Indian Blockade: The Questions Keep Piling Up


It seemed aroused more by a fear of the inroads the Chinese would make in Nepal on the back of the dwindling popularity of the Indians.

By Maila Baje

Almost a week after the Indian parliament debated the state of India-Nepal relations, Maila Baje cannot but marvel at both the frivolousness and factiousness with which the issue has cascaded into that country’s internal politics.

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, responding to questions raised by members during the debate in the upper house, suggested that this was not the first time such a difficult situation between the two neighbors had existed, rebutting a recurrent opposition claim.SushmaSwaraj

The wizards of smart on our side tried to underscore that purported ‘slip’ as India’s inevitable admission that it had indeed imposed a blockade on Nepal. Never mind the fact that Swaraj was merely attacking the opposition for conveniently forgetting how the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi had imposed a full-fledged blockade in 1989-90. Let us only hope that the fact that few on either side of the border have sought to evoke the creative engendering of disruptions in the 1960s and 1970s is not aimed at rewriting the historical record.

In fact, Swaraj never flinched from her stand that a ‘blockade’ against Nepal was in existence in so far as the Madhesi protesters had impeded the border crossing from where the largest supplies of critical items such as fuel and pharmaceuticals passed.

It was reassuring to hear Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar, a one-time Ministry of External Affairs functionary, sound a solidly sympathetic note on the plight of Nepalis. If he seemed dismissive of the Madhesi movement for greater rights and representation, it seemed to be aimed at buttressing his counsel to New Delhi to avoid taking sides in Nepal’s internal dispute. So far so good. Yet at times Aiyar’s compassion seemed aroused more by a fear of the inroads the Chinese would make in Nepal on the back of the dwindling popularity of the Indians.

As Swaraj was speaking, another opposition member could be heard from the background saying that the 1989-90 blockade was against the royal government. Understandably, the rest of the sparsely populated chamber wasn’t prepared to split hairs when the effect on the Nepali people was no less grueling then.

When Aiyar suggested that the more appropriate nomenclature for the state of affairs would be ‘Modi’s blockade’, that sound bite was sure to win a lot of Nepali hearts and minds. His refusal to give an all-party imprimatur to such a divisive approach by sending a broad-based political delegation to Nepal promised to reverse India’s traditional consensus-based foreign policy. Like all promises, however, that would be a flimsy basis for Nepal to pursue its India policy on.

Swaraj took the names of a few Nepali leaders and suggested that they had provided specific undertakings vis-à-vis India’s concerns relating to the new Constitution. Barring Baburam Bhattarai, hardly any Nepali leader has sought clarification from the said individuals on the matter.

More broadly, Swaraj implied that the Constitution was promulgated at a time when New Delhi had indications that there was still work to be done. In that context, it is relevant on our part to question the kind of the information the Indian Embassy was feeding New Delhi. But that does not answer the long-standing question as to why it was so urgent to promulgate the Constitution while alienating the Madhesi parties, all the while standing ready with amendments.

The questions, as always, keep piling up.