India Must Lift the Blockade on Nepal

In a vindictive act of bullying, India is tacitly backing what amounts to an economic blockade of Nepal. India first made barely disguised attempts to meddle in Nepal’s process of adopting its new Republican Constitution. And when that failed, India is morally backing the economic blockade of the Indo-Nepal border.

Some groups representing the Terai-dwelling Madhesi and Tharu people of Nepal have been protesting some of the provisions of the Constitution. Indeed, several of their concerns are genuine and need to be addressed and resolved by Nepal in due course. But Indian bullying and what is widely perceived to be an India-sponsored blockade can only delay any democratic dialogue and resolution of these issues.

The blockade that has lasted more than two months has resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis in Nepal – in some ways even worse than the crisis that followed the severe earthquake six months ago.

The blockade has resulted in a severe shortage of medicines in Nepal’s hospitals, and prevented delivery of earthquake relief supplies. The process of rebuilding Nepal post-quake has ground to a halt. The crisis of fuel supplies has hit Nepal hard. India imports 60% of medicines and most of its fuel from India. The blockade has also hit the tourism industry which is an important part of Nepal’s economy. For India to pummel and starve Nepal of essentials like this in order to force it to amend its Constitution is unconscionable.

Narendra Modi, on his visit to Nepal, was accorded a warm welcome. But the Modi Government arrogantly presumed on this welcome. Modi’s social media propaganda machinery in India crudely tried to imply that Nepal, as a Hindu majority country, would naturally embrace Modi as a world leader.

Within months of that visit, Modi tried to address a huge public gathering in the Madhes region – a move that Nepal politely disallowed, and correctly construed as a blatant attempt to meddle in Nepal’s own internal debates and political conflicts.

Then came the tragic, terrible quake. India offered relief and help with rehabilitation – as any good neighbor should. But the Modi Government and pliant sections of the Indian media tried to portray this as Modi’s personal, patronsing largesse to dry Nepal’s tears and ease its pain. This attempt by Modi to use Nepal’s tragedy to boost his own personal image in domestic politics was rightly resented in Nepal.

As Nepal came closer to its goal of framing its Republican Constitution, the RSS attempts to push for Nepal to call itself a Hindu nation rather than a secular state were rightly resented and rebuffed. Nepal’s Constitution continued to define the country as secular, while recognizing Nepal’s own unique culture and history.

The Modi Government’s response to Nepal’s historic adoption of a Republican Constitution itself was a cold shoulder – a snub. The MEA Statement of September 20 is titled ‘Statement on the Situation in Nepal.’ Instead of congratulating the people of Nepal and welcoming Nepal’s adoption of a new Constitution, the MEA chose instead to imply that Nepal’s Constitution had failed to meet the standards set by India! The actual wording is breathtakingly curt, cold and rude: it says “Throughout the process of Constitution making in Nepal, India has supported a federal, democratic, republican and inclusive Constitution. We note the promulgation in Nepal today of a Constitution.” The very use of the term ‘note’ instead of ‘welcome’ and ‘a Constitution’ rather than ‘the Constitution’ is significant. The rest – and bulk - of the Statement on this historic occasion was devoted to expressing ‘concern’ over the Madhes situation; implying thereby that India was looking at Nepal’s Constitution purely through the prism of the Madhes issue. This was followed by another Statement (with the same heading) the very next day, devoted purely to chastising Nepal for its handling of the Madhes issue.

No wonder, then, that commentators in Nepal are comparing India’s conduct to that of colonial Viceroys, and that India’s credibility in Nepal is at an all-time low. The Modi Government’s policy towards Nepal is not in keeping with neighbourly behavior, with international standards of diplomacy, and with India’s own interests in the sub-continent.

It is impossible to miss the fact that the Modi Government’s cold and arrogant language, body language and diplomatic policies towards Nepal and other neighbours of India, is in stark contrast to the Government’s and PM Modi’s own fawning appeasement of Western capitalist and imperialist powers, and his rather graceless attempts to portray himself as a chum of Obama, Abbot and Cameron.

The Indian people and progressive forces in India must speak out loudly against the Modi Government’s attitude towards Nepal, and must demand that India lose no time in lifting the blockade on Nepal and humbly making amends for its attempts to coerce and arm-twist Nepal. Indian big-brotherly bullying and blockades must stop.

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