2-8 October 2015 #778

Blockade blues

One would have expected a far less obvious move on India’s part at such a crucial time
Bidushi Dhungel

There are two striking features of the last couple of weeks: a surge in nationalist sentiment and the imposition of what looks and feels like an Indian blockade on Nepal. It may be undeclared indeed, but even if unofficial, one must call a spade a spade.

There are so many said motivations and conspiracy theories doing the rounds regarding what is causing this undeclared blockade. After talking to a fair number of people in and out of government, in embassies and newsrooms, here are some of the revelations shared.

There are those who are convinced that India’s interest is a no-strings-attached inclusion of Madhes with the main issue being the naturalisation clause in the constitution which bars men of Indian origin from holding top positions in government. Then, there are those who say the blockade has nothing to do with the Madhes, but is instead about Nepal having been declared a secular state while the Indian establishment was pushing in the other direction.

There is also the argument that India is, in fact, not imposing a blockade at all and that it is the Madhesi protests on the Nepal side, and this is the official Indian position. The Indian Ambassador claims to “not understand at all” what has happened and where all of this anti-India sentiment is coming from. Apparently, the notion that India is “pro-Madhesi” couldn’t be “further from the truth”.

A senior NC leader said that actually this is all about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ego. “He’s even following every tweet and the more #BackOffIndia he sees the less he is going to back off,” he said. Then there is the “hill mentality” of UML leaders in particular blamed as the source of the current crisis. Delhi also felt “completely betrayed” by Nepali leaders who had gone to Delhi and made various promises.

So there you have it. These are the many reasons why Kathmandu has no petrol and why everything else is in short supply. But how did India-Nepal relations, in the words of a senior diplomat, go “from a-z in six months”? The leaders of the NC-UML-UCPN(M) were well aware of India’s stance on the constitution months before its promulgation and were listening intently just weeks before, each obediently taking turns to go to Delhi and receive blessings. The all-out rejection of India’s role in Nepal seems then to be a populist move to justify an otherwise sub-standard statute.

The visit just two days before the promulgation by S Jaishanker was not only ill-timed, but so blatant in his intent to intervene that it gave Nepal's political leadership the impetus to bring forward its nationalist agenda to cover up their own follies. For all the back-room deals made in this country, one would have expected a far less obvious move on India’s part at such a crucial time.

The agitating Madhes-based parties are also not doing themselves, or anyone else, a favour by welcoming the current intervention and taking active part in the closing of the border. It is only working to prove the fears of Kathmandu that the Madhes and India are indeed interchangeable. And given the highly nationalist mood, attitudes in Kathmandu towards Madhesis are hardening.

In reaction to the blockade, young protesters sat on the street outside the Indian Embassy. The song about always being able to wake up to a view of the Himalaya was on full blast, followed by the other one about the son of Nepal who wouldn’t bow down. There was a cycle rally with a large banner: ‘No petrol, no problem'.

Our dear comrade Prachanda had also said something about ditching his car for a bicycle, though he barely looks fit enough to pedal even 1km. All Indian tv channels have gone off air in protest. This is what we have reduced ourselves to: an array of meaningless actions that say very little about our sovereignty as a nation, our ability to self-rule or anything else positive about our national character.

It’s a blockade, sure. And of course it is low, petty – and illegal -- to resort to strangling an already-struggling neighbour because things didn’t go one’s way. But, the blockade is really just the icing on the cake. Even without it, we were in the gutter. The idea that the Madhes problem will go away as soon as the border opens up for supplies is naive.

The political leaders have no choice but to bring the agitators on board and amend the constitution. That would also go a long way in easing the situation that many Madhesi lawmakers in the NC, UML and UCPN(M) find themselves in. They may have signed on to the statute, but they did so with a heavy heart and in the words of one lawmaker, “we closed the door to our constituencies”.


Read Also:

Insult and injury, Santa Gaha Magar

Fighting our own battles, Jivesh Jha

Before it's too late, Puru Shah

It's not about the constitution, Om Astha Rai

Tarai talks, Tufan Neupane

Showing who’s boss

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