New Delhi: No fuel, medicines out of stock, soaring food prices, schools closed – this is how one can presently define Nepal. People are chopping fire woods to prepare meal. Constant protest has kept Children out of school, workers are unemployed as factories and industries have been shut down. All this has primarily occurred due to fuel crisis. The landlocked Himalayan nation is going through one of its worst humanitarian crises from the last four months. Before, the small hilly country could fully recover from aftermath of the devastating earthquake, this war like emergency situation has began engulfing its economy. Nepalese have made “#BackOffIndia” to trend worldwide on Twitter. Even when you type just “BackOff” on Google search, one of the top results that emerges is “BackOffIndia”. Nepali folk are accusing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their hardships.
Why the blockade?
The blockade started with the protests of Madhesis and Tharus against Nepal’s new constitution. Nepal adopted the new constitution on September 20th this year. Madhesis and Tharus, the ethnic minorities residing in the low-lying southern plains adjoining India, are upset with the bifurcation of the country into seven states. Indigenous Tharus of the western Terai, are against the sharing of their province with people from hills whom they think to be dominating. Nepal has often witnessed differences between residents of flatlands and hills.
The second community which is unhappy with the constitution is Madhesis who share close linguistic, cultural and marital ties with people of UP and Bihar. The newly promulgated constitution, denies the right of Nepali citizenship to a child born of a Nepali woman and a foreign man. On the other hand, there is no such problem if the man is from Nepal and woman is a foreigner. Madhesis say that this is problematic as cross-border marriages are common among them.
Both the communities which account for 40% of Nepal’s population fear of being politically marginalized if the new constitution comes into force. They say that the Nepalese state has always been biased against them, hence, they demand for equal representation in various sectors.
To voice their concerns, both the communities resorted to violent protests and blocked major trade routes with India. They have organized sit-ins in Birgunj, the major trade route between India and Nepal, thus blocking imports from India.
Why India is being held responsible for the blockade?
India has given reasons to people of Nepal to doubt on its intentions. As India shares close ties with Madhesis, there has been a common perception that the blockade is supported by New Delhi. Even the politicians of Nepal say that it is an 'undeclared blockade' , because the situation wouldn’t turn out to be so grave without the consent of Indian government. They associate it with India’s unhappiness over the Nepal’s new constitution. India’s suggestion to Kathmandu to bring out seven amendments, in the recently promulgated constitution, so that it is acceptable to Madhesis and Tharus, further reinforced popular opinion. Meanwhile India denies any blockade, it says that the transporters are unwilling to go to the other side because of the security reasons. India says the blockade is due to internal chaos of Nepal.
India has always been a dominating character in Nepali politics since British rule. For people of Nepal, India is a ‘Big Brother’ which consistently keeps on poking its nose into Nepal’s affairs. Even before, in 1989, India imposed 13-month long economic blockade on Nepal. Moreover, India cannot accept the blockade publicly as it would be illegal and against the treaties.
Impact of blockade on Nepal
Nepal is a landlocked country sharing its three sides with India and northern frontier with China. India accounts for 60% of the total imports of Nepal and almost 100% of its fuel. The blockade has crippled the lives of 30 million people. Around 4000 truck laden with essentials are stranded on the Indian side. This has led to severe crisis of fuel, life-saving drugs and other necessities. At least, 50 people have been killed in the various protests since August, 2015. In order to deal with the emergency, Nepal government is distributing firewood to citizens so that they can cook. There is hardly any fuel available for private vehicles. Hospitals are facing acute shortage of medicines. The deadlock is also hurting tourism industry which is the backbone of Nepal’s economy. According to UNICEF, the blockade is primarily having adverse effect on children. The indoor pollution caused by firewood can lead to pneumonia cases among children. The blockade is a deadly setback for the ongoing relief and reconstruction process after the tragic earthquake.
Impact of blockade on India
The level of anti-Indian sentiments in Nepal has grown to such an extent that Intelligence Bureau issued an alert about it. Thousands of students stood along the Ring Road waving banners and shouting slogans against the 'undeclared blockade’. There were even reports that PM Modi’s effigy and Indian flag were set ablaze. The anger against India in Nepal has diluted the role of India in relief and rescue operations after the Earthquake this year. The blockade destroyed the decades-long monopoly of India in exporting fuel to Nepal, with the country signing a MoU with China for fuel. Nepal has also suspended the broadcast of Indian channels .
India has always taken lead in helping Nepal, though some say there are selfish reasons behind it. Peace process through dialogue seems to be at snail’s pace and presently there are hardly any signs of fading away of anti-India protests. Recently Madhesi leaders met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Even Bihar CM Nitish Kumar met his alleged arch-rival PM Narendra Modi and said to have discussed about the plight of Madhesis. The blockade, if not lifted soon, can be more disastrous than the April 2015 earthquake.