- Whatever the intent, Delhi’s restrictions have only deepened political and communal cleavages
Oct 5, 2015-
The decision by the Indian government to lift the unofficial restriction it had placed on border crossings and to actively enable the movement of supplies into Nepal is a positive one, if only Delhi goes on to honour it with sincerity. The restriction continues to cause enormous difficulties across Nepal, and there are worries that it could severely disrupt the Dashain festivities; the peak tourist season and Nepal’s trade not just with India but also with third countries. By all accounts, it already has had a severe impact on Nepali economy and life.
This could turn out to be a costly diplomatic blunder for New Delhi. First, it has given way to anti-India sentiments as the border restrictions tighten. Second, Delhi would do well to take note of an increasing number of opinion makers and political leaders calling for diversifying Nepal’s transit routes with China (see Interview with Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat below).
We would like to caution here that even with the end of restrictions, it will be a while before a regular flow of supplies is restored. Protesters continue to obstruct the movement of vehicles in various parts and the bureaucratic backlog on the Indian side owing to days of unofficial blockade could take days to clear.
Still, it is important that three major parties and the Madhesi parties take immediate steps to address the political logjam. The prime minister’s decision to make amendments to the constitution is welcome, but the changes will make more sense if they are backed by inter-party negotiations and a larger political ownership. So far, productive talks have been held only with the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik led by Bijay Gachhadar; it will also be necessary to engage other leaders such as Mahantha Thakur, Upendra Yadav and Rajendra Mahato.
While the recent efforts to engage these groups are positive, there is an apparent countervailing dangerous tendency: some politicians, especially CPN-UML leaders, are far less concerned about addressing the larger political grievances and are more intent on changing the government. This group wants UML Chairman KP Oli to be elected prime minister before making any other political move. This may not provide a durable solution. It is crucial that some key questions of the constitution are first resolved before moving on to other issues. While the post-constitution power-sharing will inevitably crop up during the formation of a new government, the parties should not lose sight of the larger picture: the need for a durable constitution.
The NC and the UCPN (Maoist) should assure the UML that it is next in line to lead the government and that it should indeed be an integral part of resolving the outstanding constitutional issues. For now, New Delhi could help by lifting the restrictions unconditionally and unambiguously; prolonged restrictions will only create a deeper cleavage among the Nepali communities and political parties.
Published: 05-10-2015 08:23