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In Dependence

Friday, November 13th, 2015

This is not an Indian blockade, it is an Indian siege

India-Nepal relations by Subhas Rai

Cartoon by Subhas Rai

Nepalis are proud to proclaim that we are South Asia’s oldest nation state, and that we were never colonised. We fought off the East India Company, but when the British laid a siege to Kathmandu Valley in 1816 we sued for peace. The Sugauli Treaty amputated half of Nepal’s territory so the rest could remain independent.

Sovereignty is a relative concept. Independence is seldom an absolute, and is even less so in an interdependent, globalised economy. Small countries throughout history have devised pragmatic ways to accommodate belligerent larger neighbours. Throughout the Cold War, Finland came up with a clever plan to coexist with the Soviet Union, winning its trust and profiting vastly from being the conduit for most of Moscow‚Äôs trade with the west.¬† That symbiotic relationship across the Iron Curtain came to be known somewhat derogatorily as ‚ÄėFinlandisation‚Äô, but it allowed Helsinki the elbowroom to exercise national sovereignty despite the Russian Bear breathing down its neck.

Other countries in Eastern Europe like Hungary and Czechoslovakia strained at the leash, and paid a heavy price for standing up to Moscow: they suffered full-scale military invasions. Even after the Soviet Union broke up into little pieces Putin’s Russia is still using the iron fist approach in Georgia and Ukraine. The United States, too, has intervened covertly and overtly all over the Americas (and the world) to stop left-leaning governments from coming to power.

Closer to home, smaller countries on India’s periphery are all pulled by its gravity to varying degrees. Even leaving aside Pakistan, New Delhi’s relations with its neighbours have been characterised by chronic friction. Being too strategic for its own good, Sikkim got swallowed up in 1975. India midwifed the birth of Bangladesh, but bilateral relations have always been rocky. Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist war became an extension of Tamil Nadu state politics, sucked India into a military quagmire, and lead to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber in 1991. Bhutan’s rulers have decided that India’s presence is a given, and have leveraged partial sovereignty for economic bonanza from hydropower exports.  Even so, the rulers of Druk Yul sometimes run afoul of Delhi as they did in 2013 when India flexed its muscles by blockading gas supplies.

Nepal’s Anglophile Rana rulers since Jang Bahadur decided that Britain was too powerful to go to war with to regain territory lost in 1816. Independent India inherited some of the divide and rule tactics of the British in Kathmandu, but it must be said that they did it a lot more crudely. During the Nehru years, the 30-years of Panchayat, through the post-democracy period of the 1990s and the decade of conflict, India has behaved like an overbearing, arm-twisting, neighbourhood toughie. There have been only a few years during which bilateral relations could be termed healthy and harmonious. Most Indian politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats have come across as petulant and mean, while many Nepali leaders have been either utterly servile or thoughtlessly confrontational.

That there have been two Indian blockades before this, the last one in 1988-89 when the Indo-Nepal border was sealed for 13 months, should have given a succession of Nepal’s rulers sufficient time to implement a long-term strategy for self-reliance and import-diversification. We did neither, and the most glaring impact of those failures are here for all to see during these past two months: an economy hopelessly hooked to petroleum, electricity rationing in a country that should be producing a surplus for export, a highway artery linking Kathmandu to India that takes an absurd 200 km detour, maintaining only one tenuous highway link to the northern border, actively discouraging electric public transport, etc.

All we have heard from elected politicians over the last 25 years are wild promises to turn Nepal into Switzerland or Singapore, platitudes about hydropower, hollow pledges about developing agriculture. No action, no preparation, no alternatives. A country can only be politically independent if its domestic affairs are in order and its economy is on a healthy growth trajectory. Which is why Nepal today is not independent, but in dependence.

India’s rulers may be behaving like the boors they are, but our nationalistic bravado is not backed up by an ability to stand on our own feet. A state may be weak, but it must compensate for its smallness with smarts. We must fix our domestic issues ourselves, and understand Indian sensibilities to negotiate for the concessions we need.

For its part, India should pick someone its size. This is not an Indian blockade, it is an Indian siege. Nepal’s hospitals are running out of emergency medicines, earthquake survivors haven’t got relief and an entire country of 30 million is being held hostage. The Buddha is not smiling.

