Why is India so concerned about Nepal adopting its new constitution in 2015?
India shares a 1,751km long open border with Nepal through which people pass freely. Most of the border area is tarai region of Nepal. The Terai region constitutes one-fifth of Nepal’s landmass. The tarai region is dominated by the the two ethnic groups Madhesis and Tharus. India has a long open border with Nepal and a crisis there affects India. The people of the Terai plain have not found the Constitution favorable and we would later see why. India’s biggest worry is in the instability of the Terai region that comprises most of Nepal’s 1750km border with India. When such a long region is destabilized India would see a number of side effects.
- Administrative concern: Many Madhesi people of Terai have either moved from India or have intermarried with Indians. If their situation turns problematic India could face a deluge of refugees.
- Political concern: The states bordering Terai – UP and Bihar – hold the most political power due to their size. Thus, what happens in Terai have a strong impact on Indian voters and hence Indian government.
- Geopolitical concern: When Nepal is destabilized due to the Madhesis, it has very high chances of sliding towards China. Sooner Nepal gets to peace, better it is for India.
- Economic concern: A lot of Indian businesses have heavily invested in Nepal recently. Violence is bad for business.
That said, I don’t think Indian government’s behavior is helping reduce the violence. The whole episode is handled in a tactless way and more reminiscent of India’s past follies rather than a new Indian foreign policy under Modi. The Modi magic is absent in this issue as Bihar elections is proving to be a much bigger distraction affecting the foreign policy.
Who are the Madhesis?
Madhes/Terai form the southern plains of Nepal.
Even though Madhes refers to all of Terai, the term Madhesi use by many Nepalis primarily refers to caste Hindus who moved from northern Indian in the recent centuries, distinguishing them from native groups like Tharus. The trouble for Madhesis with the dominant Nepali group CHHE (Caste and Hill Hindu Elite) is partly ethnic and partly caste centric. CHHE are ethnic Nepalis, while most Madhesis are recent migrants from India to build the Terai region. One part of them are caste Hindus and other are dalits, muslims and tribals.
Why are the Madhesis not liking the Constitution?
- 7 states model: Nepal’s mainstream parties have divided the nation as 7 states cut in north-south direction. This would allow the majority ethnicity to be present in every state. Madhesis demand a separate state to have their own identity. For instance, a decade post independence India was reorganized along linguistic lines to make sure each major group had their identity protected by the state. Hill Elites don’t like the idea fearing that such a Madhesi state could join India like Sikkim did [an event that Nepal remembers far more than India]
- Proportional representation: Madhesis demanded that the federal legislature should contain more than half from people elected through a proportional representation. For instance, if Madhesis were 16% of population, 16% of that legislative group would be Madhesi. In the final Constitution, slightly less than half was allocated for proportional representation with the remaining legislature elected by people directly.
- Citizenship: This has always been a thorn for the Madhesis. The present Constitution makes it quite hard for those Nepal women marrying men from outside. The children are not given citizenship until the men gets the citizenship through a fairly arduous process.
India is not concerned about the Nepal‘s new constitution but worrying about the major protests and violence emerging in the tarai region which may spill into India.
Protests in Nepal
1. The main crux of the problem from the Indian viewpoint is that the Madhesis have reacted violently to their country’s new constitution which had been in the making for last seven years.
2. Any political turbulence and violence in Nepal will inevitably have a direct adverse impact on poll-bound Bihar.
3. Fear and Self-Preservation.
India’s Strategy timeline :
1. 1947 – 1955
At the time of India’s independence in 1947 there were about 562 princely states in the Indian subcontinent i.e. they were not the part of the British regime but were latter accede, annexed or conquered post independence. India intended to expand its territory till the North of Himalayas, but the then Kingdom of Nepal, or its citizens, unlike other princely states, had participated in several international wars. From 1788 until 1947, the Gurkha/Royal Nepal Army saw service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North-East and North-West Frontiers of India, Malta (The Russo-Turkish War 1877-78), Cyprus, Malaya, China (the Boxer rebellion of 1900), Tibet, 1788-92 Sino-Nepal war, 1815-16 Anglo-Nepal war, 1857 Sepoy Mutiny ( As a favor to British government), Waziristhan war, 1919 Afghan War, and in various theaters of the First and Second World Wars, and had bagged various medals of valor, appreciation and recognition.
Though, Nepal was not the member of United Nations until the late of 1955, but since it was already recognized as a country especially by China, Britain, America and France, thus it seriously foiled the India’s plan of direct invasion.
2. 1955 – 2006
After Nepal became a permanent member of United Nations in 14 December 1955, this directly affected the primary strategy and kept it temporarily on the hold, but the Sino-Indian war in 1962 greatly spiked the internal security concerns, especially in regards to the geo-strategic location of Nepal.
