Restrictions on India Nepal border start to ease

By NLRC Staff, January 17, 2016, Category: General

The border disruptions between India and Nepal, which led to months of shortages, especially fuel, have started to ease after Nepal endured months of hardship due to the shortages.

India, that has an open border with Nepal, has security reasons to be concerned about developments in Nepal, more so to the activities along the border. Understandably for this reason, India wants the grievances of the Madheshi community living along the border with India addressed.

However, the turn of events during the past few months, unfortunately, led to a humanitarian crisis, which neither country wished to see it happen and get to such crisis levels. The crisis was a result of Nepal not being able to take the Madheshi community into confidence and the diplomatic gaffe between the two countries during the course of the promulgation of Nepal's constitution last September.

India sending its Foreign Secretary to Kathmandu in the eleventh hour, right before the Constitution was promulgated, and reportedly asking Nepal to delay the promulgation by addressing the Madheshi demands[1] and subsequently, however, Nepal's political parties not further delaying the promulgation, possibly fearing that a further delay might have led to more uncertainties about the promulgation and believing that the Madheshi demands could be addressed even after the promulgation of the Constitution, are few examples that show how quick turn of events started to contribute to erode the trust between the two nations.

Soon after the constitution was adopted, India continued to voice its objections as regards to the demands of the Madheshi community and the protests by the Madheshi community along the border intensified creating acute shortages of fuel and other supplies.

Coincidently, elections were due to take place last October in the Indian state of Bihar, which adjoins Nepal. Bihar also has a strong presence of Madheshi community and the instability on the Nepalese side could have an impact on the Bihar elections. This also added to India's sensitivity on the Madheshi issue.

During months of disruptions, Nepal accused India of imposing a blockade while Indian officials maintained that the supply disruptions were caused by the protesting Madheshi community in the border areas. India's claim, however, failed to account for reports of restrictions, especially on fuel tankers, imposed even on border points that had witnessed no agitation, and reports quoting Indian border officials as having said they had been directed to impose such selective restrictions.[2] Reports also emerged of India's border security force receiving orders to thoroughly search every single truck crossing to Nepal[3] and of India's refusal to refuel fuel tankers and release Nepali oil tankers.[4]

Those incidents show that India was trying in various ways to put pressure on the Nepali side to get the Madheshi demands addressed. Nepal should have realized that India's concerns were natural and should have addressed some of the genuine demands of the Madheshi community well in advance. Nepal's political parties were planning to address some of the demands, regardless of whether India would have put pressure on them or not. So, the Nepali side could have done it a little sooner. India, on the other hand, should have realized that the eleventh hour pressure to delay the promulgation, when it was technically very hard to do so, would have contributed to fuel anti-India sentiments in Nepal.

A notable aspect of this crisis was the revelation that additional efforts were needed to communicate the merits of the constitution. India's Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, while participating in a parliamentary discussion, inaccurately mentioned that the new constitution stripped the rights of an Indian woman to obtain Nepali citizenship after marrying a Nepali man.[5] The provision, she thought had been removed, still exists in the new constitution. More than the fact that a top level Indian executive had incorrect information about the new constitution, this highlighted a lack of communication between the diplomats of two nations regarding the facts of the new constitution.

Both countries lost in this crisis, just the amount of loss is different. This put India in an awkward situation in the international arena and contributed to the anti-India sentiments in Nepal. Because Nepal had just gone through the devastating earthquake, this crisis hurt Nepal even more.

There is no alternative to addressing the genuine demands of the Madheshi community. The amendment bills that address such demands are now in the final stages of being passed and has been welcomed by India as well. Both Nepal and India need a graceful exit from this crisis; they need to normalize their relations and make sure such diplomatic gaffes are not repeated again.

It is good to see fuel tankers starting to reenter Nepal and to see that the disruptions are now starting to ease.

[1] Sanjoy Majumder. "Why India is concerned about Nepal's constitution." BBC News. 22 Sep. 2015. Web. 17 Jan 2016.
[2] Yadav, Anil. "Nepal simapar 14-km lamba jam" [14-km traffic jam at the Nepal border]. BBC Hindi. 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.
[3] Nida Najar. "Border Havoc as Nepalis Accuse India of Payback." The New York Times. 30 Sep. 2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.
[4] Sumit Ganguly, and Brandon Miliate. "India Pushes Nepal into China’s Arms." The FP Group, 23 Oct. 2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.
[5] Rajya Sabha TV. "Smt. Sushma Swaraj’s reply on the discussion on situation in Nepal & state of Indo-Nepal relations." Online video clip. YouTube. 7 Dec 2015. Web. 17 Jan 2016.



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