The Nepalese government and Madhesi leaders have begun formal and informal consultations to end the stand-off over the Constitution but there is skepticism if that alone will bring back normalcy to the Himalayan country.
The current crisis has two key aspects: first, the blockade of Indian checkpoints resulting in a shortage of essential commodities and fuel which are crippling normal activities, production, tourism and the overall economy. The second is how to enlarge the ownership of the constitution and increase its legitimacy.
India has said Madhesi groups have obstructed the border and the flow of goods and that it does not feel confident to send its truck and goods carriers into Nepal for safety reasons. It also wants the Madhesi demands fulfilled – that is, greater autonomy and at least half the seats in parliament allotted to the region.
However, reopening the issue and revisiting the Constitution is likely to invite other groups — ethnic, linguistic and regional — to press for autonomous provinces. So that is one problem.
How to address India’s concerns and role, especially in the internal politics and the writing of the Constitution, is even trickier. Nepalese politicians and other actors have over the years welcomed or opposed India’s point of view on the basis of whether it suits or does not suit them.
The birth of the new constitution was the outcome of a 12-point agreement mediated by India where it brought in the Maoists and seven pro-democracy parties. In such a situation, India, in its capacity as a mediator, could advise the signatories to the 12-point agreement to review their positions — go to the Nepali people if necessary — and thereby look ‘non-interfering’, leaving the responsibility of managing their own affairs to the Nepalese themselves.