By Bishnu Neupane
The government’s decision to import gasoline from China has been warmly supported by the common people as the country has been going through a hardest time due to the economic blockade imposed by India since Sept 22—just two days after the promulgation of the much-awaited new constitution. In fact the promulgation of the constitution through endorsement of a two-thirds majority of the Constituent Assembly brought a new hope to the entire Nepali people.
This is a historical document in Nepal which has been achieved with a 65-year democratic struggle through an elected Constituent Assembly. Ironically, Southern neighbor India, which assumes itself as the World’s vibrant and largest democracy, didn’t welcome the landmark document. India issued a statement and merely took a note on the day of the promulgation of the constitution.
A democratic, inclusive and landmark document of Nepal got a cold shoulder from neighbor India. Subsequently, hurting the feelings of ordinary people of Nepal, India imposed a deliberate blockade-which is of course a threat to sovereignty, territorial integrity and right to self-determination of the country. It is not India to teach Nepal what sort of constitution Nepali people should adopt. It is internal affairs of Nepal.
The blockade by the southern neighbor against Nepal has come under pretext of Madhesi parties’ demonstration in the southern plains bordering India. The Madhesi parties feel disappointed with the newly-promulgated national charter though it is a milestone document for the well-being and prosperous future of the entire Nepalese.
As major parties—the CPN (UML) and UCPN (Maoist) have been reiterating again and again that the Madhesi parties justified concerns would be addressed through making amendments in the new constitution; the Madhesi parties have continued their protests even without making clear their demands. The Madhesi parties have brought obstruction at Raxual-Birgunj border check point, a major trading point between India and Nepal, for about one and half month. The Indian government has issued clear instruction to its custom officials, border security forces and immigration officials not to give exit clearance to cargo vehicles from entering to Nepal via Raxual border point.
“This is a deliberate economic embargo against Nepal by India which has impeded our transit rights for trade that we enjoy as a landlocked least developing country,” an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told.
India has been showing its sympathy to the elites of some Madhesis who were migrated to Terai region some ten or twenty years back and there is a close familial relation between the people of bordering states of Nepal and India given the cross-border marriages. As a result millions of inhabitants of Bihar and some other Indian states have obtained naturalized citizenship in Terai region of Nepal.
A section of Madhesi people, who are originally the inhabitants from Indian states but now have hold naturalized citizenships, have been agitated for the past few months demanding to ensure their rights in the new constitution. India has been lobbying in Nepal for establishing rights of those naturalize citizens in Terai in the new constitution. The fact is India wants its structural guarantee in all state bodies so as to continuing its hegemony in the tiny Himalayan nation. This has been an established international practice that persons holding the naturalized citizenships in a country are often barred to hold high executive posts such as president and prime minister. The same Nepal has followed at this critical juncture of the history.
As per the international practice, the new constitution has barred granting citizenship by descent to children of a Nepali girl married to a foreigner. However, India wants to change this provision in the new constitution. India wants to ensure that children born from Nepali girls married to the Indian nationals should get citizenship by descent. Madhesis who are inhabitants from Terai also are not ready to accept such pressure from India. However, a handful of Madhesi leaders such as Rajendra Mahato, who migrated to Nepal from Indian state of Bihar in the 1970s, want amendments in the new constitution so as to children from Nepali girls married to Indian nationals could get citizenship by descent.
India wants amending the constitution to redefine seven federal provinces and ensure rights of those Madhesis who have been migrated to Nepal from Bihar and other provinces. This can’t be acceptable to a patriotic Nepali. Questions have been arising these days whether India wants to transform Nepal into another Fiji? What are India’s inherent interests? Why India seems against Nepal’s sovereignty? Why India doesn’t want a stable and prosperous Nepal? India’s bullying in Nepal’s internal affairs is not acceptable to Nepali people. Rather it can be supportive of implementing the constitution which was adopted through 90% of people’s representatives through an elected body.
India, on the other, wants to keep its hegemony so as to Nepal remains under its sphere of influence and counter China’s goodwill in Nepal which the northern neighbor has garnered with its huge unconditional unflinching support for several years.
China’s policy of non interference in Nepal has been warmly appreciated by the Nepali people in the recent years which India believes as China’s growing influence. When India imposed an embargo on Nepal, Nepal has without any hesitation asked for support from China and a long-term framework deal on importing fuel from China has been signed two weeks ago. As part of its grant assistance to Nepal, China has offered 1000 metric tons of petrol from Keyrong Rasuwagadhi border point which has been supplied to Kathmandu this week. This is a generous support from our northern neighbor which has never hurt in our sovereignty and territorial integrity. China has always been helping for Nepal’s stability and safeguarding our national interests and sovereignty. China has said may times and now the policy is intact that China can’t tolerate any kind of foreign intervention against Nepal’s sovereignty.
Importing petroleum products for the long-run from China is a common voice of Nepalese people basically among the new generation. China was the Nepal’s largest FDI contributor in 2014 surpassing India. While, India which believes Nepal as its backyard, has lost its political ground in Nepal after the Narendra Modi-led BJP government imposed an economic blockade on Nepal against a democratic constitution. Modi’s muscular foreign policy is flying in colors.
India now even doesn’t serve to become the region power due to Modi’s failure in handling friendly relations with neighboring countries. Nepal’s deal with China on importing fuel should not be taken as anti-Indian move as Nepal has right to import fuel from China or any other third country as a sovereign country. As Nepal became a part of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and the founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank last year, Nepal has great opportunities to get benefit from neighboring China’s emergence as the world largest economy within a few years.
China is expanding its railway network toward Nepal-China border region Keyrong (Jilong) of Tibet Autonomous Region by 2020, now Nepal must work for carrying out feasibility study toward linking the railway toward Kathmandu. Eventually Nepal must be connected through roads and railway networks with China and its dependence on trade with India.
Immediate priority for Nepal now is to expand and upgrade the two major highways—Kodari Tatopani and Kathmandu-Rasuwagadi—which connect China. At the same time, Nepal must reactive other trading points with China which were opened years back.
It is obviously a good news for Nepal that Nepali and custom officials were agreed to reopen seven trading points with China this week. The seven new trading points which come to operation in the near future include Olangchugola of Taplejung district, Kimathangka of Sankhuwasabha, Lamabagar of Dolakha, Larkepass of Gorkha, Koralla of Mustang, Mugu trading point and Yari point situated in Jumla.
Improving infrastructures and expanding roads at these border points should be the major priority of Nepal. Nepal’s heavy reliance of trade on India was a major cause why the Nepalese are suffering now due to India’s deliberate blockade. The fuel came almost 100 percent from India in the past 40 years and the Nepali policy makers didn’t even think of importing fuel from China. Now there is a big realization why Nepal should not sign a Transit Treaty with China and pave a way for third country trade through China?
It is a high for Nepali policy makers to work for this long-term approach so that Nepal can survive as an independent and land-linked country not as India-locked. Nepali people and policy makers must come out from India-locked mindset. Enhancing trade with China is not an anti-Indian move. But as a sovereign country Nepal work toward balancing its trade with the two emerging economies of the world China and India. Nepal should act as a new bridge between China and India not as buffer state. The trilateral partnership among China, Nepal and India can make the Asian region more stable and prosperous. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi rightly told in December last year during his Kathmandu visit, Nepal, of course, can be a door for China to India and the entire South Asia. India should realize the importance of China.
Neuapne is a lecturer in a Kathmandu-based private college.