Dangerous Perceptions

  • There is a dangerous game of perceptions being played between India and Nepal, and the death of a young Indian in the Nepali police crackdown on Madhesi protestors must come as a wake-up call to both New Delhi and Kathmandu on the urgent need to end this standoff.
  • For starters, while the Nepali government has every right to deal with internal unrest as it sees fit, it should be aware of the trans-national consequences of its action in Birgunj, given the open border that India and Nepal have enjoyed for decades.
  • The new government of K.P. Oli has shown some desire to reach out to the protestors in the Terai, but its efforts, both on talks and on discussing constitutional amendments, are far slower than what is necessary to calm the situation.
  • At the same time, it is doing nothing to quell the perception that India is responsible for all of Nepal’s problems. Despite talks with the Indian government in New York and New Delhi, Mr. Oli’s government continues to rake up at international forums, including the United Nations, what it calls “India’s blockade”.
  • The latest statement by the Home Ministry in Kathmandu, alleging that India practically caused Monday’s crackdown on the protestors by pressuring the government to clear the passage for Indian trucks stranded on the Nepali side, is aimed at fuelling the narrative that has led to raging anti-India sentiments in the Kathmandu valley.
  • This is hardly the first time such sentiments against India have been whipped up, and the only lesson that has been learnt is that the longer the strain in ties persists, the more a land-locked nation like Nepal suffers.
  • While it is hoped the Chinese offer of oil will ease the immediate crisis for Nepal, it is hardly a long-term and cost-effective solution for the country, and the government would be wise to not try to play regional rivalries in the present scenario.
  • For its part, New Delhi has to realise that its tough Nepal policy has no takers and requires a drastic change, not just in deed but in word as well, as the perception that it is ‘squeezing’ Nepal persists. Despite the government’s denials, few are willing to believe that it is helpless in ensuring smooth supplies to Kathmandu.
  • The stand seems particularly hollow when one considers how swiftly the Indian armed forces mobilised in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake this April to reach Nepal’s most remote areas and provide relief. At the same time, the government must consider whether its persistent messaging on supporting Madhesi rights in the Nepal Constitution is inciting Indian citizens, like the ones who got caught in the Birgunj crackdown, to assist or join the protests in any way.
  • As the crisis across the border escalates, the government must see that it too will be singed by the fires within Nepal, and both sides must work together quickly to quell them.