India Welcomes Nepal's New Constitution With Blockade! : Nandalal Tiwari

It is an irony that the country which claims to be the largest democracy in the world has rejected the most democratic process to write a constitution. India, Nepal's southern neighbour, has stopped so low as to effectuate an economic blockade following the promulgation of the new constitution through the Constituent Assembly (CA) in Nepal on September 20, 2015. The new constitution was endorsed by over 90 per cent of the total strength of the CA. There was no consensus among the political parties in the CA, but it was near consensus.

Nowhere in the world has any constitution been promulgated by any CA with such majority. Many world powers, including China, USA, France, Japan and Pakistan, welcomed the new constitution. However, India, the colony of the British Raj till 1947, simply took note of it and took an inhuman measure of an unannounced economic blockade to register its dissatisfaction forgetting that Nepal, a country which safeguarded its sovereignty and independence even at the time when the world was divided among the world empires, is a sovereign, independent country.

Blockade not unexpected

In fact, the blockade is not unexpected. The statement of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued just after the promulgation of the new constitution were rife with such threats. Expression of the Indian Foreign Secretary, S. Jaysankar, during his visit to Nepal as a special envoy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had issued similar threats when he reportedly told the Nepalese leaders: What if India does not welcome the new constitution?

Jaysankar was here, on September 18, after the CA had endorsed the new constitution and the date for the promulgation, Sept 20, had been fixed. He was here to postpone the promulgation so that the demands of the agitating Madhes-based parties were addressed. Three major parties had already called the Madhesi leaders for dialogue, and put on hold the CA process for two days as demanded by them. But no formal dialogue was held as the Madhesi leaders did not reciprocate the major three party's move. Given this, the Nepalese leaders were in no position to postpone the promulgation date and thus bow down before Indian hegemonic pressure.  

It has just five months since Nepal was devastated by an earthquake of magnitude 7.6. Many poor people are still waiting for government relief and rehabilitation. And India has imposed an undeclared economic blockade. There is double standard at work. The Indian government has claimed that the economic blockade has not been imposed, however, at the border points, its agencies, the customs offices and Sima Surakshya Bal (SSB), do not allow passage to Nepal-bound containers.

India has used different covers to hide its blockade - that the agitating parties have blocked the entry points. That is totally wrong. The agitating parties decided to stage sit-ins at border points only on Friday, but Nepali containers had been stranded in India for over a week. And except for Birgunj, no sit-in had blocked the road. Moreover, reports said even at Birgunj, cadres of the agitating parties held the sit-in at the no man's land and pelted stone at the Nepali security personnel from Indian soil. Had the agitation in the southern plains blocked the transportation of the goods, they would have been blocked some 40 days ago when the agitation started.

Now, it is clear India has supported the agitation in the southern plains in an open and ugly manner. In this light, India has interfered in Nepal's internal affairs. Now the Indian move has even jeopardised the agitation in Madhes itself. Many have already started saying that the agitation is continuing on the strength of India. Thus, Indian interference and Madhesi agitation have become interconnected. It is upto the Madhesi leaders how they work to detach their movement from the Indian clutch so that the movement for what they say rights can be legitimate and a domestic affair.

This scribe suggests them to remember what Yudhisthira told his brothers when the Kaurav were tied by the Gandharvas in the jungle near where the Pandavas had taken shelter: When outsiders attack us, we all brothers are one, when it is a matter of our right, we are five Pandavas and they are 100 Kauravs. 

By imposing an unannounced blockade, Indian rulers have violated their own constitution. Article 51 of the Indian constitution says: maintain just and honourable relations between nations, respect international law and treaty obligations. India has violated the international law on the rights of a landlocked country, it has also crushed the just and honourable relations with Nepal. What wrong did Nepal do to India by promulgating the new constitution?

A blockade or threat of a blockade has been a weapon used by India to impose its interests in Nepal. But the blockade has always added pains to the common people than to the ruling elite. Indian sanctions on Nepal, direct and indirect interference, have fuelled anti-India sentiments in Nepal. And Indian diplomacy has failed in most south Asian countries. With the blockade, Nepalese are having a taste of the Modi government's ‘first neighbourhood’ policy.

No excuse can justify the Indian blockade. But Nepalese leaders cannot be excused for such situation as well. When India imposed a blockade in 1989, these leaders did not protest against it, because they thought it was supportive of their movement against the partyless Panchayat system. At the moment, the Madhesi leaders are repeating the same mistakes. Moreover, they have recently decided to stage sit-ins at the border points as if the common people in the hills are their enemies.

Dialogue

They must know that the blockade will complicate the life of the common people not that of the political elites. On the other hand, the ruling parties including the main opposition UCPN-Maoist, must take urgent steps to hold dialogue with the agitating parties. We have seen the true face and heart of our southern neighbour. We have to take steps to bring a day when any Indian economic blockade will have no impact here. But to bring the day, the government must take the agitating parties into confidence, address their genuine demands and ensure that the new constitution is implemented smoothly. Particularly the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML must be ready to recognise the identity of the Tharus and be ready to ensure a province covering their majority area.

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