"13 border guards detained". By Pakistan? China? Hell, no. By Nepal! That is the condition to which we have been reduced by Modi's neighbourhood policy.
One had fondly hoped that once the Bihar elections were over, and Modi's bid for the north Bihar vote via gross interference in Nepal's internal affairs had ended, there would be some respite for the beleaguered Nepalese. But, no, we are into the third month of India's siege of our landlocked neighbour and there is no sign of an end to the crisis. It seems there is something insatiable about Modi's thirst for vengeance on Nepal for being denied a Hindu Rashtra, and undermining his bid to speak at a rally in Janakpur a year ago with the intention of distributing 10,000 bicycles to Madhesi girls to impress their relatives across the border who were due to vote in the 2015 Bihar election. We are thus at the very nadir of our key strategic relationship with the single most important bordering country we have.
The Chinese have rushed to Nepal's succour and are laughing all their way across the Himalayas to Kathmandu - a mind-boggling diplomatic blunder. Suhasini Haider asks in The Hindu "It is necessary to ask one basic question: Why? Why has its (India's) diplomacy and power failed so miserably?" The Nepali Times of 5 December underlines that "Beijing obviously enjoys seeing India squirm in a quagmire of its own making." No anti-Indian Nepali (and their ranks have swelled to unprecedented levels in recent weeks) is going to forget or forgive the national humiliation heaped upon them by a bullying, domineering India. How does one explain to them that it is not India but Modi who is responsible for this tragedy?
UNICEF have estimated that three million Nepali children under the age of five are at risk of death or disease this winter if the Indian blockade continues. Anthony Lake, UNICEF's Executive Director said in a statement issued 30 November after visiting Nepal: "The risks of hypothermia and malnutrition, and the shortfall of life-saving medicines and vaccines, could be a potentially deadly combination for children this winter". What Bush did to Iraq pales in comparison to what India is doing to Nepal. This is not diplomatic retaliation; it amounts to abetment to genocide. And, worse, we are doing this just as Nepal is beginning to recover from its terrible earthquake. That was a natural disaster. This is entirely man-made. Or, at any rate, Modi-made.
The disaster being visited upon Nepal is of such a magnitude that the Nepalese have swallowed their pride and sent their deputy Prime Minister to New Delhi last week to plead the Nepali cause. Our government is tight-lipped about the outcome as the External Affairs Minister's statement in the Rajya Sabha on 4 December gave nothing away. But from speculation in the press, it appears Nepal has informed our authorities that it would work for a couple of constitutional amendments that would give a higher share of proportionate representation in the Nepalese parliament than is stipulated at the moment and adjust provincial boundaries to make them more ethnically cohesive. That is no achievement. The Nepal leaders, indeed the Nepal cabinet, had already been seized of this requirement and even drafted the amendments to concede additional space to the Terai voter. And this notwithstanding the fact that out of some 116 elected representatives of the Terai in Nepal's constituent assembly, only eleven had voted against the constitution. The other 105 had placed their trust in their upcountry Nepalese brethren to eventually give them a fair deal and do the truly patriotic thing of endowing Nepal with a constitution for which a consensus had been sought for over seven years. The moment was not to be lost.
Can you imagine a Nepali fetching up in New Delhi on 27 November 1949, the day after our constituent Assembly had adopted our constitution, to order us to not proclaim the constitution on 26 January 1950 because it would need 122 amendments over the next 65 years? Yet, that is exactly what happened when Modi rushed his Special Envoy to Kathmandu to order Nepal to desist. It was the equivalent of the 19th century imperial practice of sending gunboats up the Yangtze every time the Western colonialists in China were thwarted. And the figure of 122 that I have given is not fanciful. It is the number of the GST constitutional amendments that the Government is threatening to move in the Rajya Sabha in the coming week.
If our constitution can be amended over a hundred times without taking anything away from the essence of the constitution - its "basic structure" - consider our gall in telling the Nepal constituent assembly that we do not trust them to keep their word (although over 100 elected Terai MPs do) and so, if they do not bend their knees to our insolent might, we will starve Nepal into submission by denying them food, medicine, cooking gas and other petroleum products? Yet, that is the magnitude of the suffering we have inflicted on lakhs of Nepalese who only wish to be left alone. Wickedest irony of all: this is how our country, pledged to the Five Principles of Panchsheel, disports itself under an anti-Nehruvian authoritarian. Shame on us!
Yubraj Ghimre, the Indian Express' dispassionate reporter on India-Nepal relations, has this to say: "The current standoff is only a manifestation of India not knowing when and where to stop, even when there were clear signs of India's role being counter-productive." On 6 December, he added in the same paper, "All of this appears to have generated a strong anti-India sentient among the younger generation, with the southern neighbour being painted as a villain".
Krishna Sinjali writes in The Nepali Times of "the bruised egos in the New Delhi establishment trying to teach Nepali politicians a lesson for not listening to them.'' Two days later, the same paper talked of "all the goodwill" generated by Modi's visit to Nepal having been "squandered by decision-makers in New Delhi who have callously turned an entire generation of Nepalis against India.'' Another Editor-in-Chief, Subhash Ghimire says, "The people see this as a big country in the south trying to bully us. The general population thinks we should stand up to India. People are together on this." Modi has succeeded in alienating an entire nation.
Our only hope is that most Nepalese understand that this is Modi's doing, not India's. As the voice of the Opposition rings out in parliament, let us hope the reverberations will reach the Valley of Kathmandu to show them that there is a huge section of India's public opinion that empathizes with their woes and stands ready to rectify matters when power is restored to Nepal's friends in India.
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)
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