India’s economic blockade against Nepal
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Indian relation with its Himalayan neighbor Nepal has not been smooth for quite some time now mainly due to political changes taking place in that country, requiring changes in its relations with India. Growing economic and political ties with its neighbor China has complicated Indo-Nepal relations. Nepal’s reclaim of parts of India as being historically a part of Nepal has been viewed in New Delhi as being demand for confrontation with “big brother”.
India, a regional powerbroker claiming regional super power seeking a big power status at global level by heavily influencing the super power USA, Russia, Brazil and Israel, among other powerful countries cannot tolerate its tiny neighbor to ignore Indian ambitions. New Delhi has made no secret that it believes Nepal’s constitution should give greater powers to the Hindu minority, known as the Madhesi.
Ahead of the Sept. 18 vote on the new constitution, the Madhesi ethnic minority in and along Nepal’s border had protested violently for weeks, and continue to do so. Some 40 people have died.
The charter was agreed by a rare show of unity between Maoists and the main ruling parties in Nepal. Unlike the past, India played no key role in the shaping and ratification of the document, which was approved by a vote of 507 to 25.
On Sept. 16, two days before the vote on the constitution, India’s foreign secretary visited Kathmandu to lobby for the Madhesis. Since then, India hasn’t welcomed the new charter, only saying Sept. 20 that, “We note the promulgation in Nepal today of a Constitution.”
Nepal is fully dependent on India for overland trade after routes with China were closed by landslides triggered by devastating earthquakes in the spring, the worst in 80 years.
Recently landlocked Nepal enacted adopted a landmark federal constitution which seems to have annoyed India. Nepal is now facing what it calls an economic blockade by India as retribution for the new charter’s treatment of an ethnic Hindu minority along the southern border with India.
As consequence of economic blockade, Nepal is reeling under shortages. Gas, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel, and cooking gas are sparsely available, and the government is asking people to drive cars only on alternate days. Authorities have called for families to switch to charcoal and firewood for cooking, and for international airlines to refuel abroad. “Indian security personnel have prevented cargo trucks from crossing the border,” Home Ministry Spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said. He added: “Among thousands of trucks stuck on the Indian side of the border are nearly 400 fuel tankers and trucks carrying cooking gas.” The public television officials today cancelled all India-based programming.
Protests erupted in Katmandu against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who leads an increasingly assertive Hindutva nationalist party and threatening to wipe out religious freedoms of minorities.
India denies conducting a formal blockade, blaming the disruption of road transportation into Nepal on insecurity along the border.
Nepalese say India is trying to coerce a sovereign nation and unfairly aid a minority that shares its beliefs and interests.
India blames the supply disruption on “unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” and on Indian truck drivers unwilling to brave the crossing.
The Madhesi minority is using the blockade to ratchet up its demands for a bigger state. The constitution guarantees a seven-state federal structure, ending Nepal’s unitary structure. One of the states has been carved out specifically for the Madhesis.
Nepali analysts argue that India is supporting the group’s demands. “This is a blockade done through official connivance of the Indian government,” says Kanak Mani Dixit, publisher of Himal Southasian. “Indian customs officials, Indian border police, and Indian Oil Corp., the monopoly supplier to Nepal, have all worked together to block the border citing orders from New Delhi.” “Indian bureaucrats and intelligence officials, on whose hands Nepal policy is by and large left by New Delhi, feel irritated” by Nepal’s self-driven adoption of its own charter, he adds.
Nepal believes that India is more resentful of the process rather than the content of Nepal’s new constitution. India feels it should be consulted about change in the region and that it may want clear access to natural resources in Nepal. Many Nepalese work and live in India and plenty of them keep travelling to India for work/job.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to reopen the Nepal-China trading routes. However, the mountain passes are narrow and few in number; imports are limited mostly to garments and electronics. Nepal requires Indian supply and border routes to India for protecting its populations.
Nepal’s government has called for dialogue with the protesting Madhesis and proposed that parliament can pass constitutional amendments next month. India is yet to announce opening the border with Nepal.