republic but with their new apartheid consution and ridiculous government and daily anti-Indian behavior I wonder what right they have to ask India to do ANYTHING for them - let alone open the border with Nepal . Just because you PAY for something doesn't mean Indian has to SELL it to you or allow itself to be some godown and highway for Nepal's convenience.
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          Raj
          Dec 7, 2015 at 7:25 pm
          Who cares what China is doing or what Chinese origin people are doing in Nepal ? NOBODY does in India. What Madhesis are doing is what India is worried about because they are the ones who live across India's borders. And Madhesis make up nearly 30% of Nepal's potion - not a few isolated villages that dont even have roads like Chinese origin people . If Nepal's leaders are so useless and Nepali people so dumb that they cant even take care or accept the wishes of 30% of the Nepali potion then it is easy to see why Nepal is such a mess.
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            Firangi
            Dec 7, 2015 at 12:03 pm
            Modi has the policy right this time. It is up to Nepal to mend the relation with india and not the other way around. If they chose to continue the anti-India rhetoric and cozying up to the big dragon, may God with them.
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