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India’s World – India-Nepal acrimony increases
The unofficial Indian blockade has led to petrol shortages in Nepal. Essential goods coming into country from India are also blocked. People in Nepal are forced to cook in firewood stoves, walk to offices, schools are shut, tourism has come down and public transport is in disarray due to shortage of fuel. The blame game between the two countries has become bitter. Nepal’s new Prime Minister Oli Sharma has described the blockade of key border points with India as more inhuman than a war. In the midst of this political crisis India has slammed Nepal at the UN for human rights violations. Recently India called on Nepal at the UNHRC to consolidate constitution building by accommodating all sections and emphasized that current problems cannot be solved through force. India has also urged Nepal to investigate and take credible measures to prevent recurrence of incidents of violence and ethnic discrimination in the country. Reeling under pressure, Nepal has warmed up to China to open border trade points for the much needed supplies ahead of the festive season.
These blockades have come amid a political crisis over the new Constitution opposed by Indian-origin Madhesis who have led an agitation and blockaded key border trade points of Nepal with India, bringing supplies of essential goods including fuel and cooking gas for over a month. The Madhesis, who live in the south and have cultural and linguistic links with India across the open border, are embittered and politically disturbed. They are not happy with the way new constituencies have been formed and provinces created. They believe that they will have a lesser representation in elected bodies and the policy-making apparatus.
The new government of K.P. Oli has shown some desire to reach out to the protestors in the Terai, but its efforts, both on talks and on discussing constitutional amendments, are far slower than what is necessary to calm the situation. At the same time, it is doing nothing to quell the perception that India is responsible for all of Nepal’s problems. Nepali government has every right to deal with internal unrest as it sees fit, but it should be aware of the trans-national consequences of its action, given the open border that India and Nepal have enjoyed for decades. While it is hoped the Chinese offer of oil will ease the immediate crisis for Nepal, it is hardly a long-term and cost-effective solution for the country.
The government and the major political parties in Nepal cannot shy away from their collective responsibilities of addressing the political and constitutional issues raised by the agitating parties. It is the duty of the government and the ruling parties to reach out to the agitating parties, who have recently joined the parliament, so that the problems can be resolved through negotiation.