So, though initially, India still concentrated on the annexation of Nepal or its southern plane through other means, but failed primarily due to its own internal political turmoils and subsequent events, and secondarily due on the prolific presence of Chinese and their vested interests on Nepal related to their own security concerns regarding Tibet. Thus, in the gradual years, with no other alternatives in hand, India restructured its strategy.
Now the new policy, contrasting its previous strategy, wishes to see Nepal stable and peaceful, contrary to the popular belief of Nepalese and the history inherited paranoia. This is because, India though emerging military super power, but in itself faces severe to mild separatist uprisings due on cultural/economical indifference, and infamous histories between some communities, states and territories; thus, still weak to form a strong cohesive unit, and unparalleled growth of China as a superpower, and its interest in the region has implanted deep concerns towards the possible exploitation of its weakness. And Nepal, situated at the closest proximity to its heart-land, surrounded by its weakest states, no doubt demands special attentions. So, majority of Nepal’s economy, bureaucracy, and leadership were always covertly micro-managed by India at least till 2006, which of course was in accordance to their new policy.
Though there is no doubt that India had autonomous control over the government of Nepal for decades, but there still were blind spots where even India couldn’t reach. But, nevertheless India knew about its existence, and could feel the strength of its growing power; I personally don’t think it is China for myriad reasons. Anyway, for some reasons, India instead of trying to contain or confront it, dramatically changed its policy once again, now it was moving towards barricade. The first sign of its strategic change appeared in the form of foundation of “Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum” in 2006, which was a political advocacy movement by the Indian immigrants/origin people demanding whole southern plane adjoining India to be one autonomous region, as shown by red outline in the figure below:
The Jana Adhikar Forum latter transformed into a political party and participated in 2008 constitution assembly election to bag decent number of electoral seats in those planes, but couldn’t remain intact as a party for long, thus broke into several fragments, and were almost clean swept in the second constitution assembly election of 2013. This was a strategic failure, and a subtle sign that greater power is in play to challenge India’s autonomous control over Nepal.
After Modi took an oath of office as a Prime Minister of India, there are indications that he tried to bring some variations in the deployed strategy. The Indian prime minister’s visit to Nepal after 17 years was, of course, a sign of goodwill, but State visits carry symbolic messages and indicate the political direction of the leadership. Narendra Modi is not merely a development-oriented BJP leader. His political career was built on the foundations of Hindu nationalism, and Nepal being only Hindu country has a special place in his heart. His address to the constitution assembly and visit to the Pasupati Nathtemple had a subtle hint and symbolic message. But, despite of it, Nepal with no history of religious intolerance or riots, with the majority of the people being Hindu, still abandoned its traditional Hindu status and established itself as secular nation. This was a clear sign that India’s autonomous influence over Nepal has depleted drastically and mysteriously.
Why Blockade Started ?
When India was asking Nepal to support Madhesis and give them more rights . Following things happened before and after.
- During Earthquake in Nepal, Indian Media created chaos.
- Twitter Hashtag “#GoBackIndianMedia” started getting popular.
- India Supported a lot during Earthquake in Nepal.
- India didn’t supported monetary , as our PM Narendra modi probably could easily guess, Money will go directly to their bank account of Nepalese politicians and none of them will be used for Re-Construction. Which is probably true too.
- After releasing Constitution, Indian government asked to consider #Madhesis too in your constitution , as they were completely neglected even though being 51% of Nepal’s total population.
- Another Chaos started , where Nepalese people started abusing harshly to India, Indian Government and our PM Narendra modi with message “Don’t interfere in our constitution“.
- Abuse was not slow, it took India – Nepal relation on roller coaster ride in Twitter. Well, You cannot abuse and dis-respect the nation who gives you 90% of total living utility.
- Abuse , Abuse and Abuse continued in whatsapp, viber, facebook, twitter and everywhere in social media. Nepalese kept abusing India , Indian Media and Indian Politics, Especially our Respected PM Narendra modi.
- Madhesis went on fire for not considering them in Constitution and started Blocking Items coming from India.
- Nepal PM says, “His plan for Better Nepal was ruined due to India Blockade“, He never mentioned what happen to billion and trillion dollar , Nepal received during earthquake. Where has that money gone ? Why there are people still living on tent, fields ? Why Roads are not constructed back ?
- Blockade continued while publishing this article.
- Will Nepal Consider #Madhesis in Constitution ? Will Nepal ever say sorry to India, Indians , Indian Politics and our Respected PM Narendra modi for abusing and dis-respecting. If ever that happens , probably something like “NepalSaysSorryToModiandIndia” will probably get famous. Will that change the situation ? Let me know at below comments