What Does India Want?

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What Does India Want?

--By Akhilesh Tripathi 

What does India want from Nepal? This is the question on everyone’s lips – from the meetings attended by the Prime Minister to private dinner tables, to coffee and tea shops. The other question that follows is: why did India impose the unofficial blockade against Nepal?

The blockade has been going on for more than three months now. But the country is still waiting for the answers. Even those who are supposed to be in the know don’t know. “I thought I understood India and knew what she wants from Nepal. But the blockade has proved me wrong. I haven’t been able to fathom out what India wants from us this time,” replied a bemused Nepali Congress Central Committee member.

He is one among those who do not subscribe to the theory that India imposed the blockade because the Madhesis were not included in the constitution promulgation process. Although, he makes a guess and says, “This time India wants something big. What the Madhesis want and what India wants are different. That’s why India welcomed the three-point roadmap that the Nepal government recently made. But the Madhesis have ignored it.”

Perhaps, the NC leader has a point there. But that still doesn’t answer the main question – what does India want from Nepal?

When nothing is said officially (India has even officially denied that it has imposed any blockade against Nepal, calling the ‘problem seen at the border’ a result of Nepal’s own internal matters), people are bound to speculate and wonder.

One speculation is: the current BJP-led Indian government didn’t like the declaration of Nepal as a secular state. So as a pressure tactic, it imposed the blockade so that Nepal would revert back to a Hindu state. It’s true that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP is a pro-Hindutva party. But given the fact that India itself is a secular country, it is hard to digest that it would go to the extent of mounting a blockade to force Nepal to give up secularism and become a Hindu state again.

Another popular speculation is: India’s eyes are set on two major Nepali rivers, Koshi and Karnali. India wants these two rivers to fall in Madhesi-dominated states by redrawing state boundaries. According to the believers, the blockade is an implicit use of force by India to make Nepal tow that line. 

However, this theory too doesn’t hold much water. It is true that Nepal’s rivers are a matter of interest as well as concern for India. Because India needs energy and that can be obtained from Nepal’s rivers. However, hydropower cannot be extracted from the Nepali rivers once they enter India or even the Madhes. Similarly the rivers flowing from Nepal cause floods in India every year and India wants to construct dams to control these rivers and such dams cannot be constructed once these rivers enter India. These are logical points. But what is illogical is the blockade was imposed to achieve these objectives. The new constitution clearly says that projects related with water resources will come under the jurisdiction of the central government; so it doesn’t really matter which province the rivers fall in when the state boundaries are redrawn.

So, what does India want? The answer perhaps has to be found in the three-point roadmap which the Nepal government recently endorsed with the aim of addressing the demands of the agitating Madhesi Front through the amendment of the new constitution. India has already welcomed this roadmap. Nepal government on December 20 decided to advance the Constitution Amendment Bill, which is already registered in the legislative parliament, with the aim to ensure proportional inclusion and electoral constituencies on the basis of population, redraw state boundaries through a political committee within three months and resolve the current crisis in the Terai districts.

There was no need for a blockade to make the Nepali politicians agree for proportional representation and electoral constituencies based on population. Then what was the blockade for? For the state boundaries to be redrawn so that Koshi and Karnali would fall in Madhes or Tharuhat provinces? But we already rejected this theory.

Meanwhile, Mahanth Thakur, the leader of the Madhesi Front said on Dec 29 that the Front would change the form of its protest programme from border blockade to other forms. That means the more than three months long blockade could come to an end soon. 

It is still not clear what India and the Madhesi parties wanted to achieve from the blockade initially. But at present, it seems, India wants a face saving and the Madhesi parties a safe landing.     

Meanwhile, something about the KP Oli government. The honeymoon period is not over for the KP Oli government. It hasn’t been even three months since Oli took the reins of the country in his hands. Talking about his achievements, it’s enough to say that though he has already appointed half a dozen deputy prime ministers, his cabinet is still incomplete. Madhes is still agitated. India’s unofficial blockade still continues.

The general perception is the Oli government hasn’t achieved much. This is not a good sign. He has sent one of his deputies to China to, among other things, strike a petroleum supply deal. But the government is yet to make it clear how it will bring petroleum from China in the absence of efficient connectivity between the two countries.

Most likely, everybody, including the government will forget everything once fuel supply from India becomes normal.   

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