Insights into Editorial: Rebooting India-Nepal ties
Nepal shares long and enduring cultural and political ties with India. It shares more than 1800 km of open border with five Indian states. In the modern times, after Independence of India, India and Nepal have signed Peace and Friendship Treaty in 1950.
According to the treaty Nepali citizens enjoy national treatment and Nepali businesses have unhindered rights of trade, transit and movement in India. An estimated eight million Nepali citizens live and work in India and contribute to their inward remittances. It shows the deep ties between India and Nepal, but in recent times it has been affected due to various reasons.
Nepal is run by a revolving door of political leaders who have weakened the polity and economy over the years, but who did battle the odds to promulgate a new Constitution.
With global geopolitics on the boil, and the Hindi-Chini relationship in free fall, it should be in India’s interest to secure its own neighbourhood, and that can only be through letting national politics and governance of the smaller neighbours evolve without interference.
New Delhi must use the visit of Nepal’s newly anointed Prime Minister, on Wednesday as an opportunity to hit the reset button on Nepal-India relations. Such a rebooting requires a cold and hard look at how Nepal was handled over the past decade, exemplified by the impediments placed in the writing, adoption and implementation of the Constitution.
Loss of Confidence between South Asia’s oldest nation-state and its largest democracy
- India played a valued role in ending the Maoist insurgency in 2006, but the period thereafter was marked by escalating micro-meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs. All mainstream political parties in Nepal raised question on India’s commitment to facilitating the process of writing a new constitution in Nepal, despite the fact that India had played a crucial role in ensuring the success of Nepal’s democracy movement
- In Constitution-writing, there were attempts to define the new provincial boundaries according to Indian dictates — pushing first an unwieldy and unworkable plains-only province, then a two-province formula. India has raised its reservation over newly passed Nepali constitution and criticised it for not addressing concerns of Madheshis and other marginalised section.
- The presence of India’s heavy hand contributed in numerous ways to the distortion of consensual governance needed in transitional times.
- India criticised Nepal’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, especially in dealing with the Madhesi agitation. India also demanded legal action against those guilty of human rights violations during the years of insurgency in Nepal.
- A year ago, Indian interlocutors pushed the Nepali Congress to renege on its promise to continue in coalition with the mainstream left Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), and engineered what is the implausible current embrace of the Congress with the Maoist party.
- After devastating earthquake in Nepal, the blockade by Madhesis has halted oil and other essential supplies, which created another humanitarian crisis in Nepal. Nepal government blames India for this blockade.
In recent times Nepal is getting closer to China, is also one of the important reason for current problems. The Great Blockade forced the Kathmandu political leadership to reach out to Beijing and sign a slew of trade, transit and infrastructural agreements with it. Few know that Nepal is today better connected by air to Chinese cities than to India.
The numerous other matters that need concentration and resolution:
- Open Border
- An important issue is the open border itself, which is a unique joint heritage of the two countries.
- While it is Nepal’s Left that has traditionally demanded restrictions on the border, the call now rises from the Indian security establishment.
- Issue of inundation of plains in Nepal
- The Nepal plains are suffering from massive floods that have also affected downstream areas across the border.
- Besides the spread of settlements, a prime cause for the severity is that the Chure (Shivalik) hills have been gouged of rocks to build elevated roads and levees just south of the border, leading to inundation in Nepal.
- A permanent bilateral mechanism is required to save the plains population of Nepal from suffering.
- Issue of Kosi Barrage
- The Kosi Barrage and attendant embankments have the possibility of wreaking havoc because siltation of six decades has raised the riverbed within the levees far above the outlying tracts.
- The easy answer for the Indian politician is to demand a high dam in the hills of Nepal even as alternatives are not studied, such as redistribution of waters into various older channels of the Kosi in Bihar.
- Import of electricity from Nepal
- Nepal has since long planned to sell electricity to India once it has a hydropower surplus, and the completion of the much-delayed Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission line was supposed to facilitate that.
- But along comes an Indian government directive that it will not allow import of electricity other than from power companies with more than 51% Indian equity.
- Arbitrary blockages at border points
- The arbitrary blockages and go-slow at Indian Customs at border points, the selective use of quarantine for the export of Nepali agricultural produce, the increasing high-handedness of the Sashastra Seema Bal (India’s frontier force in this sector) in dealing with Nepalis crossing over —are some of the challenges on the bilateral plane.
- Other issues
- Kathmandu prefers not to discuss the fact that the Nepali rupee is pegged to the Indian rupee and what it means for the long run.
- The rights of migrant Indian labour in Nepal and Nepali labour in India is a topic that rarely comes up.
- There are border disputes pending between the two countries — at Susta, Kalapani and the ‘tri-junction’ of Lipulekh
Due to domestic political instability more than anything else, over the years Kathmandu lost its confidence in dealing with the Dilli Durbar. With the self-assurance that comes from Nepal moving towards normalcy under its new Constitution, and with India seemingly changing gears on its Nepal policy, one hopes for a threshold of maturity in relations between South Asia’s oldest nation-state and its largest democracy.