As the tortuous negotiations over Madhesi demands for changes in the constitution drag on in Kathmandu, and 28 million people reel under a two-and-half-month long siege, there are feeble feelers from both sides to seek face-saving ways out of the prolonged deadlock.
The Nepal government senses that the nationalistic chest-thumping is giving way to public anger over shortages, Madhesi leaders similarly feel their slogans against âcolonialâ Kathmandu are beginning to ring a bit hollow among a people who have suffered a five-month shutdown, and over at the PMO in New Delhi there is creeping disquiet aboutÂ the growing domestic political backlash as well as rising international concern about its handling of the Nepal mess.
Only the really naive still believe that the border blockade is entirely the result of anger in the Tarai. It is fairly obvious where the strings are being pulled from, and Indian officials and diplomats donât even try to hide it anymore. But still, realpolitik dictates that the international community is loathe to call a blockade a spade and depart from the party line laid down by the regional cop. Officials in one western capital were so fearful of hurting the feelings of a country with which they just signed a $12 billion trade deal that, in conversation with a visiting Nepali MP this week, blamed Nepal for the blockade of Nepal.
Given the might-makes-right doctrine in international geopolitics, it is totally understandable that the UN cannot name a certain member state responsible for not letting essential supplies through. Still, this weekâs statement by the UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake lays out the human cost of this senseless and outlandish siege: 3 million Nepali children under five areÂ under direct risk of death and disease due to shortages of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines.
Indeed, whichever side of this debate you are onÂ (a supporter of the Maoist-UML-RPP coalition government in Kathmandu, a champion of Madhesi rights, or a believer that India has no hand in this blockade)Â what is undeniable is that what isÂ nowÂ happening in NepalÂ is a humanitarian emergencyÂ that is attaining disastrous proportions.
The question that must be asked in New Delhi, Kathmandu and Birganj must be:Â Whatever the reason, is reprehensible humanÂ harm on this scale acceptableÂ in the 21stÂ century? Why are the very people on whose behalf this struggle supposedly beingÂ waged made to suffer the most? How does this ensure political stability in Nepal? Is a border siegeÂ exonerated by international treaties and humanitarian law? Are there no other more targeted pressure points that a country can legitimately employ to âpersuadeâ a smaller neighbour?Â Werenât there other ways for Madhesi activists to compel Kathmandu for better representation, especially when the previous government had even tabled amendments to the constitution?
All this doesnât let the rulers in Kathmandu off the hook. Prime Minister K P Oliâs strategy is to heap all the blame on India, play the patriot, and hope to garner political brownie points. It has worked so far, but it wonât last. Sooner or later, people waiting in the gas lines, suffering power cuts, shortages and inflation are going to ask: âWhat are you doing to end our misery?â The answer so far is: nothing.
The NC, UML and Maoists botched emergency relief after the April earthquake, and have let their political rivalry prevent the formation of the Reconstruction Authority. They bear a large part of the blame for being so blinded by greed and ambition that they miscalculated Madhesi and Tharu sentiments with the fast-track constitution in August, allowed tensions to escalate and spread across the plains. They misjudged India, misread cues, and failed to act in time. AndÂ with the situation already out of hand, and despite the countryâs near-total dependence on India, Prime Minister Oli keeps making things worse by thumbing his nose at New Delhi every chance he gets.
There are ways to exercise tactical acquiescence to gain larger strategic advantage, but our rulers are not versed in those subtleties of international relations.
In Dependence, Editorial
‘No time to lose’, Om Astha Rai
In the absence of hope, Bidushi Dhungel
Full-blown economic crisis, Om Astha Rai
…who will bell the cat? Anurag Acharya
Reconstruction in ruins, Om Astha Rai and Sahina ShresthaGo back to previous page