Nepal plays China card with India as Oli delays visit to Delhi

Nepal plays China card with India as Oli delays visit to Delhi
Oli says won't visit India till the blockade is lifted

New Delhi

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]t has been a time-bound tradition that any newly-elected Prime Minister of Nepal undertakes his first foreign visit to a longtime friend and close neighbor India. So, it was expected that Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli will first fly to New Delhi before looking at the invitation from Beijing for a state visit. But the recent “numbness” in the Indo-Nepal relation has made uncertain Oli’s proposed visit to India next month.

Oli has a standing invitation from China and his reluctance to travel to New Delhi before the unrest triggered by India-origin Madhesis are sorted out, does not augur well for Indo-Nepal relationship.

“It will not be appropriate for me to visit New Delhi as long as a blockade of the Nepal-India border continues,” Oli said on Tuesday, raising question marks over his proposed visit to India next month.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]N[/dropcap]epal widely suspects that India is behind the Madhesis unrest as New Delhi has repeatedly backed several key demands of the Madhesis and asked Nepal to address these. There have been high-level talks involving External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar from the Indian side and their counterparts from Nepal on some provisions of the recently-promulgated Nepal Constitution that is being opposed by the Madhesis.

Nepal suspects New Delhi’s support to the Madhesi agitation has led to blockade of supply of all essential commodities and fuel from India and caused massive escalation of prices and hardship to the Nepalese citizens. On other other hand, the Modi Government feels that Nepal is trying to arm twist it by giving signal of inching closer to China.

On December 15 last year, Nepal and China decided to seal a long-term deal which will allow the former to import fuel from Beijing. This will help Nepal end its dependence on Indian fuel imports.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]his came after a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Thapa and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Friday.

Thapa is the senior most Nepali official to visit China after Kathmandu came out with a new constitution, protests against which have virtually sealed the India-Nepal border creating major shortages in Nepal.

“By overcoming the harsh geographical and environmental conditions, for the first time, we have agreed to supply fuel to Nepal that it urgently needs. Foreign Minister Thapa and I had very in-depth talks and reached a broad consensus,” Yang said at a joint press meet in Beijing with Thapa.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]hapa said: “I am very happy to note that China has instructed the petroleum export authority to be in touch and discuss issues related with the long-term trade of petroleum products with Nepal.”

A press statement issued after the meeting by the foreign affairs ministry stated that China had expressed a desire to seriously examine Nepal’s proposals to import petroleum products from Beijing.

In another message to India that Nepal is exploring other options if New Delhi tried to `blackmail’ it, Nepal and China also agreed to upgrade and operationalize the existing border points and develop the other border points to promote connectivity between the two countries.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]C[/dropcap]hina has agreed to give priority to the reopening of the Tatopani-Zhangmu border point, which has been disrupted after the April earthquake that killed thousands in Nepal.

Nepal’s compulsion to look towards China has reasons. The more than five-month-old anti-Constitution protest by Madhesis in the southern Nepali Terai has led to a blockading of a major portion of the 1,868-m open border that the landlocked Himalayan nation has with its southern neighbour.

Most of the 41 transit and customs points along the southern portion of this open border have been besieged by the Madhesi protestors who are demanding, among others, a redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces in Nepal as proposed in the new Constitution – promulgated on September 20 last year; and representation in Parliament on the basis of population.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]S[/dropcap]ignificantly, the Nepal Terai has almost 51 percent of the country’s population and yet gets only one-third of seats in Parliament.

The Madhesis also seek proportional representation in government jobs and restoration of rights granted to them in the interim constitution of 2007 which the new charter has snatched away.

Unnerved by the prolonged Madhesi agitation, the ruling major-Left coalition as also the main opposition Nepali Congress last week approved two amendments to the four-month-old Constitution partly meeting the demands of the agitating Madhesis.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he first ever amendment to the country’s new constitution was aimed at addressing the agitating Madhesis’ demands for proportionate representation and allocation of seats in parliament on the basis of population.

The amendment proposal was approved last Saturday night by a majority vote amid slogan-shouting by lawmakers of the agitating Madhes-based parties.

As many as 461 of the 468 lawmakers participating in the voting voted in favour of the first constitutional amendment bill while seven voted against.

As per the amendment, ethnic clusters in Nepal have been decreased to 15 from earlier 17.

A delineation commission will be formed to determine the boundaries of constituencies for the House of Representatives on the primary basis of population while geography will be a secondary factor.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]lso last week, the government launched an ambitious NRs.5 billion Border Area Development Programme (BADP) in the south-eastern Nepali Mahottari district.

India welcomed the two amendments passed by Nepal’s parliament as “positive developments”.

“We regard the two amendments passed yesterday (on Saturday, 23/01/2016) by the Nepali parliament as positive developments,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said.

“We hope that other outstanding issues are similarly addressed in a constructive spirit,” he tweeted.

However, the Madhesi Morcha spearheading the agitation rejected the amendments to the statute and announced a fresh agitation programme besides calling for a broader alliance among all forces in the Terai-Madhes region.

The agitating four-party alliance, at a meeting here on Monday, resolved that the stir would continue until their demands were met by the ruling elite in Kathmandu.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he Madhesi Morcha later asserted that their struggle would continue till all their demands were met in a package. The meet also demanded the setting up of a high-level judicial panel to probe the numerous instances of killings by the state in the Terai.

In its fresh programme, the Morcha has announced candlelight vigil at district headquarters on Wednesday as a tribute to those killed during the protests; regional assemblies on Saturday to inform people about the latest political developments; and interactions with professionals, intellectuals, laborers and traders on Monday next about the Morcha’s agenda.

(with inputs from IANS)

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