Madhesi parties in Delhi: for a solution or a tactical game?

(Nepal Foreign Affairs, DECEMBER 7) :CVjRSzRUEAAx1to By inviting Madhesi parties to Delhi, Modi government has given three important messages. First, India is a decisive power in Nepal’s internal affairs. Second, right ahead of the crucial Rajya Sabha debate,it has used the Madhesi leaders to take the Indian government’s blame for Nepal blockade. And third, by giving a message of solution the Madhesi parties, India would like to re-present itself as a responsible rising power.

Top leaders of Nepal’s agitating MadhesiMorcha are in New Delhi at this hour. During their three day visit to India, organized by the Indian government, the leaders have met several Indian politicians, including India’s External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj, and most likely will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The background of this visit makes it a most important political event in both countries.

First, Nepal. Talks between the Madhesi parties and the rest broke down in Kathmandu last Friday. Several messages were floating in the Media, both in Nepal and India, that Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Thapa had been advised by New Delhi to come up with a concrete plan for the resolution of ongoing crisis. And Thapa, with the trust of his Prime Minster KP Oli, actually made such proposal in Delhi. Until now, India probably thinks that the proposal should be given a chance.

The Madhesi leaders first went to Indian ambassador to verify what messages were given to Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa, then came to see how those would be presented in the three-party meeting in Kathmandu. They were invited to Delhi without deciding anything.

Then, in India. The government of India has been constantly under hammer for the crisis in Nepal; and rightly so. Scores of media articles are written, debates have happened, and marches have taken place around the world protesting the ongoing blockade of supplies from the Indian entry-points at Nepal border. Despite India denying the blockade being imposed by it, the world increasingly has found evidences that it was done to Nepal by India putting forward the Madhesi parties of Nepal. India’s discontent towards Nepal’s new constitution is also reflected by the Madhesi parties’ position.

These parties frequently shared their agitation plans with the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, asking for help. With no solution at sight, India’s Upper House started debating Indian government’s Nepal policy last Friday.

Informing the House, India’s External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj defended her government’s Nepal policy, saying that western democratic countries, the United Nations and the European Union were also with India on the question of Nepal. This can be contested on several counts, but let’s leave this aside for now.

The House debateis rescheduled for Monday. However, the Madheis leaders of Nepal, during the weekend, were busy explaining the leaders, including in opposition, in India that the Nepal blockade was imposed by them, not by India. This isclearly a tactical game.

Before the crucial House debate, the Indian government wants a respite from the culpability of Nepal crisis. Therefore, it wants Nepal’sMadhesi parties to take the blame and rescue the Indian government from the undeniable questions in the House. In doing this, the Government of India has used the opposition parties of Nepal to its advantage. This is an unprecedented rule of engagement between the two countries anywhere in the world.

India’s position

India has been regularly and unequivocally telling the government of Nepal and the leaders of Nepal’s major parties that the solution to Nepal’s current problem lies in Kathmandu.

“Talk to your own people, not to us”, was a refrain of the Ministry of External Affairs when Nepal’s government or Nepalese Ambassador to India asked for Delhi’s support to ease supplies. So far, it hasn’t said so to the Madhesi parties. Why two different standards? Doesn’t it prove India takes side in Nepal’s internal matters? What makes an influential, a rising power like India unable to put forward its clear positions on Nepal issues?

Let’s take India’s commitment for a peaceful and prosperous Nepal by the merit of these words. There is no reason to hide or shrug off its positions for India. It must clearly say to the leaders and people of Nepal what it wants, which will make the relations more transparent, removing doubts of cloud. There is no point for India to shy about it.

In this context, its message to the Madhesi parties would be very important. A saner advice would help India reaffirm its message, will allow Nepal’s nascent constitution to succeed and also reconfirm India as the responsible rising power.

But this action is a like coin with a flip side too. Having invited the Madehsi leaders and used their statements in the political narrative in India in the context of Rajya Sabha debate, the Modi government has chosen to walk a delicate route. If the situation doesn’t improve or worsens in Nepal even after this visit, questions will be asked about India’s role and responsibility. It will lose all benefits of doubt.

Nepal’s response

Nepal, as a small landlocked country, must devise a pragmatic policy guideline in its dealings with India. Its leaders must learn to bring transparency in their behavior vis-à-vis India. Indian leaders are right in saying that Nepal’s politicians go to India and promise all kinds of things but fail to implement them in Nepal. This is reducing the credibility of the leaders and the Government of Nepal.

This time, Nepal must follow if Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Thapa has promised anything in New Delhi. This would be the first crucial step towards normalizing relations with India. Both countries must work to strengthen ties, leaving behind this period of mistrust as a dark chapter in the history of bilateral relations.

While talking about one neighboring country, it is equally important not to mixt it with another.

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