Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Can former PM Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti break the Nepal deadlock

The Indian media has habitually neglected the internal developments in countries that lie next door to us be it Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Pakistan. The only exceptions are of course incidents involving the common borders. Nepal has been on the boil for some time now largely occasioned by the declaration of a new constitution that seems glaringly partial to what are called the ‘Hill people' from the north of Nepal. Traditionally, the so-called hill people looked down on the dwellers of the plains [terai] who call themselves Madhesis. With strong cultural links across the border in Bihar and UP, the Madhesis seen as pro-Indian have placed a blockade at the Indo-Nepal border at crucial points choking the supply lines for a landlocked Nepal.

Currently every other day the Nepali police, largely made of the hill people have been aggressively tackling the terai agitators leading to violence and continued deaths. India has not been much help in its failure to mediate and Nepal has lately turned to China for vital supplies like fuel and medicines. The regime in Kathmandu on the other hand has been surprisingly inflexible taking an enormous political risk in alienating the Madhesis for a long time to come. The Madhesis movement at its core has legitimate demands that cannot be ignored. So what we get is a deadlock leaving India mostly as a passive onlooker in an affair that should concern it on an urgent basis. Instead, India has chosen a confrontationist stance as a result of which Narendra Modi during his visit to the UK had to face angry Nepali protestors.

Left to themselves, some Nepali leaders keen to build bridges between the north and the terai have now formed a new front and may be seen as a new and promising force in a situation of impasse that seemed to be asking for such intervention. This report dwells at length on what could be a new beginning combining different groups and factions from all over Nepal and perhaps attracting more mid-level leaders looking for an end to the deadlock. The real danger of the Madhesi movement lies in its potential to turn into an armed struggle, something that neither the government in Kathmandu nor Delhi are prepared for.

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