Event ReportsPublished on Jun 30, 2016
Nepal-India relations on the right track now again: DPM Thapa

Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Mr. Kamal Thapa, has said that India-Nepal relations are now again right on the track, despite the turbulent relationship in recent months.

A visible proof of deepening ties was that there were 13 meetings lined up between India and Nepal during this year’s June-July duration only, the Deputy Prime Minister said while delivering  a talk, Current Developments in Nepal and India-Nepal Relations, at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi on June 10. The talk was moderated by Mr. Rakesh Sood, a former Ambassador to Nepal and now a Distinguished Fellow with ORF.

The Deputy Prime Minister described the current level of India-Nepal relations as “excellent”.

Discussing the political developments, the Deputy Prime Minister noted that Nepal had been through trying times with the Maoist insurgency, the 2015 earthquake and Madhesi protests.  However, the earthquake was a blessing in disguise as amidst the devastation and loss of lives, it united political parties across the spectrum to work together. Keeping aside their political and ideological differences, parties were able to work together and draft a new Constitution. With a common agenda for economic development and prosperity, Nepal was united in its dream to rebuild the country.

Unfortunately before Nepal could fully recover, the nation descended into political chaos after its Constitution was promulgated. Leaders of Madhesi (natives of Terai region having close cultural ties with Indians of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) political parties took to streets, protesting against the Constitution. They accused the Nepalese leadership of discriminating against the Madhesis with regards to citizenship provisions and provincial demarcations. A clear ethnic divide was witnessed throughout Nepal with the Madhesis and Tharus pitched against the Pahari community, whose members dominate the Nepalese leadership.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that the Nepalese government dealt with these concerns swiftly, acknowledging the opposition’s grievances. Within four months of the Constitution’s release, the first amendment came out. However another demand, regarding demarcation of the provinces, remains a contentious issue. The government has assured the protestors by announcing the formation of a political committee with a mandate to come out with a consensus among the protesting political groups.

The establishment of a permanent political system remains a persistent challenge in Nepal. Therefore the present Constitution, the first to be prepared by people’s representatives, remains one of the country’s greatest achievements. After India, Nepal was the second country to draft a Constitution through a constituent assembly in South Asia, the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out.

He said the year 2015 witnessed a setback in India-Nepal relations, given complexities arising from the Madhesi agitation. The protests along the Terai region, near the Indian border saw an economic blockade followed; wherein Nepal bound goods were not allowed to enter its territory from the Birganj-Raxaul crossing (which handles almost two-thirds of Nepal’s trade with India). The blockade of goods from India led to a severe shortage of essential commodities, notably medicines and fuel which were desperately needed given that the country was still recovering from the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake. Such disturbances along the India-Nepal border caused relations between the two countries to plunge to an all time low. It was alleged that India had imposed an unofficial blockade on Nepal to arm-twist it into addressing the Madhesi demands as soon as possible.

The four-month-long blockade, which began on September 23 last year, finally came to an end on February 8, when the agitating Madhesi groups agreed to halt their protests. Decks were cleared for Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli’s visit to India. Nine agreements, including MoUs on post-earthquake assistance package, strengthening road infrastructure in Terai region and others ranging from infrastructure to rail and road transit were signed.

However, things did not end here as the subsequent visit of PM Oli to China, and the nature of economic and transit agreements generated concerns from the strategic circles that Nepal had drifted towards China. The Indo-Nepal relations suffered further setbacks this May when the Nepalese ambassador to India, Mr. Deep Kumar Upadhyay, was recalled and President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s visit to India was called off. Again, Nepal’s supposed pro-China tilt was thought to be responsible for these developments.

The Deputy Prime Minister took the opportunity to clarify Nepal’s stand on its post-blockade engagement with India and China. Regarding the role of India, he described India as a valued partner in Nepal’s democratic transition. He praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the growing ties under his leadership. Terming China as a global economic power, he stated that it was imperative for Nepal to take advantage of China’s economic progress.

The Deputy Prime Minister said Nepal also strives for a regional stability, wherein it envisions a constructive engagement with India and China at the same time. Simultaneously, Nepal looks for more international support in this sensitive phase it is going through. Concluding his speech, His Excellency described Nepal’s relationship with India as a unique one, which could not be compared to any other nation.

This report is prepared by Prateek Joshi, Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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