Going nowhwere fastThe Indian establishment’s blatant disregard for its own foreign policy has crippled its landlocked neighbour
Of late, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has disrupted India’s external affairs with his shows around the world which feel more like an unrelenting campaign to jolt the very core of Indian foreign policy. Since he was elected to office in 2014, the charmer of the largely frustrated electorates fashioned a new working pattern, which established Modi as a massive crowd puller rather than the leader of the world’s largest democracy. Eighteen months later, he is largely the reason for India’s fall from its pre-eminent position in the neighbourhood and beyond.
Bad to worse
During his oath-taking ceremony, Modi portrayed himself as a harbinger of regional solidarity in South Asia. His first foreign visit as the PM was to Bhutan followed by Nepal, through which he let the world know that he was serious about his ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy. When the deadly earthquake struck Nepal in April, Modi offered help to the ravaged country in no time and made big promises but failed to deliver on them. Subsequently the Nepalis, who admired him greatly after his two visits to the country, understood his true nature.
But the show did not end there. Things were still on track till Modi imposed an inhuman ‘border blockade’ on Nepal under the pretext of political agitation from Madhesis, with genuine citizenry issues. After that, Modi’s Nepal policy became the ‘matter of tweets’: benign threats, high on arrogance and an utter failure to maintain strategic balance. Its ramifications became evident in the timid response from India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial issues.
Meanwhile, it seems as though India’s diplomatic mission in Nepal has opted to remain in sleep mode, dining and wining rather than reminding Indian leaders about the potential dangers of pushing Nepal into a grave humanitarian crisis. The goodwill earned by India through hundreds of years of shared history and fairly long mutual cooperation is being lost in Nepal. But Modi is busy travelling overseas, making dubious claims and promises.
Resolve the crisis
India, rather than working to help the Madhes get a fair deal in the constitution, chose to impose an embargo on Nepal which is against its own national interest. Moreover, Madhesi leaders are more in conformity with few Indian elites who are more concerned with controlling Nepal’s internal matters than the reasons behind the Madhesi protests. Months have passed and Nepal has faced losses amounting to billions of dollars due to the ‘trade and transit blockade’. The Indian establishment’s blatant disregard for its own foreign policy has wrecked havoc in Nepal. The ‘unofficial blockade’ by India should instead be termed as an ‘official crime’ by Nepal’s friendliest neighbour.
Nepal is currently facing a humanitarian crisis due to acute shortages of essential commodities and with the harsh winter fast approaching, the prospects look grim. Still, the man who rules India is in no mood to learn a few things about just and fair external relations. Therefore, Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli with his jumbo cabinet of six deputies should not waste any more time in rhetoric. Oli needs to display statesmanship and call the Madhesi stakeholders to the negotiating table. Once he acknowledges their problems, the crisis will soon be over. Then the rhetoric of Nepali nationalism and patriotism would draw support from those who do not quite feel like ‘equal citizens’ too.
All those concerned about the future of Nepal should take this as a wake up call. The chills of winter will wipe the smiles from innocent faces in the earthquake-ravaged hills of Nepal; human trafficking could increase and more could migrate to the Gulf countries and if worse come to worse, Nepal as a country might even be obliterated. Thus, to avoid such disastrous consequences, it is imperative to help Nepal revert back to normalcy. For that, the Indian government should shed its arrogance while the Nepali government should reconcile with its people.
Thakur is a New Delhi based journalist and writer