30 October - 5 November 2015 #781

A blockade is a blockade

But how long will it take for Nepalis to transfer the blame from India to our own inept political leadership
Tsering Dolker Gurung

The neighbourhood of Nepali Times is dotted with hole-in-the-wall family run eateries offering modest meals to college students and office-goers at reasonable prices. Unlike bigger, posher restaurants and five-star hotels these businesses cannot fall back on steep profit margins to purchase gas cylinders at Rs 10,000 (almost 10 times the normal rate). As a result owners have been forced to pull their shutters down, losing valuable income day after day.

Across the street, dozens of taxis wait in an unmoving queue for 10 litres of petrol that will be distributed only tomorrow. Few drivers are huddled together in the back of a car, gambling, talking politics. They will try to compensate for the lost work hours by charging customers double or even quadruple the normal rate. Who can blame them?

Back home in Ekantakuna, the last remaining gas cylinder is running low. The family is discussing alternative cooking options. My 14-year-old sister suggests building an improved firewood stove and says she has the know-how from a school project. If it weren’t for the current crisis, she would have been ridiculed by the family, now everyone is giving firewood serious thought. If her pilot project is successful Mother says she could even help other families in the neighbourhood, many of whom are already cooking in their backyards.  

A month has now passed since India’s blockade of essential goods to Nepal, choking life across the country it calls its ‘younger brother’. The clash of egos at the top between Indian and Nepali leaders has hurt ordinary Nepalis the most. These are people who can’t afford to buy goods in the black market, they don’t have relatives in powerful positions to help them out in times of crises. They belong to all ethnic groups, including those in the plains, whose rights India is supposedly backing.

Besides being led by leaders who have zero credibility (even within their community) and are as corrupt (if not more) as those in Kathmandu, the blockade has greatly undermined the Madhes movement which was borne out of genuine grievances.

The fast-track constitution paved the way for KP Oli to assume prime ministership and provided leaders a much-needed face-saver during a time when public discontent against the government for its mishandling of earthquake relief was rising high. But in their rush to reach the finishing line, the leaders failed to address dissenting voices, leaving more than half the population dissatisfied with the new constitution.

However, by allowing India to arm twist Nepal on their behalf, the plains leaders have further distanced themselves from the rest of the country, including their own people. Their endorsement of the blockade which has created unneeded hardship for a population already reeling under the effects of two devastating earthquakes has made even those sympathetic to the cause question the tactic and legitimacy of the movement.  

What's surprising in all this has been the international media's silence on the issue. By choosing to call the blockade a ‘fuel crisis’ reporters have reduced the true extent of the humanitarian crisis and helped paint a false picture of the goings-on in Nepal to the rest of the world.

Even the international community has been mysteriously silent, with the EU releasing a statement calling on India to ensure essential supplies only last week. The UN released a similarly belated and mild statement. Both refused to acknowledge that it was indeed a blockade.

Local media, meanwhile, has been reporting the issue with much fervour, but much of it is filled with op-ed spout jingoism. Many have chosen to highlight abuse and harassment of common people by Morcha cadres but completely ignored cases of police brutality.

Nepali leaders in turn are using the blockade to stoke nationalism and pass the buck of its own failures to India. Nepalis are used to hardships, but the question is how long will it take for the people to transfer the blame from India to our own inept political leadership.


Read also:

Lose-lose, Editorial

Carrot, stick and oil, Anurag Acharya

Messiahs of the Madhes, Jivesh Jha

Restraint, resolve and resilience, Rubeena Mahato

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