Intro : Nepal is politically unstable for the last many years. The recent violence has spiraled out of federal syndrome. Being a neighbour, what are the implication for Bharat?
Protests over demarcation of states in Nepal’s new Constitution created sporadic violence. It claimed more than two dozen lives so far. The Ethnic Madhesi protesters want a state named after their group in the area where they live. The ethnic groups say having a separate state would give them a stronger say in local affairs. Violent protests have been taking place in Nepal’s mid-western, far-western and Madhesi regions since early August. The demonstrations are against the decisions taken by the country’s four major political parties to demarcate new federal sates. The parties had initially decided to include six states in the Constitution but increased it to seven following protests. Ethnic minorities, such as the Tharus contend that the new constitution, which will pave the way for seven federal states, will not provide them sufficient autonomy. Nepal is politically unstable for the last many years. The recent violence of Tarai has spiraled out of federal syndrome which is not accepted by the people or by the different political organisations. The two consecutive Constituent Assemblies failed to meet the dead line in evolving the Constitution on time.
Recent violence erupted in the country over the demand for a separate province. It was the worst spate of violence after the end of the Maoist insurgency in 2006. Prime Minister of Bharat, Narendra Modi who is keen on cementing ties with neighbours has expressed New Delhi’s concerns about the continuing political instability in Nepal. He has offered advice to Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala urging him to sort out all outstanding issues through widespread consultations. He also appealed to the government, all political parties and the people of Nepal to disband violence and maintain social harmony and conveyed that, as a neighbour, India would do all it can for security in Nepal.
The recent trouble is the result of political differences among different parties. They squarely blame Bharat for their own failure. Because it is easy for them to get scot-free for their own misdeeds and mishandling of the situations. This time as well, some of the Nepalese leaders tried to blame Bharat. Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam had told the Nepalese Constituent Assembly that he had “heard” of a “large number of intruders from the south” entering Nepal, who were ostensibly related to the ongoing street protests over the framing of the Constitution. This is unfortunate statements to derail the evolving stronger ties between Bharat and Nepal. Nepal is the first country where Bharatiya PM visited twice since he came to power.
Why Nepal is turning to be a politically unstable? The people of Nepal are fed up with the false assurances of a structured constitution and rule of law sooner than later. The steam is running out and the hope of people to have an established Constitution and rule of law is turning to create nightmare. The fact of the matter is that a good Constitution unites the people, does not divide them. But the Nepalese leaders are least concerned about it. In fact, Peace came to Nepal as early as 2006 but the transition to Parliamentary democracy has been stumbling since then. Six Prime Ministers have come and gone. The adoption of the Constitution has missed many deadlines. Political conflict between parties has not been defused.
The 16-point agreement among four prominent parties of Nepal, had laid the groundwork for the creation of new Provinces based on ethnic considerations. However, it became clear soon after that the deal did not enjoy the support of a wide number of parties, including the various Madhesi-based groups. So much so that even the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik, which was a party to the agreement, pulled out of the deal. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which too had signed the agreement, has been having second thoughts. It is not Bharat's fault that Kathmandu has failed to reach a consensus among the stakeholders on the issue. Therefore, targeting Bharat for every ills in Nepal is neither good for people of Nepal nor good for both countries.
The travelogue of polity in Nepal has many cuts. Nepalis were first promised a democratic constitution drafted by an elected constituent assembly (CA) in 1951, but it did not happen. The current process is the cornerstone of a peace deal signed with Maoist insurgents in 2006.In 2006, all major parties agreed that the causes of the conflict, and Nepal's deep and longstanding economic and political problems in general, could be partly addressed through a new constitution which would “restructure the state” and attempt to salve the injustices of class, caste, gender and regional discrimination, making politics more accountable and democratic.
The first CA was elected in 2008 with a majority for the “new forces”, including the Maoist former rebels (UML) and regional parties. However, they were unable to reach an agreement with the “establishment parties”, the Nepali Congress and the UML. The particular sticking point was federalism, and to what extent the new federal units should reflect the “identity” of various marginalised ethnic groups. A second CA was elected at the end of 2013, this time with a large majority for the Congress and UML, but the Maoists and others stuck to their federal demands, and the deadlock continued like 2008.
Nepal is country which has many castes and diverse social hues. Nepal’s geography and ethnic mosaic is too unique and intertwined and may not be suited for federal fragmentation. The current seven province model is not done with proper homework. Nepal’s unique ethnography is made up of 125 caste/ethnic groups who mostly live in densely mixed rural settlements. There isn’t a community which is not inhabited by at least half a dozen different caste/ethnicities living together with shared membership in forest.
The political instability in Nepal has certain implications for Bharat. There are many reasons. Bharat and Nepal have wide range of open border. The march from one side to another is common phenomena. The open border between Bharat and Nepal not only addressed mutual security considerations but also fostered close socio-economic relations between the two countries. The unrestricted flow of people over the years has resulted in the dissemination of ideas, culture, and settlements of people in each other’s territory thereby strengthening the bilateral social and cultural relations. The open border also has a favourable impact on two economies. Nepal is a landlocked country and its closest access to the sea is through Bharat. As a result most of its imports pass through Bharat. Keeping this in consideration, Bharat has granted Nepal 15 transit and 22 trading points along the border. As for Bharat, it is the biggest trading partner of Nepal. An open border has also allowed many Nepalese citizens to find employment in Bharat and Bharatiya to open business ventures in Nepal. But this open border has gradually turned to be heaven for anti-Bharat activities. Terrorists, arms smugglers and criminals use this easy route creates terror in Bharat. Especially Nepal shares its boundary with four of Bharat’s most populous states; therefore, political instability in Nepal has spillover effects in these states.
Secondly security threat for Bharat is mushrooming of madrasas in the Bharatiya border adjoining with Nepal. Numerous madrasas which have proliferated in the Terai region on both sides of the Indo-Nepal border during the past two decades has also become a source of major concern for the Bharatiya security establishment.. The problem is further aggravated by intelligence inputs that Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has been using Nepalese territory to carry out anti-Bharat activities since the 1990s. Wikileaks documents have revealed that the ISI has created a number of terrorist fronts in Nepal and has also pushed in men and explosives through the border to carry out terror attacks in Bharat.
Finally, Nepal’s economic progress is stalled due to political decisions. Foreign policy of Nepal of equidistance between Bharat and China is equally problematic. Bharat has been the only accessible source of livelihood in Nepal. New government of Bharat is very considerate and provides top priority to Nepal. But Nepal is lost in maintaining its equidistance foreign policy between Bharat and China. Bharat’s major concern is a stable and peaceful Nepal. Modi assured Koirala that Bharat's one and only desire was to see the emergence of a peaceful, secure, stable, democratic and prosperous Nepal, which draws strength from its rich social diversity, enormous resources and extraordinary talent. “India”, he reiterated, “will continue to provide all support to Nepal”.
Dr Satish Kumar (The writer is Head of the Centre for International Relations, Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi)