By Keshav Pradhan (TNN, Oct 4, 2015) – India’s belated bid for a role in Nepal’s constitution-making process has united the landlocked nation’s top mainstream parties as never before.
Shedding their inherent differences, Nepali Congress (NC), considered closest to New Delhi, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) have stood rock solid in their resistance to India’s efforts to customize their country’s new constitution to its requirements. These three parties have an overwhelming majority in the 601-member constituent assembly. New Delhi is sympathetic to the demands of Madhesis (Maithili, Bhojpuri, Avadhi, Hindi and Urdu-speaking people) for more representation and autonomy.
“Delhi seems to have lost much of its goodwill in the rest of Nepal by supporting only one section of the population. The Nepali people will take a long time to get over this,” rued a Nepali diplomat.
Prior to this, NC, founded in Kolkata in 1946, had never been in conflict with India. It had rather been party to almost all treaties and agreements with New Delhi that Communists found loaded in favour of India. On the contrary, CPN-UML and UCPN-M take to the streets against India at the drop of a hat.
Two former prime ministers, Sher Bahadur Deuba (NC) and Madhav Kumar Nepal (CPN-UML), have asked for an end to what they call “India’s undeclared blockade”. Khadga Prasad Oli (UML), who is tipped to become Nepal’s next PM, too has strongly objected to the closure of supply points to Nepal.
Signaling further hardening of Nepal’s position, Oli has opposed incumbent PM Sushil Koirala’s recommendations for constitutional amendments to accommodate some of the issues raised by Madhesis and other disgruntled groups. Koirala called for such changes a little before he put in his papers to pave the way for the selection of a new prime minister. “These recommendations are only for show,” Oli, who hails from Jhapa bordering Darjeeling district, told media in Kathmandu.
As Nepal slides into chaos over the Madhesi protests, dissident UCPN-M leader and former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has raked up the debate on the nature of Nepali nationalism vis-a-vis India. Regarded as one of Nepal’s finest Communist ideologues, Bhattarai quit UCPN-M days after the constituent assembly passed the constitution, which he too had supported.
Bhattarai explained that he would fight for the cause of Madhesis and Tharus, who mainly live in the Terai bordering Bihar and UP. During their “people’s war” that lasted 10 years till 2006, the Maoists had promised autonomy to all major ethnic groups, including Madhesis and Tharus. He said his campaign would be on the basis of “progressive nationalism”.
For decades, the Nepalis are caught in conflict over the question of nationalism. What communists and former royalists define as “Nepali nationalism”, many in NC and Madhesi parties dismiss as “anti-Indiaism”. Communists, both mainstream and underground, oppose India-Nepal treaties on water resources and trade, accusing Delhi of turning Nepal into a captive market. They want abrogation of the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950, saying it benefits New Delhi more than their country.
Part of Nepali opposition stems from their perceived fear of what they call New Delhi’s “unpredictable behaviour”. They find India either condescending or insensitive. Many point out the sudden swing in India’s policy in the last three months. They wondered why India was punishing them hard when they were making their constitution their way, barely months after PM Narendra Modi’s visit generated unprecedented bonhomie between the two countries. Lately, Madhesis’ dependence on India to settle their disputes with Kathmandu has added more to the hill compatriots’ insecurity.
Many Nepali entrepreneurs recalled how India succumbed to pressure from its own business lobby and half-heartedly implemented trade concessions given by the I K Gujral government in the 1990s. Another issue that has always rattled the Nepalis is New Delhi’s objection to the import of Chinese weapons by their country in 1988. This was followed by the closure of 20 of the 22 entry points after India rejected Nepal’s proposal to have two separate trade and transit treaties. Many years later, India grudgingly changed its stand and allowed Kathmandu to buy weapons from other countries to fight the Maoists.
This news has been originally published in thetimesofindia.indiatimes.com.