An uneasy friendshipIneffective diplomacy should not be a reason to spoil good relations between Nepalis and Indians
It is hard to walk backwards when all your life you have been taught to move forward. It is tougher still to be a part of a globalised world when you are actually facing internal disintegration. I come from a country that takes great pride in the relations we have built across the globe, the challenges we have repeatedly overcome, and the perseverance with which we endure.
Nepal is home to the highest mountain in the world, the brave Gurkhas, land of the Pashupatinath and the Buddha. From the only Hindu kingdom in the world, we took strides to establish ourselves as a republic nation. Yet, it is also true that Nepal is still to come out of a decade-long insurgency. We recently lost thousands of lives and livelihoods to a devastating earthquake, and now we are facing economic uncertainty like never before.
Feels like a blockade
Is it an embargo by India? It has not been officially declared as one. But does it come with all the implications of an embargo? Yes, it does.
People’s lives have been adversely affected. There is a shortage of everything. But most importantly, trade and businesses are coming to near standstill with implications that will go far beyond the few years it will take to repair what has been unraveled at this moment in time.
I have headed the apex business body of this country as the President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) in the last term, and I can say with much certainty that trade integration and mobilisation, and diplomacy and engagement will serve both India and Nepal much better than the route we have opted for. Things may be constrained at the political level, but Nepal shares a long history with India, and we believe that ineffective diplomacy should not be the reason to break the connectedness our peoples share.
India is Nepal’s largest trading partner with imports in 2014 alone standing at $4,193,418. In the two months since the movement of goods from the 1,800 kilometres long open border has been restricted, Nepal has incurred immense losses and its growth rate is falling below two percent. All economic and business activities have come to a standstill, and many entrepreneurs stand on verge of bankrupcy.
This is a game of loss not just in economic terms but on humanitarian grounds as well. The shortage of medical supplies have severely affected hospitals; people have to wait in queue for days on end for limited supply of fuel; there is a shortage of cooking gas and essentials; children have not been able to attend schools and daily wage labourers often sleep hungry.
Does India want this?
Globally, we are connected through technology like never before, yet we are not able to talk country to country with an open perspective. I am no expert on the constitution or diplomatic and trade agreements, but I do know that when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Nepal, he was welcomed with genuine love and warmth in the hearts of every citizen of Nepal. We watch with a level of pride as India makes progress in the world because we see ourselves reflected in this development.
We watch Bollywood movies and sing Hindi songs; we eat panipuri and enjoy masala chai.Our kids go to schools in India and our youths follow the dictates of Indian fashion. We seek medical treatment in India and go for pilgrimages and holidays there and we have a long history of marriages between the two countries. And yet it saddens me that we stand in a silent struggle with a country that has been a huge part of our lives.
In time, things will resolve as they must, but I urge the governments of both the countries to ponder on whether the time and trust lost will be worth it. It is a time to accelerate progress among nations through better understanding and open and free trade. It is vital for the coming generations that we create expanding opportunities to help realise our potential for entrepreneurship and innovation. The mission is to be better as a nation, better as communities, better as the people of this world.
The impasse Nepal faces today is hurting 27.8 million people from dawn to dusk. I wonder if 1.2 billion people of India, the world’s largest democracy, really want this?
Vaidya is former President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries