16 February 2019
A man stands amid ruins in Nepal after an earthquake earlier this year. Photo: Reuters
A man stands amid ruins in Nepal after an earthquake earlier this year. Photo: Reuters

Godfather Delhi puts the squeeze on Nepal

Natural disasters are unavoidable. Man-made miseries are not.

When earthquakes hit Nepal earlier this year, India was the first on the scene with aid and helicopters, garnering praise and gratitude.

Seven months on, the vast majority of Nepalis loathe and despise India.

What happened?

Years of destabilizing Maoist insurrection in Nepal ended in late 2006.

While, there is no substantiating evidence, a widely held belief is that the Indians had covertly supported the Maoists in the hope that Nepal would become a failed state.

That would provide India with an excuse to step in and turn its landlocked neighbor into a vassal state – just as it had “assimilated” the kingdom of Sikkim in 1975.

Having terminated the centuries-old monarchy and declared the country a republic, Nepal’s provisional legislature was charged with formulating a new constitution.

True to type, politicians of all stripes frittered away the next eight years, failing to agree on the structure of the new constitution as each group pursued its own narrow agenda.

If there is any comfort in the devastating earthquakes in April and May, it is that the politicians were shaken out of their venal torpor.

A draft constitution was finally approved in the legislature by 504 votes to 25.

Nepal had been shocked into a factitious consensus, giving the traumatized country a political structure upon which to rebuild itself.

Notwithstanding its imperfections, the document arrested eight years of drift.

Regrettably, and indisputably with interference by India, the Madeshis and Tharus, sections of the inhabitants of the Terai, the plains between the mountains and the Indian border, rejected the constitution, claiming that they were underrepresented.

The Madeshis moved to block the vital border crossings with India, arresting the flow of essential goods, from fuel and gas to medical drugs and supplies.

Lacking these necessities, the Nepalis are in a parlous condition.

The situation is exacerbated by black marketeers pushing prices up fourfold.

The Nepali police and army man Nepal’s side of the border, so why is the inbound traffic halted on the Indian side?

The truck drivers, it is said, are afraid to cross the border, but the cruel reality surely stems from New Delhi.

This is not the first time the Indian government has closed down the border to exert influence on Nepal.

In 1989, India simply closed all but two of the crossings when dissatisfied with the terms Nepal had offered for renewal of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

The hardship that ensued was relatively modest compared with the acute suffering the tortured country is now undergoing.

The earthquakes destroyed millions of homes, devastated the infrastructure and deprived thousands of their livelihoods.

Then came the monsoon rains, followed by landslides that washed away the mountain terraces and severed the roads.

Now, deprived of all but a hopelessly inadequate supply of basic necessities, the Nepalis are struggling to survive, and their once friendly neighbor has become the author of their endless miseries, exacerbating the trauma since April 25. 

One may ask, how is it that a country justly proud of being the world’s largest democracy deems it appropriate to use the tactics of a Mafia bully to try to override the democratically elected legislature of its smaller neighbor?

The answer lies deep in the Indian psyche.

It regards the people of Nepal as political and social unsophisticates in a Lilliputian land sandwiched between China and India — “a yam between two boulders”, in the words of Prithvi Narayan Shah, who united Nepal’s numerous kingdoms in the mid-18th century.

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