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India-Nepal try overcoming trust deficit

Flag-Pins-India-Nepal_1Neighbors need to rework their positions. Implementing the provisions of the Constitution very difficult.Nepal PM says document progressive without discrimination.Madhesis claim Oli’s visit to India not successful.India and Nepal must have cordial relations with each other.Impartial observers believe Oli government unlikely to last long.Efforts are on to overcome the trust deficit between India and Nepal which had hit rock bottom following the economic blockade as the Madhesis or plains people demanded a more federal framework in the Himalayan nation’s new Constitution. Irritated by the economic blockade for nearly five months Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli contemplated visiting China rather than sticking to the tradition of coming to New Delhi first.At the end of it all Oli’s first sojourn overseas for a week after being four months in office was to this country. He made it clear that he had come to mend the ties and remove misunderstandings. In an interface with intellectuals and think tanks, Oli said the Constitution promulgated by Nepal is inclusive and that the document is progressive without any kind of discrimination.

He admitted the Constitution might not satisfy everyone since it was a compromise reached between divergent people and groups.His Indian counterpart and host Narendra Modi affirmed that India desires a strong, stable and prosperous Nepal for itself and the betterment of South Asia. Similarly, when external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj called on Oli she made it clear that India considers itself Nepal’s elder brother and certainly not its “”big brother”” which is resented by the neighboring country.

No less than nine bilateral agreements were signed. Oli concluded his week long visit to India on a high in the third week of February. He specially acquainted himself with the reconstruction work connected with the massive earthquake in Gujarat and met captains of industry in Mumbai impressing upon them to invest in Nepal which will be mutually beneficial. After resisting the amendments to the Constitution, Oli relented to incorporate some of the demands of the Madhesis. This led to the easing of the blockade after the protesters backed by India called off the stir.

The standoff had an adverse effect on India’s goodwill which had rendered prompt assistance to Nepal in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2015.Nevertheless, the Madhesis insist that Oli’s visit to India was not a success. The amendments to the Constitution leaves much to be desired in ensuring the rights of the Madhesis. On the other hand RJD’s vice president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh stressed that the Nepal government is trying to “”blackmail India”” by playing the China card. Kathmandu reacted promptly calling it a “”brazen interference in Nepal’s internal affaris.”” Most political parties including those critical of Oli ended up criticizing the Madhesi Front for taking their politics beyond the border.Impartial observers believe that the Oli government is unlikely to last long with New Delhi continuing to be seen as a destabilizing factor.

This has necessitated the two neighbors to re-calibrate their positions. Being a landlocked country Nepal’s economic dependence needs no elaboration. This stood out starkly during the economic blockade as 70 per cent of the supplies came from India.  Kathmandu looked towards China which expressed its inability to bridge the gap because of the extremely difficult terrain by the land route to Nepal. Given the exigencies of the situation, Kathmandu and New Delhi must have cordial relations with each other which is in their own interest. In case of political instability in Nepal, the spillover effect is bound to have an adverse impact in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh having an open border with that country. At the same time India and Nepal have to reset their priorities encompassing the direly needed reconstruction assistance assured by India.

On his part Modi acknowledged that the conclusion of the Constitution writing process is an important achievement. At the same time New Delhi underlined the need for consensus through dialogue with dissenting Madhesis about their concerns on Federalism. The onus is clearly on Oli and his Communist party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) without alluding to any brinkmanship which which can have an adverse impact in the long run. New Delhi should learn lessons from the recent deterioration in bilateral relations. Tension between the two neighbours also reverberated in the United Nations. New Delhi should be well aware that Beijing will try to capitalize on every friction it has with Kathmandu to wean away the southern neighbor from India. Considering the deep historic and cultural ties, Kathmandu remains a more convenient neighbor economically and politically. Nepal and Oli have to come to terms with a Federal structure by taking India into confidence. Even as he had refused to visit India without the blockade being lifted, Nepal watchers assert that the Constitution is a problematic document in many ways even though it was voted in favor by 85 per cent in the Constituent Assembly which amounted to 78 per cent of the electorate being in favour.  As the rights based Constitution has been drafted by politicians rather than a committee of jurists, it will be a difficult document to implement because of the promises it makes including expanding the scope of fundamental rights to cover a whole slew of economic, social and cultural rights. Any number of outstanding issues remain including the citizenship for foreign husbands of Nepali women. It was adopted on September 20 last year.Fortunately, the blockade ended before the much feared possibility of a hill-versus-plains communal flareup proving once again that the people have more sagacity than the overlords.

Mr. T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. Views expressed are personal.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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