The relationship between the two countries is bound by history, geography, economic cooperation, socio-cultural ties and people-to-people relations.
India Nepal relations have been very cordial. Both the countries share a deep cultural and people to people contact from historic times. There has been a free cross border movement of people and traders from time immemorial.
However, recently pro-China (and possibly anti-India) sentiments have been rising in Nepal, especially after the economic blockade in the Terai region.
-> India played a valued role in ending the Maoist insurgency in 2006, but the period thereafter was marked by escalating micro-meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs. All mainstream political parties in Nepal raised question on India’s commitment to facilitating the process of writing a new constitution in Nepal, despite the fact that India had played a crucial role in ensuring the success of Nepal’s democracy movement.
-> In Constitution-writing, there were attempts to define the new provincial boundaries according to Indian dictates — pushing first an unwieldy and unworkable plains-only province, then a two-province formula. India has raised its reservation over newly passed Nepali constitution and criticised it for not addressing concerns of Madhesis and other marginalised section.
-> The presence of India’s heavy hand contributed in numerous ways to the distortion of consensual governance needed in transitional times.
-> India criticised Nepal’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, especially in dealing with the Madhesi agitation. India also demanded legal action against those guilty of human rights violations during the years of insurgency in Nepal.
-> A year ago, Indian interlocutors pushed the Nepali Congress to renege on its promise to continue in coalition with the mainstream left Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), and engineered what is the implausible current embrace of the Congress with the Maoist party.
-> After devastating earthquake in Nepal, the blockade by Madhesis has halted oil and other essential supplies, which created another humanitarian crisis in Nepal. Nepal government blames India for this blockade.
Issues and Concerns:
1) Constitutional Crisis:
-> A new constitution in Nepal has been framed in 2015 after many years of drafting. The new constitution was not able to arrive at a consensus and the people of Terai, especially the Madhesis and Tharus, living close to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have shown great resentment to certain provisions of the constitution that ignored their rights.
2) India’s Blockade of Nepal 2015:
-> Nepal has accused India of an undeclared blockade. It is alleged that India was not happy with the Nepalese Constitution not able to appease the Madhesis and Tharus hence the blockade was declared.
-> Indian Government has consistently denied any such sort of measure officially.
3) Anti-India Sentiment in Nepal:
-> The government of Nepal believes that India wants to topple the present government in Nepal. The blockade strained the India-Nepal relationship severely.
-> It led to calling back its ambassador from India and cancel President of Nepal visit to India further straining ties between the two neighbours.
4) China’s Role:
-> The blockade led Nepal to have an agreement with China securing transit route through China, which seeks to bypass its geographical dependence on India for ports to trade with the world.
-> China has become one of the most important trading partners of Nepal.
-> China has provided liberal aid for building infrastructure in Nepal. China has also undertaken many infrastructure projects in Nepal. For Example, China’s freight train to Nepal.
-> China and Nepal are aiming for a better Defence cooperation. Both the countries are planning to conduct a joint military drill.
5) Recent Problem of Contention:
-> With global geopolitics on the boil, and the India-China relationship in free fall, it should be in India’s interest to secure its own neighbourhood, and that can only be through letting national politics and governance of the smaller neighbours evolve without interference.
Why Nepal is important for India?
1) Strategic importance – Nepal is a buffer state between India and china.
2) Internal security – Nepal shares a long open border with India. There is alleged link between Naxalites and Maoist in Nepal.
3) Socio-economic development of bordering states especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
4) To counter terrorist activities close to border areas: Many hard core terrorists had been apprehended in Nepal close to India’s border.
1) Border Management:
-> There are border disputes pending between the two countries at Susta, Kalapani, and the ‘tri-junction’ of Lipulekh is another delicate point.
-> The arbitrary blockages and the selective use of quarantine for the export of Nepali agricultural produce are issues of concern. A robust border management regime needs to be commissioned.
2) Power Purchase:
-> Nepal has since long planned to sell electricity to India once it has a hydropower surplus. But the Indian government has directed that it will not allow import of electricity other than from power companies with more than 51% Indian equity. This has to be reviewed.
3) Monetary & Financial Issues:
-> Demonetisation and GST have affected Nepal’s economy. Assistance is to be provided for better adaptation.
4) Migrant Rights:
-> The right of migrant labourers in both the countries is a topic that rarely comes up but could potentially get sensitive in future.
-> Increasing high-handedness of the Sashastra Seema Bal (India’s frontier force in this sector) in dealing with Nepalese crossing the border needs to change.
5) Area of Cooperation:
-> The Nepal plains are suffering from massive floods that have also affected downstream areas across the border.
-> Besides the spread of settlements, a prime cause of the severity is that the Chure (Shivalik) hills have been gouged of rocks to build elevated roads and levees just south of the border, leading to inundation in Nepal.
-> A permanent bilateral mechanism is required to save the plains population of Nepal from suffering.
Due to domestic political instability more than anything else, over the years Kathmandu lost its confidence in dealing with the New Delhi.
With the rising Chinese influence over Nepal, it is time for India to overcome continuing mistrust or resolve the remaining constitutional differences for a peaceful neighbourhood.