Read also:

Flag waving Editorial

Lose-lose Editorial

Proxy war Editorial

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23 Responses to “In Dependence”

  1. Joe Niemczura on Says:

    Of course the Buddha is smiling. He may simply be smiling on somebody else. The Buddha is in favor of learning and knowledge. Your enemy can be your greatest teacher. Release yourself from attachment to such things as petrol.

  2. ACW on Says:

    As an Indian living in Nepal since 2000, I’ve seen our handling of Nepal internal affairs first hand and it is not a pretty sight. Modi is troubling Indians too – look at the way he blocking the Delhi government from doing anything with regard to law and order. He is a sore loser and is willing to go a mile for people who adore him (his 1 billion USD soft loan and the subsequent commitments during the donor meeting for Nepal’s reconstruction effort), but acts like a bully when people are not willing to agree with his view. He is a typical right winger – issues are totally black and white and my way or high way kind of thinking.

    The people of Bihar taught him a lesson, but we still have 3.5 years of his crude politics. He is surrounded by completely incompetent ministers (except 3 or 4 of them) and he thinks he is a CEO of a corporation rather than a PM of a democracy. He reached where he is by being a bully and that is the way he is wired. If Nepali politicians think that he is going to back down, they are in for a long wait.

    Having said that, as a Nepali tax payer for the last 15 years, I’ve also seen Nepali politicians of every hue and color sell their souls to the Indian establishment. You just need to see the list of students who get a scholarship from the embassy – how many of them got it because of a politician’s recommendation rather than pure merit/need? Priorities are completely screwed up. How is electing a president/vice president/appointing six deputy PMs more important than getting gas to the corner momo push cart seller who is now unable to even eke out a living.

    My reading is that Nepal, at this point in time, lacks a statesman who can negotiate with the agitating groups (madhesi’s, Tharu’s and peeved Indian establishment) and come to an agreement where everyone is able to walk away looking like they won the argument. At this point in time treating this whole issue as zero sum game is not the option. Waving flags and giving nationalistic speeches when a bully is holding a gun to your head is definitely not a smart move.

    My bet is that once this issue gets to some sort of resolution, everything will go back to status quo and there will be zero/watered down efforts at improving roads to China. The flow of Nepali politicians to the embassy will resume and common Nepali’s interests would have been sold for a song.

  3. Mukunda Dhakal on Says:

    This article seems to have been written in a rush because it has a number of inaccuracies -not least the fact that India blockaded our great nation from 1989 to 1990.

  4. Bimal Rawal on Says:

    Very well articulated and i fully endorse that we have no one but ourselves and our leaders to blame. :(

  5. Ryan Dhakal on Says:

    Very informative, and amazingly well written!

  6. Raj Khanal on Says:

    Very good article. If India can claim kohinoor why not Nepal claim its territory which was taken by East India Company.

  7. Uday Lama on Says:

    Both, in time of sorry and happiness, song soothes the soul of an individual as well as of a nation. I realize these are hard time for Nepal and the Nepalese. As Mr. Dixit’s article suggests, most of the misfortunes have befallen upon Nepalese as a result of their own shortsightedness, ignorance and inability – for whatever reason or reasons. Let’s all sing together a song as a national nepenthe. Can a Nepali musician provide music to the following lyrics?


  8. Alex on Says:

    This bravado by nationalists is not going to solve anything. This is similar to North Korean bravado against the Americans. The euphoria of chinese oil has already met it’s himalayan death. What Nepal needs is three hundred oil trucks a day and what’s coming from the Northern border is 5 trucks a days and that is reality. Barging on social media on birth place of Buddha and that Nepal has been never occupied is not going to get the oil to ordinary citizens.. The problem has been the new govt of Oli, which has completely failed in diplomacy. Playing China card at a time when China itself is opening itself to India after the US navy trespassing it’s claimed territory in south China Sea. Most of chinese energy come through the mallaca straights and India sits in these sea lanes in the Indian ocean. India has the aces and China knows it’s limitations in the IOR. So Nepali govt diplomacy is not looking at geo politics of the world and the region but only flaming anti India sentiments which India knows is not more than bravado and doesn’t care about. Let’s see if this anti India bravado on social media by Nepali warriors can get enough fuel before winter sets in.

  9. Bijaya on Says:

    Many thanks for this very frank and down to earth write up. We need to take it to the people with the message that we can not be independent till we clean our own mess. Can it be published in Nepali as well for the wider benefits.

  10. Khagendra on Says:

    Great, timely article. Also great comment from ACW-sadly it will all probably come to pass.

  11. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    Gurkha Card is even mightier than the China Card,( if there is any.)

    Gurkhas are the marines of the Indian Army. Indian army Chief very well is acquainted about its ramification. He cannot afford to make their forces family in distress for a long time. The participation of Gurkha -family in London demonstration has shown the way.There are a large number of Indian army pensioners in Nepal .
    China is drilling deep in the Tibet Region for gas and oil, secretly. It came to the knowledge of the western journalist world only in 2014 ,April, as per the South China Morning Post. So keep planning for the future without making noise.
    Nepalese leaders and planners must build the road links with Tibet on their own, first and foremost. So that the aid agencies or India- China themselves take up the project to enhance them to their requirement and commercial

    standard later on.

    But at this outset we must address the essential concerns or interest of our nearest neighbour India. India also must accept our vital interest, which we cannot compromise. We must keep our tent apart ,but let us keep our hearts together. We must expand the people to people relation between our two country.

    Finlandization is the order of the day ,it is real politics.

  12. namah on Says:

    @ACW: great analysis.

  13. Roman Karki on Says:

    I do agree. While the situation we are in right now cannot be solely blamed on a single actor. The government needs to realistically acknowledge the situation and react with tact. Pointing fingers and waiting to be saved like a scorned damsel in distress, is not the way to go. The long term picture and the present picture need to be kept in mind accordingly.

  14. Thamel on Says:

    Forget about the Indian politicians. First question is do we acknowledge that there is a problem within us. Why have we come to this stage that a part of the population don’t see eye to eye with the rest. These answers are important. Are the changes that the Madeshis and others asking that difficult to address? It is difficult because may be we have doubts about their intentions or this is just plain politics to not share power. Till this doubt is not laid to rest or at least acknowledged, situations like this one will keep arising. Blaming others is easy but that will not change anything.

  15. Manu on Says:

    Dear Friends, its a habit in nepal now that you blame India for each and everything. tell me what wrong Indians did when they were sending maximum help during earth quick. Nepal government just got irritated by Indian media which is not run by Indian government and you guys misbehaved. Relationships are two way …its never single handed deals. Nepal government is trying to blackmail a devotee of Pashupatinath Mr Modi. I am telling you, Mr Oli will have to realize who is true friend and who is hidden enemy to Nepali people. Nepali politicians played enough their anti India hate politics cards…its time now to look back and check both parties to correct the mistakes

  16. Ram on Says:

    I am in doubt that the political elites of this country virtually did nothing after having experienced 1988-89 Indian economic blockade in Nepal. What is more glaring is that no academics, experts or media persons ever had the foresighted to tell to people that something like 1988 could repeat itself. People like Kunda who sounds strong now could never cite the 1888 blockade in any of his published articles to inform people of the dangers of the economic blockades. The Indian blockade has exposed how experts are the so-called experts, how senior are the so-called senior journalist and how well read are those who have earned the title academicians. Shame on you all.

  17. Bal Tamang on Says:

    I agree with the views aptly articulated by ACW pertaining to Nepal’s agony and causes leading to the current economic blockade. However, I wanted to shed further light only on one point that the correspondent has mentioned. That being provision of scholarships and recommendation for a seat in an educational institution in India by the Indian Embassy. While India is known for lecturing Nepal about inclusiveness (samaweshi), its Embassy itself does not seem to practice what it preaches. I belong to an indigenous group (adiwaasi janjati), Tamangs, which is continually marginalized by the successive regimes, despite having a sizeable population, to the extent that many in my group feel that the mainstream politicians, policy makers and those in the administration have taken us off their radar in any development work or planning. The Tamangs have no voice in the government as there has not been a single representation of the Tamangs in the last two councils of ministers. In the recent earthquakes, the areas where majority of Tamangs reside are the most hard hit. Thus the plight of Tamangs continue.
    In this context, if you go through the list of those who have received scholarships and seats recommendations by the Indian Embassy as of now, clearly, it has been the privy of a few selected privileged and a prize or a reward that supports favoritism. They have been mostly out of the reach of a great majority of struggling janjati groups, much less for the Tamangs. Not surprisingly, I believe US and UK outfits in Kathmandu are not far behind in following the trend of their Indian counterparts in this regard despite so much talk about the emphasis on inclusiveness. Anyway, my point here is that inclusiveness ought to be practiced by those first who preach it.

