India wants Nepal under perpetual siege

By Mahabir Paudyal–
Why have dozens of rounds of negotiations between Madheshi Morcha and ruling parties made no headway? Why do Morcha and India have common stand on Nepal’s constitution? Why do Morcha leaders rush to the Indian Embassy? Why is the blockade not lifted even as it has caused untold sufferings across the country, even as Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa has implored his Indian counterpart twice for the same? Why has Nepal failed to internationalize this most inhuman blockade? And why is Morcha dead against conceding Chure to hill provinces and retain entire plains in Madhesh despite clear rejection of this demand by residents of Chure, Far-east and Far-west? Why is Morcha against all viable options?

These questions have troubled national consciousness since Madheshi Morcha walked out of the constitution process and started border blockade in collusion with India. Now Morcha is trying to stop India from using its conscience.

India’s signal to ease blockade (as indicated by Kamal Thapa after his recent India trip) seems to have unnerved Morcha leaders. So they are in Delhi, perhaps to request India not to lift the blockade so long as both of them don’t get what they want. Good result cannot be expected if Delhi passes judgment without reading the constitution and without considering government’s initiatives to pass the pending amendment bills. If Delhi does not rethink its Nepal mission or falls for Morcha’s propaganda, the days of suffering will most likely be prolonged.

This is an opportunity for Delhi to think rationally and salvage its battered image by lifting the blockade and asking Morcha to consider government proposal. After all, Morcha is there to defend India on all fronts. It is us who have caused blockade, not India; they have reiterated the same to Delhi authorities. They are ready to say so hundreds of times to salvage India’s image.

But why is Morcha hesitant to withdraw protests even as government has already initiated amendment? The bills could not be tabled in the parliament on Sunday due to Morcha’s obstruction, which continues.

Let us face it. Madhesh agitation is not just a political problem. Therefore its solution cannot be found politically. Madheshi leaders were bent on staging protests no matter what kind of constitution was delivered. This carefully planned agitation is a design to put the country under siege perpetually, either through inviting open interference from Delhi or through to-be Madhesh province. Morcha is not going to let us live in peace unless the design to submit almost half of the country to Indian control is fulfilled.

Morcha is against all amicable solutions on province demarcation. They are against holding referendum over five disputed districts—Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kailali and Kanchanpur. They are against Federal Commission to work out nitty-gritty of demarcation and they object to a parliamentary committee—with Morcha leaders—to work on it. They reject supremacy of Constituent Assembly, the common characteristic of Interim Constitution and the past agreements signed with them. They do not seem keen on passing amendment bills, which, when passed, could alter current constitutional provision of constituency delineation and proportional inclusion of Madheshis in state bodies, to their own advantage.

They want Kathmandu to cut Tarai plains like a cake and offer it to them on a platter, now and at any cost, people’s wishes be damned. Let there be no illusion: Upendra Yadav, Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato do not represent aspirations of people of Chure and eastern and western Tarai. They are watching as mute spectators the mayhem unfolding in front because they know there is a big bully behind them.

Morcha has prevailed through coercion. They have deprived millions of Nepalis food, fuel and medicine. There is now a humanitarian crisis. Businesses are laying off staffs. For the past few months, transportation has been disrupted across the country. Now it has hit the residents of Kathmandu, otherwise not so affected, hard. They were relying on electricity for cooking. But with the load-shedding hours increased and every household waiting for electricity to cook, power supply breaks down at least five times in an hour. Officials at Nepal Electricity Authority’s sub-stations say excessive power consumption during cooking hours could lead to system failure, which will be beyond repair.

The crisis has pushed people to desperation. The great China hope has not materialized. There have been promises of fuel coming from China. But nothing substantial has come of all this talk.

People had pinned high hopes on international community. This hope is fading. There is a realization that global community cannot do anything more than issue statements. Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj claims the UN, the UK and the US toe India’s line over Nepal’s constitution. Since international actors have not rebutted her, it seems they also endorse Delhi’s position in Nepal.

The government is happy doing nothing. It has pushed its residents into open arms of black marketers. The country is effectively under state of siege. Kathmandu won’t be able to withstand this for long.

It is likely that India/Morcha will eventually get what they want: endorsement of naturalized citizens assuming top executive posts and separating entire Madhesh plus Chure from the hills, with none of hill provinces having access to southern border. Then the country will be doubly under siege, first by India and then by Madhesh. Morcha will celebrate this. It will end the blockade for the moment. Madhesh will be “free.” But Nepal will be under perpetual siege.

First, it will set a wrong precedent that when it comes to political and constitutional issues Morcha is all-powerful. Resources in Chure region will be under Madhesh state. The first duty of the chief minister of Madhesh (who are likely to be from among Yadav, Thakur and Mahato communities) will be to pay back Delhi’s favors extended during the ‘freedom’ movement.

They will try to strike deals with India that will favor Delhi but put Madhesh and hill on harm’s way. Of course, a state cannot, in principle, strike such deal. But Madhesh will pressure Kathmandu and if the latter does not concede, it will use the weapon of blockade. Madhesh will become a kind of wayward and rouge state, which Kathmandu cannot divorce, nor stay with. Madhesh will start dictating terms in Kathmandu. Delhi will have it even easier; it will fulfill its interest by controlling Madhesh.

Columnists have warned of Indian designs to build high dams along border to use water flowing in from Nepal for irrigation and drinking across the border. It will benefit India but could put swaths of Tarai and Chure under water.

The people to bear the brunt will be the poor and real sons of Madhesh. They will have to battle flood, incursion and Indian highhandedness. Once Madheshi people come to know this, their anger could be diverted to their own leaders. This is the reason Morcha has been misinforming Madheshis that the constitution has nothing for them.

Morcha and India will try their best to strike Madhesh province deal with Kathmandu before there is counter-revolution against this design and while the country still remains under siege. Nothing else explains urgency of demarcation at this hour while the country is bleeding.

Yes, Kathmandu has exhausted all options. But let us take time. Let us launch open debate on how, if at all, the kind of Madhesh province Morcha is demanding will benefit Madhesh and the country at large.

When parties engage with Morcha leaders after they return from Delhi, they could face the worst prospect of having to concede entire Madhesh to Madhesh provinces. Province demarcation is no child’s play. Our misguided jump to federalism brought the country to this stage. One more faulty demarcation and we could be done for. Yes, there will be room for regret, but it will be too late.


(This article was originally published in Republica daily on December 8, 2015)

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