The bigger bullyThe crisis in Nepal will not end unless the international community asks India to respect the rights of a landlocked country
Despite dissatisfactions of minority groups, including the Madhesi and Tharu communities, the mainstream political parties are saying that an imperfect constitution is better than nothing. Further, it can always be amended to address grievances. This is a perfectly logical stance from a conflict analysis and resolution perspective as democratic regimes are capable of reducing conflict.
For the last eight years, many people claimed, in both national and international forums, that both the structure and procedures of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal were absolutely democratic and inclusive. The entire constitution-making process and the constitution itself are the results of national and international efforts. Multi-track diplomacy, including the unofficial mediation of India, was constructive in bringing the Maoist rebels onboard to sign a comprehensive peace agreement that ended the decade-long armed conflict in 2006. This is the kind of role the big democracies are supposed to be playing to help new democracies.
However, after eight years, Indian foreign policy has taken a 180 degree turn and it has imposed an economic blockade on Nepal. Kathmandu believes that India wanted Nepal’s constitution to be first approved by India before promulgation. Mainstream Indian media have even reported that New Delhi wants Kathmandu to make ‘seven amendments’ to ensure that the constitution is acceptable to the Madhesis. New Delhi believes that these amendments are at the heart of the protests and violence in Nepal and that the Madhesi parties are responsible for blocking the border points, not India. Kathmandu, however, believes that the Indian government is officially sponsoring the violence of the Madhesi Morcha and imposing a blockade, particularly of petroleum products and cooking gas. In the meantime, the Indian proposal to make amendments in the constitution has been conveyed to Nepal’s leadership by the Indian government through official channels, and the amendment has been put forward as the precondition to remove the blockade.
There can be three possible reasons behind the 7-point proposal made by India. First, India wants Nepal to ensure a provision for naturalised citizens of Nepal to have a right to run for the office of the president, prime minister, among others. However, Kathmandu does not believe this is the best option from a national security perspective and argues that naturalised citizens should for wait at least a generation if they wish to run for office. Ironically, India does not grant this benefit to its naturalised citizens.
Second, India wants proportional representation based on population in Nepal’s Parliament. India, however, practices absolute majoritarian democracy that rejects proportional representation and inclusiveness. On the contrary, Nepal’s new constitution adopts 40 percent proportional representation in Parliament to ensure the inclusion of ethnic minorities, which is, of course, better than the majoritarian democracy that India practices.
Third, India wants Nepal to carve separate states for the Madhesis. Kathmandu believes that the Madhes cannot be separated from the hilly and mountainous regions as it could cause an imbalance in the development of different regions. Likewise, economists also argue that separating the hills and mountains from the Madhes is not suitable for sustainable development. Kathmandu is also afraid that once the Madhes is separated from the hills and mountains, it will be semi-colonised by India.
Nepal has made tremendous progresses in democracy and human rights in the last decade. The democratic awareness of its population has increased as never before. As a result, mainstream political parties, for the first time, stood against Indian interventionism and opposed Indian proposals on the constitution assuming that if Nepal succumbs to Indian demands, it will weaken national integrity.
Large democracies like the US, the UK, and the European Union have accepted Nepal’s new constitution as a democratic and inclusive document and agreed that it respects all three inventions of modern democracies, such as federalism, protection of individual rights, and civil society.
It has been argued in democratic studies and international relations that democracies neither wage war with each other, nor do they accept violence by any country as a pre-condition for negotiations. Moreover, if smaller or weaker democratic regimes face threats, powerful democratic regimes have an obligation to safeguard them. Democratic peace theory argues that when there is conflict within a state, systemic conversations and negotiations between dissatisfied groups and the state are mandatory conditions to make democracy work. Democratic regimes should always be willing to resolve conflict through peaceful means. Powerful democracies may monitor the process by respecting an independent state’s sovereignty. However, the theory argues that no democratic regime can impose its interest over another state. If a regime does so, then it is considered to be an authoritarian and interventionist move. Besides, Gandhi’s philosophy of Ahimsa rejects any type of violence. Sadly, India today neither has respect for democratic peace principles nor does it follow Gandhi’s philosophy of Ahimsa.
The international community disapproved the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and was supportive of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The US, the European Union, and most of the democratic nations stood against Russian aggression. Yet, the Indian government took a different stand on the situation in Ukraine. India, in the past, has not made supporting democracy abroad a central principle of its foreign policy. The government of India was one of the first major countries to recognise the annexation of Crimea. Sadly, Nepal did not understand this strategic Indian foreign policy. And of late, it seems as though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to become the new Putin in the region.
Therefore, the ongoing crisis facing Nepal is not because it failed to promulgate a democratic constitution. The constitution is democratic, and was welcomed by the international community except for India. This constitution is a peace agreement and has reduced conflict outcomes. This crisis is the ramification of failed India-Nepal foreign policy and mismanaged negotiations. In sum, this crisis will not end unless Nepal asks the international community to oppose Indian interventionism, and India to respect the rights of a landlocked country.
Paneru is a faculty member at Strayer University, the US