Wishful Thinking : Hira Bahadur Thapa

In the wake of the promulgation of the new constitution on September 20, Nepali political leaders have started talking about opening up new transit points with our northern neighbour rather expeditiously. There is no debate whether we should do it or not because having more trading points with our neighbours is always beneficial. But what is perplexing is that we hardly wake up until we have been pricked by our southern neighbour by disrupting the supplies of essential goods.

No visionary leaders

This year Nepal has been facing more hardships due to the earthquake that hit it last April, and many victims of that disaster have not recovered fully. An earthquake cannot be predicted, and thus we could not avoid the evil consequences emanating from it except mitigating them. Unlike the natural calamity, the political unrest that is gripping the nation now should have been anticipated in advance. This why the nation needs visionary leaders.

Constitution drafting is the sovereign right of the Nepalese people. Some people have tried to project the current issue arising from the lack of ownership of the constitution from the marginalised groups of the society, like the Madhesis and Tharus, as the sole reason of the irritant between Nepal and India. The backing of the new constitution from the majority of the members of the Constituent Assembly is understandable, but the crux of the problem is that a significant population of Nepal is still feeling discriminated by the provisions of the same.

If those agitating groups do not get justice in addressing the concerns they have been raising while the constitution was being drafted, when will they be in a position to see the end of their decades-long discrimination by the state?

We agree that the Nepalese people have been delivered the new constitution after 65 years since they first were promised the formation of a Constituent Assembly for writing a democratic constitution. Therefore, the people of Nepal, except the Terai, were celebrating the promulgation of the first ever constitution written by their representatives.

This euphoria should not have been short-lived as marked by the more wide-spread opposition of the constitution in the plains. The people in the Terai have been hard hit by long strikes, impacting their daily lives and forcing them to bear the brunt of shortage of essentials, including food and cooking gas, among other things.

The most unfortunate part of the ongoing agitation launched since the major political parties signed the 16-point agreement to expeditiously advance the process of approving the new constitution has been that our own people have obstructed the inflow of goods into Nepal from India. Their logic is hard to believe, which is to make Kathmandu’s residents feel the pains of scarcity seriously by restricting the supply of essential goods even by blocking oil tankers into the country from India.

This approach lies at the heart of the dispute between the two neighbours for more than a month, creating a situation of no dialogue between the two prime ministers, who used to talk over the phone almost once a week. The snub given to the leader of the Nepalese delegation to the 70th session of the UN General Assembly by refusing to meet him by the Indian head of the delegation despite requests in New York only underscores the gravity of the problem between epal and India.

The stalemate in holding serious talks between Kathmandu and Delhi for resolving the difference will not be beneficial to our bilateral relationship.

Moreover, certain activities by the emotional Nepalese protesting the present behaviour of India refusing to welcome the democratically-approved new constitution, though understandable, have also complicated the situation.

It is termed an economic blockade though the Indian side has tried to present it as the disruption of supplies due to the protest movement of the Madhesi and Tharu communities at the Nepal-India border points. The innocent people of Nepal have been compelled to bear the suffering because of increasing shortage of daily necessities, including petroleum products, giving them reminiscences of the 1971 and 1989-90 economic blockades consequent upon the refusal by India to renew the Trade and Transit Treaty.

Interestingly, in the aftermath of the last blockade, the status quo of normalising the relations between Nepal and India was maintained only after the formation of an interim government headed by late Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, who visited Delhi and signed the communique. 

There has been a long history of such ups and downs in Nepal-India relations, and solutions have been sought through negotiations. The Nepal government representative, our ambassador to India, has been conveying the concerns of Nepal to the Indian government as petroleum supplies have not been normal.

India as an old friend of Nepal, which has been providing cooperation to the development of Nepal and more importantly which rushed to our rescue in the immediate wake of the devastating earthquake before other nations offered any help, is expected to empathise with the Nepalese people, who have no ill feelings towards India.

At this hour of crisis, some have floated the idea of importing petroleum products from China. As an alternative to just one source, it is wiser to explore more avenues. But in doing so, we should avoid having wishful thinking, as under the present circumstances the option of bringing oil from China, where the price is higher and the costs of transportation are likely to be higher, does not look practical.

Learning from the crises like these, Nepal should start cutting down on the consumption of petrol and diesel by restricting the use of government vehicles and introducing big buses in the city area to supplement thousands of small vehicles plying on the roads. Furthermore, it needs to have more dependable transit points with China, for which linking roads will have to be constructed with due priority.

Quiet diplomacy

To resolve the issue at hand, the government of Nepal should actively pursue diplomatic endeavours to win the confidence of our neighbour by bringing the agitating Nepali communities on board with necessary amendments in the constitution. Sloganeering is no solution but quiet diplomacy is.

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