Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Nepal Political Tussle : Another Humanitarian crisis in the Offing?

By Ms Vinny Davis*
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Nepal has not seen peace after it became a federal democratic Republic. At a time when, adopting a constitution is cheered as a gateway to the peaceful transition of the democratic process all over, the Nepali experience was little too bitter.
Sharing a 1751 Km border with Nepal, India has all reasons to be apprehensive over the political crisis that is spreading its tentacles across Nepal to Indian territories. On September 20, 2015, Nepal  promulgated its secular and democratic constitution, dividing the Himalayan landmass into seven federal provinces for administrative purposes. The 65-year quest for a democratic development from the monarchical rule was finally fructified. Needless to say, it did not go well with the Madhesi tribe who inhabited the Southern Nepal (or the Terai region). Incidentally the same region houses half of the country's population, in spite of it constituting only 1/5 of the total landmass. Drawing support from Tharus( another tribe from the same region), the Madhesis are in arms against the long-sought political development of the country.
Undoubtedly, the aforementioned are internal affairs of a nation, to which no external power possess a right to intervene. However, given the volatile situation in the Terai region, a direct implication on its closest neighbour- state of Bihar, in India cannot be cast into oblivion. Bihar is the new eye-candy for the power-brokers for India. Both the ruling and the opposing sides (Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), BJP and Congress) are in no mood to cede a defeat on any grounds. Slated for polls this month, the prolonged political impasse in Nepal is a natural cause to worry.
This leaves us to ponder about the role of Madhesis, in the present political stalemate. They have been demanding for equal representation/participation within the revised political structure of Nepal. Ironically the modernity embraced by the new constitution is immaterial to them. Interestingly, Nepali constitution is the first in Asia to protect the rights of the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender communities. Intriguingly, the religious /cultural freedom enshrined in the constitution which also safeguards the ancient religious/cultural practices or one which considers proselytizing illegal will find fewer takers in a kingdom which was officially labelled under the garb of religion for centuries. The latter is reflective of the fears of widespread conversions to Christianity amongst the low caste groups. The discrepancies related to citizenship rights of women are another bone of contention.
India will seek for a peaceful resolution of the political disputes. At the same time, an institutionalized acceptance of the new constitution is imminent for the political future of Nepal. Adding oil to the fire, the fuel crisis that has presently evolved in Nepal is pointing its fingers towards a covert Indian scheme to impose a trade blockade. Over 6000 trucks are stranded in the Indo-Nepalese borders carrying essentials like petroleum products, cooking gas, and several other food and non-food items. Though the topography poses a hurdle for Nepal to re- route its supplies via China, the opportunity cannot be wholly disregarded. The Chinese maneuvers to ride along with an enemy's enemy (Nepal holds India responsible for the trade blockade, and anti- India slogans are also rampant in Nepal) will prove detrimental to Indo-Nepalese relations. Another alternative route is the Sunauli border in Uttar Pradesh (India) for trade in essentials to offset the blockade. Rationing of commodities has already begun, however it will be difficult to meet the desired demands of the people.
Imposing a trade blockade is not new amongst nations, especially if a political crisis is engulfing the nation a under question. The Indian case is ironic here. Speculations are rife over the protracted Indian role in this regard, even when the political elite are calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. If this blockade is a scheme implemented keeping in mind the Bihar elections, then it is a serious aberration of our foreign policy that violates undue interference in the internal affairs of another country. The official statements are also questioning the inclusivity of the new constitution. In the name of border security, and by capitalizing the fears of the Indian owned/run freight operators, it looks like some vested parties in India are also adding fire to the political imbroglio in Nepal.
The spillover effects of the crisis has already resonated itself in the aviation sector, with major international flights bound from Nepal being cancelled. Nepal is yet to stabilize the conditions post the devastating earthquake of April 2015. The people are in dire need of a political transformation to start anew. Surely, the opposing sides getting itself embroiled in a dirty game. A feudal re-structuring as demanded by the Madhesis and the Tharus will not be easy. It remains to be seen how the 14- day old constitution will attempt to ensure a proportionally based representation and a population-based delineation of electoral constituencies as demanded by the opposing factions. A minority is putting the majority to ransom here. The Communist party of Nepal - Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), and its votes will decide the fate of the constitutional amendments. Being a nascent democracy, the political factions across Nepal should abstain from manipulating the fragile atmosphere to stall the long sought democratic development in the country.
Any build-up of an anti-India fervour in Nepal will affect the cordial ties between the two nations. History and geography have reinforced this indomitable connection between the countries. The effigies of the Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi is now being burnt publicly. Nepal being reliant on India for 60% of its imports is on the verge of another humanitarian crisis. Being a major trading partner with Nepal, the Indian political elite need to do the needful to recover the lost image of a faithful ally. 

* The Author is Managing Associate of CPPR Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS). Views are personal


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