Nepalese Prime Minister’s visit to Bharat narrates many stories. During the press conference, Nepalese PM KP Sharma Oli said, “I am in Bharat to clear the thickening of fog between the two countries. Perhaps a bilateral tie was at the lowest in the last few decades between the two countries. Rebuilding that lost friendship is our biggest mission. I am not expecting to go back home bag-full, but I definitely will wish our friendship reoriented on mutual trust and respect”. Nepal’s Parliament and the high-level political machinery that wields enough clout over the government has issued a series of ‘do’s and dont’s’ for him, Oli said “We will do nothing controversial, or that goes against the interest of Nepal. Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has expressed her hope that the political mechanism formed by the Government of Nepal to deal with the disputes over the new Constitution would address the voices of Madhes-centric parties and resolve problems relating to the fresh delineation of federal units through talks and dialogue. “For Nepal relations with Bharat are important,” Oli said, adding: “Bharat is our biggest trade and development partner, largest source of foreign direct investment and the provider of vital transit facilities.” For Nepal to rid itself of the tag of “least developed country” by 2022, economic cooperation with Bharat is a key goal, Oli said.
The approach and line of Bharateeya foreign policy towards Nepal is same from the beginning. During the last year earthquake, impromptu response and help was delivered to Nepal. Modi’s magnanimous help to Nepal for reconstructing the affected districts narrates the same line of Bharat which it has been following consistently.
Modi wants a peaceful Nepal. The internal political bickering in Nepal blamed Bharat for acting as a big brother. That led to political hiccups between the two countries. During the last three months three per cent of Nepalese population has gone below the poverty line. Bharat was willing for the political solutions through dialogue, but fractured polity of Nepal continued to emit venom against Bharat. Breaking the deadlock, Oli visited Bharat. The same scenario was created during 1960 when King Mahendra squarely put Bharat under dock for his failures and when political impasse brought economic pressure, he made a visit to Bharat and desired to befriend Bharat. Modi assured Nepalese all kinds of support. Calling finalisation of Constitution a major achievement for Nepal, Modi expressed the hope that all political parties will come together to successfully resolve remaining Constitutional issues satisfactorily, taking in considerations aspirations of all sections of the society. “But its success depends on consensus and dialogue. I am confident on the basis of these principles and through political dialogue and by taking all sections together, Oli will be able to resolve all issues relating to the Constitution satisfactorily and take Nepal forward towards the path of development and stability.”
Internal Political Bickering: Nepal has experimented with four Constitutions and two interim Constitutions since 1948; nevertheless, the 2015 Constitution is unique as it establishes Nepal as a ‘federal republic’ for the first time. During this period, the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Maoists played musical chairs with the PM’s kursi. GP Koirala and Sushil Koirala from the NC; Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Baburam Bhattarai from the Maoists; and Madhav Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal from the UML took turns at heading the government between 2008 and now. Meanwhile, Maoist and Madhesi forces that had led the demand for a ‘federal republic’ fractured and weakened.
Fractured Federal Structure: Economic activity has been at a standstill for more than two months with factories closed, schools and colleges shut, hospitals running short of supplies and acute shortages of petrol, diesel and cooking gas forcing people to use firewood and clean up their old bicycles. Today, the disagreement is only over five districts, three in the east (Sunsari, Morang and Jhapa) and two in the west (Kanchanpur and Kailali). Excluding Sunsari takes away the key border town of Biratnagar and the Kosi basin while Kailali has a large Tharu population which it shares with neighbouring Bardiya.
Citizenship: Citizenship has long been an emotive issue among the Madhesis as they often marry Bharateeya from the northern districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and spouses of Nepali citizens become ‘naturalised Nepali citizens’. However, there is a discriminatory provision regarding the offspring of such marriages. Children of a Nepali male marrying a foreigner are ‘Nepalis by descent' whereas if a Nepali woman marries a foreigner, their children are ‘naturalised Nepalis’ which bars them from important and powerful constitutional positions. This is also an issue that has been taken up by women’s groups on the grounds that it violates the basic principle of equality guaranteed by the Constitution.
Outcomes of this Visit
Three major demands of the Madhesi community include re-demarcation of the boundary, inclusion of proportionate representation and allocation of Parliament seats on the basis of population. Foreign Secretary of Bharat, S Jaishankar said, “Two issues including the one relating to provincial boundary are being resolved, while hoping that concerns by Madhesi community relating to citizenship is addressed. Hydropower project was discussed. It will pave the seedy development of Nepal. The two Prime Ministers also dedicated 400 KV Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission lines via “tele-inauguration” from Hyderabad House. Under the MoU, a total of 518 kms of roads will be strengthened in Terai region. As per a pact on transit routes, traffic of goods between Nepal and Bangladesh will be facilitated through the Kakarbhitta (Nepal) and Banglabandha (Bangladesh) corridor. It will also provide for transit facilities for Nepal through the Vishakhapatnam port.
But the wound is being diagnosed. The need is to cure before it turns malignant.
Dr Satish Kumar (The writer is Head of Centre of International Relations, CUJ Ranchi)