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Calling a blockade a spade

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015
Gas and fuel shortages

Pic: Gopen Rai

As the tortuous negotiations over Madhesi demands for changes in the constitution drag on in Kathmandu, and 28 million people reel under a two-and-half-month long siege, there are feeble feelers from both sides to seek face-saving ways out of the prolonged deadlock.

The Nepal government senses that the nationalistic chest-thumping is giving way to public anger over shortages, Madhesi leaders similarly feel their slogans against ‘colonial’ Kathmandu are beginning to ring a bit hollow among a people who have suffered a five-month shutdown, and over at the PMO in New Delhi there is creeping disquiet about the growing domestic political backlash as well as rising international concern about its handling of the Nepal mess.

Only the really naive still believe that the border blockade is entirely the result of anger in the Tarai. It is fairly obvious where the strings are being pulled from, and Indian officials and diplomats don’t even try to hide it anymore. But still, realpolitik dictates that the international community is loathe to call a blockade a spade and depart from the party line laid down by the regional cop. Officials in one western capital were so fearful of hurting the feelings of a country with which they just signed a $12 billion trade deal that, in conversation with a visiting Nepali MP this week, blamed Nepal for the blockade of Nepal.

Given the might-makes-right doctrine in international geopolitics, it is totally understandable that the UN cannot name a certain member state responsible for not letting essential supplies through. Still, this week’s statement by the UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake lays out the human cost of this senseless and outlandish siege: 3 million Nepali children under five are under direct risk of death and disease due to shortages of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines.

Indeed, whichever side of this debate you are on (a supporter of the Maoist-UML-RPP coalition government in Kathmandu, a champion of Madhesi rights, or a believer that India has no hand in this blockade) what is undeniable is that what is now happening in Nepal is a humanitarian emergency that is attaining disastrous proportions.

The question that must be asked in New Delhi, Kathmandu and Birganj must be: Whatever the reason, is reprehensible human harm on this scale acceptable in the 21st century? Why are the very people on whose behalf this struggle supposedly being waged made to suffer the most? How does this ensure political stability in Nepal? Is a border siege exonerated by international treaties and humanitarian law? Are there no other more targeted pressure points that a country can legitimately employ to ‘persuade’ a smaller neighbour? Weren’t there other ways for Madhesi activists to compel Kathmandu for better representation, especially when the previous government had even tabled amendments to the constitution?

All this doesn’t let the rulers in Kathmandu off the hook. Prime Minister K P Oli’s strategy is to heap all the blame on India, play the patriot, and hope to garner political brownie points. It has worked so far, but it won’t last. Sooner or later, people waiting in the gas lines, suffering power cuts, shortages and inflation are going to ask: “What are you doing to end our misery?” The answer so far is: nothing.

The NC, UML and Maoists botched emergency relief after the April earthquake, and have let their political rivalry prevent the formation of the Reconstruction Authority. They bear a large part of the blame for being so blinded by greed and ambition that they miscalculated Madhesi and Tharu sentiments with the fast-track constitution in August, allowed tensions to escalate and spread across the plains. They misjudged India, misread cues, and failed to act in time. And with the situation already out of hand, and despite the country’s near-total dependence on India, Prime Minister Oli keeps making things worse by thumbing his nose at New Delhi every chance he gets.

There are ways to exercise tactical acquiescence to gain larger strategic advantage, but our rulers are not versed in those subtleties of international relations.

Read also:

SOS, Editorial

In Dependence, Editorial

‘No time to lose’, Om Astha Rai

In the absence of hope, Bidushi Dhungel

Full-blown economic crisis, Om Astha Rai

…who will bell the cat? Anurag Acharya

Reconstruction in ruins, Om Astha Rai and Sahina Shrestha

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5 Responses to “Calling a blockade a spade”

  1. Cole Porter on Says:

    Dear Kunda

    Thank you for this clear and most excellent piece. Let’s hope it strikes a chord. As for HMG jumping so cravenly into bed with New Delhi, I blush at the words of the Foreign Office.

    We recently had friends out, trek to Tengboche. They were very moved by this country and it’s people and landscape. Where is a strong, sophisticated leader when you need one most? Someone to get the best from the Nepalese people and achieve what this startling country is clearly capable.


  2. dgupta on Says:

    The biggest failure is unwilling to ready the fuel/goods import from China. Still it is not too late – the China side is ready. It is Nepal who needs to go in full force.

  3. ANepali on Says:

    Why can’t the Nepalese government deploy the army to open the border crossings on the Nepal side? Wouldn’t that show quite clearly if the blockade is by India or by Nepal’s own Terai dwellers? If it is India doing the blocking, isn’t it time to ask for UN security deployment in the major border crossings (invoking India’s violation of the Law of the Sea). If it is the Nepalese themselves doing the blocking, the emergency situation in the country as a whole would justify deploying the army, and using force if it becomes necessary. How long is this stalemate supposed to go on without proper governance by the Nepalese government (…isn’t the role of the government to govern?). Why are these inept political opportunists allowed to hold leadership titles for doing nothing? Remind us all again…how many deputy prime ministers do we have? What are they and the PM doing? Scratching their butts and waiting for a miracle?

  4. ravi raj kaur on Says:

    Nepal is pushed into chinese market or the other way around. We all read only chinese neigbours and we already live in TAR nepalese autonomous region.
    The truth?
    Minister of Communication must apologize, Oli must apologize not incompetence this is not the issue, but further blaming of India can not help young nepalese going abroad. As the gulf countries are more involved in the war on terrorism it will be growingly unsafe. I predict all know what they already knew. What is Oli pretending? Distributing money the past government sat on?
    The point is not bg as they say on facebook. Communication of government should be correct, up to date and modern. Try watch CNN where we all want to go to not Shanghai. Not Hyderabad where they die in hospital how much they care….I miss Ram Baran Yadav. This nation needs more doctors.

  5. Gfellow on Says:

    Well no use hiding the name of the country in question. It is India. When politicians in Nepal rub India in the wrong way, always showing the China flag in their face, what more can they expect. Also, please do not claim victim, when you catch all Tibetian refugees and send them back to China to get killed or jailed. Don’t try to be too noble and play victim.

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