Print Edition - 2016-01-03  |  Free the Words

Pre-departure checklist

  • PM Oli could meet his predecessors and seek their counsel before going to Delhi
- Khagendra N Sharma
Nepal has started to explore alternate sources of supplies by approaching China, which was long overdue. But it would be foolish to think that China can replace India in our international marketing. At best, it could be a warm supplement .

Jan 3, 2016-This is not the first time that India has bullied Nepal as a big brother, and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s sugarcoating it as the role of an elder brother does not alter the truth. By now the world knows that India has imposed an embargo on the movement of essential goods from and through India for over four months. The blockade would have been harsh in any circumstance, but it hurts the most after almost half of Nepal was flattened by a horrible earthquake. The Indian claim that it has not imposed an embargo is the largest untruth ever claimed by a civilized state.

Big bully

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent his emissary the foreign secretary on the eve of the promulgation of Nepal’s long-awaited constitution to communicate his wish for a postponement to discuss the so-called Madhesi issue over which the Madhesi Morcha had launched an agitation in the southern plains. But the then government pushed the constitution through, promising that the issue would be addressed with an amendment. A new coalition headed by Prime Minister KP Oli, for whom the Indian government had an open dislike, then took over. Modi complimented Oli on his new job and extended an invitation to visit India. This was the best part of the episode which opened opportunities for improving mutual relations.

Modi had left a benevolent impression during his first visit as the prime minister of India, but he made a U-turn when Nepal as a sovereign state proclaimed its new constitution. Granted that there were differences in the process of the finalisation of the document, and some groups were unhappy with the way some political issues had been dealt with. But, does that not happen in every political system and everywhere in the world? Did India not have unresolved issues when its own constitution was promulgated in 1950? In the 66 years since, has India not made more than 100 amendments some of which relate to creating new states? Modi did not understand that Nepal’s political differences were her internal affairs, and that the government had pledged to table an amendment motion. His decision to impose an embargo was prompted by his feeling as a big brother who can bully the smaller one by any means. When Oli took charge, resolving the Madhesi agitation was the most urgent task. But he dillydallied without engaging the agitators with complete seriousness. He did send his foreign minister to Delhi, but he was treated as a student failing to produce his homework. 

Learn from the past

Nepal has started to explore alternate sources of supplies by approaching China, which was long overdue. But it would be foolish to think that China can replace India in our international marketing. At best, it could be a warm supplement. So, relations with India must continue, but without being over dependent and subordinate as in the past. The onus is on Oli to raise our relations with India to the level of equal partners. This is what he should accomplish during his India visit. Can he do it? Yes he can, but he has to upgrade his methodology. Oli seems to be an overconfident person, and he does not realise the dangers of being so in politics. 

There are more than half a dozen living ex-prime ministers, some of whom have faced previous embargos by India. Oli can gain a lot of insight from them. He could meet with them before going to Delhi, and the outcome of the deliberations should form the agenda for his discussions with Modi. In fact, Oli should urge them to accompany him to Delhi to raise the status of Nepal vis-à-vis India as a team. Modi will realise the folly of imposing an embargo which has stirred the entire country to its feet. He has lost the confidence of the Nepali people besides lowering India’s image in the international field. The ex-prime ministers’ involvement is at the policy level, but negotiations have to be carried out on a more pragmatic level too. Different agencies at the border have been creating problems. Encroachment is a vivid and chronic problem, and there are chronic cases of innocent Nepali travellers being bullied at the border. Nepali migrant workers who return home carrying their meagre savings are permanent victims. They are harassed with the help of the police and robbed of their money at the border. 

As an equal 

Another nagging problem that Nepal has been helplessly watching is the construction of high dams or embankments by India which result in the inundation of Nepali farms. First noted in Banke district, this vicious practice is being extended far and wide. Does Nepal have not a right to protest against the submergence of vast fields by a deliberate act of India? Oli must have the guts not only to point out the problem but also protest against such deliberate acts with strength. This strength comes from the sufferings of the affected people. Oli can get tonnes of support from the 

people who know where the shoe pinches. Apart from the former prime ministers, we have senior foreign ministers and ex-diplomats who possess varied experiences in India. We have technical persons like survey officers who know about the border encroachments and the bullying done by Indian security personnel. 

The problems that I have pointed out are just the tip of the iceberg which will multiply if left unresolved. I feel that with the country in the grips of the Indian embargo, this is the perfect time to press hard for an acceptable solution. Modi’s invitation should be utilised to raise the capability of Nepal to be treated as an equal. Oli can do this by doing the full homework, only part of which I have explained here. If he can achieve this, he will not only improve his falling image but will, in reality, be remembered as the prime minister with a national mission made successful by a crisis. I hope that all patriotic Nepalis will support me in wishing Oli glorious success in his mission.

 

- Sharma is a political analyst

Published: 03-01-2016 09:04

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