Making haters out of neighbours

After years of political turmoil, which saw the demise of the Kingdom of Nepal (and with it, a decrease in the unhealthy amount of influence that the New Delhi wielded in that nation’s domestic politics), most major parties have agreed on a constitution. Nepal, according to that constitution, will be a federal state. This means that the nation will be formed of units. These units will have a lot of power while some power will be held be a federal centre. What shall be the basis of such units? Herein lies one of the fault lines in the constitutional debate in Nepal. Long disenfranchised groups like the Madhesis and Janjatis (including Tharus) want such units to reflect a sense of their own autonomous homeland and associated self-development opportunities, while being part of Nepal as a whole. That is how federations are supposed to be. The problem is that the big 3 largely pahari dominated parties (Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal ( Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)) led by upper-caste leaders have agreed on a deal with draws state boundaries arbitrarily in such a way that undercuts the local-dominance aspirations of the long suffering Madhesi and Janjati groups. In addition to this, there are problems of democratic representation. The pahari states will have a greater representation in the federal parliament in comparison to their population numbers. There are also citizenship rules that affect the Madhesis more than others.

Madhesi protest
Madhesi protest

In response to this, a huge mass movement by Madhesi political groups and activists started. Madhes is the thin-strip like region along the southern frontier of Nepal, along Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Many Madhesis have centuries-old kinship and family ties across the international border – ties that predate both the nations of Nepal and the Indian Union. The Nepal government’s reaction to these protests has led to the brutal killing of scores of protesters, ostensibly to maintain ‘law and order’. The Madhesi groups have attempted to block the entry of essential goods, primarily petroleum, as a means to pressure Kathmandu into negotiation on the constitution. The problem is that right at the border, the high security cover on the Nepal side means that no one can block an incoming petrol carrying truck unless something on the Indian Union side actually stop trucks from crossing into Nepal. Many voices in Kathmandu claim that this amounts to a blockade – Indian Union authorities deny it. Whether this amounts to a blockade or not is a technicality – it sure feels like one.

Nepal is a land-locked nation. It is disproportionately dependent and ‘close’ to the Indian Union due to its geographical location and the presence of the Himalayas that, for now, limits smooth connectivity between Nepal and China. Delhi’s influence on Nepal is largely borne out of this unfortunate geography – an influence that sometimes is no different from political blackmail. While Kathmandu feels the pain of a blockade in all but name, it is important the citizens of the Indian Union ask its central government why they must become the objects of hate of so many fuel-starved suffering Nepalese. Given how fraudulent Indian Union’s own federalism is, with almost all important powers captured by New Delhi with states being reduced to alm-seekers who don’t even own their mines, minerals or waterways, the Government of India might want to give more power to states within the Union, rather than using back-channels to pressurize Nepal on their internal constitutional matters. The Indian Union is a reality that the federal state of Nepal cannot wish away. In dealing with the demands of Madhesis and Janjatis, its federal government would do well to underline the principles of ethnicity-based federalism, decentralization of power and representational equality among its citizens. It is only when internal accord is lost that external forces and “friends” from the south and the north fish in troubled waters. The responsibility of reaching an accord lies primarily with the government at Kathmandu. Nepal’s sovereignty is not negotiable neither are the rights of the Madhesis and Janjatis.

Nepal Blockade

The new Indians – rootless, anglicized yuppies – reduce complex societies into nation-states in cartoon form. For those who look from far above or learn not through social immersion but English books and consider the details of millions of people’s daily lives as ‘minor’, whole countries can be reduced to cartoon short-hands. The People’s Republic of China becomes the dragon, the Union of India becomes the elephant (or may be it is a mechanized lion now). The psychologically anxious are fired by fantasies of the dragon and the elephant fighting it out in some global high-table (a regular staple of media and a favourite talking point among rich, confident, “cosmopolitan” NCR-Mumbai browns). And in the process, the voices of those burned by the “normal” nostril fire of the dragon or those regularly and habitually squashed under the elephant’s “normal” posture become minor details at best and irritants at worst. When the big-boys of Delhi play for big-stakes in the big-world, as long as the elephant squashes those within the Indian Union, it can use its guns and steel influence to silence the shrieks of the victims. Because the “nation” comes first. The problem starts when the elephants starts squashing those beyond its borders. In Nepal, the elephant has thrown about its weight and has made many proud, free people angry. Those living near the leg of an elephant learn to be resilient to changes of postures by the elephant. Not all angers, resolves and resiliencies can be gauged from Delhi. And sometimes a coward may think that he can force submission simply by projecting naked power. Beating up technologically and financially weak ones using advantages of money and geography mostly works. But sometimes it fails. And these are the moments when the moral hollowness of a powerful entity is exposed – tricolour varnishes and slick PR cannot fill that emptiness. In such times, shame and not pride, is the sign of an ethical being and a patriot.

Don't meddle (from
Don’t meddle (from


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Garga Chatterjee Written by:

Brain scientist. Columnist. Bengali. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

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