  18. dn on Says:

    looks like ww3 got to us before paris… this is a seize…

  19. Dhiru on Says:

    Very well said, it is not just an Indian blockade but it is an Indian siege. Yes, I do agree there are multiple factors involved in it that led to such a siege which is already showing the affects of humanitarian crisis. It is often mentioned in the Kathmandu circle that India is unhappy because our leaders did not deliver to India what they had agreed to. My humble request to India, being the largest democracy in the word, it should stop negotiating with the leaders in Nepal in a clandestine way. The Nepali populace will appreciate and may even support them if they knew what they were that they could deliver. We have a democracy in Nepal now and who can better understand than our big neighbour India that any matter of bilateral agreement having national significance must be part of the public debate and discourse before they are agreed to. If you look at the past treaties with India, particularly on water resources, Nepali people would NEVER would have agreed to them in ditto.
    As a Nepali who believes in having a strong ties with India, I humbly request India to get used to the new realm of teething democracy in Nepal which still requires a lot of nurturing. Nepal would have no choice but to accept India as a big brother.
    Nepal would and should fully support India in getting its rightful seat for a permanent member in the UNSC. There should be no question about it.
    It would be in the bigger interest of both the countries for India end the unilaterally imposed blockade by not supporting the Madhesis. India has enough of its own problems to deal with. You do not want another headache in your border. We do not want our young generation to grow up thinking that India is the villain not just in the Bollywood films but in their real lives too.

  20. Sushil K. on Says:

    The Indian Ambassador has asked his select audience yesterday Nov, 19th at a gathering in the Shangrilla Hotel;that” what does Nepal want?” point blank
    Although he later mentioned that it was an ” off the record gathering”, no body in the audience returned back the question to him.
    Since the august personages present at the meeting missed the opportunity to ask, We would like to ask the Indian government authority/ representative :”What does India want from Nepal?”.
    This is the million dollar question.
    We on either side don,t want this type of stalemate to continue on and on.
    Let us resolve this issue for all time to come in the interest of the common citizens of both the country.
    Let us accommodate their vital essentials interest from our side and let them accommodate ours, respecting each others self-respect and mutual interest..

    Reminds me of an Arab saying;” Let us keep our hearts together but our tents apart.” Indiua is not only our neighbor but our sister too.

    India should have openly tell us what they want from us, instead of secretly telling to our so called political conspirators or quislings.

  21. arun on Says:

    Instead of blaming India resolve your internal problems and ask yourselves why a large population in your country is unhappy with the current constitution. Try and hold a referendum to get a consensus on the constitution, India does not want confusion at its borders with refugees streaming down.

  22. namah on Says:

    @arun: refugees? seriously? an open border means any nepali in Inida cannot be classified as a refugee. with the roti/beti relationship…i doubt even one nepali will be a refugee. these are just MEA India voices.

    yes there are issue with the consitution. nepal will address them. but by interfering in nepal, India has made the most difficult and unwavering Nepali leader – i.e. KP OLI, a national hero.

    Thanks, but no thanks for that. Every nation has some self respect. If you had done it quietly , silently, behind the scenes…all would be happy.

    Madhesis would have got their amendments, Pahadis their ego, and India one less headache.

    Now with 2 million at risk nepalis, what is India going to do? wait for a humanitarian crisis? send us wood to burn 1/2 million corpses?

  23. Curtains Prices In Pakistan | t curtainpoles on Says:

    […] In Dependence ‚Äď That symbiotic relationship across the Iron Curtain came to be known somewhat derogatorily as … like Hungary and Czechoslovakia strained at the leash, and paid a heavy price for standing up to Moscow: they suffered ‚Ķ […]

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