Yesterday, June 13, 2020, the government of Nepal passed a resolution declaring areas which India considers part of its territory to be the territory of Nepal. The resolution was passed unanimously in Nepal's Parliament.
This action by Nepal is unprecedented and indicates that India today has zero influence in Nepal. It also shows that Nepal has firmly gone over to the Chinese camp. This has very dangerous consequences for India in the years ahead.
The root cause of this disastrous deterioration in Indo-Nepal ties is a selfish decision by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in 2015, where he put his own interests and the interests of his party, the BJP, above the interests of the nation in an abortive bid to win a state election in Bihar.
Given the harm that these selfish actions of Mr. Modi have already caused the nation, and the harm that they are virtually guaranteed to cause in the future, it would be fair to call Mr. Modi an anti-national.
The Modi Sarkar's greatest “achievement” (thus far) in foreign affairs is the headline of all newspapers in India today: Nepal has officially released a new map of Nepal that includes areas that India claims as its own.
Nepal has, for decades, from the time Nehru was our first PM, been India's closest ally. The fact that it is largely a Hindu country also worked in favor of this relationship.
From time to time, New Delhi has arm-twisted Kathmandu over the decades since Independence, due to it being the big brother in this relationship, but the relationship continued to be strong despite these small irritants.
But the Modi government has succeeded in completely alienating our closest neighbor and pushing them into China's arms. This is a bonus the Chinese would never have dreamt of — one that popped into its lap without even trying.
Yesterday's Nepalese Parliament vote — which is the strongest signal Nepal can send India — was unanimous.
And that means only one thing.
India does not have a friend left in Nepal.
Congratulations, Mr. Modi.
For this deterioration in relations is directly the result of this incompetent and irresponsible PM's attempt to use foreign relations as a tool to win domestic elections, without any concern for the long-term ramifications of one's actions on the country.
What happened, you ask? You may not recall, so let me tell you a five-year old, true story.
There is an ethnic minority group called the Madhesis who live in the region straddling the Nepal-Bihar border. In September 2015, after years of political turmoil, Nepal drew up a new Constitution. This was a secular (Nepal was previously a Hindu nation) Constitution and a Federal one. The Constitution also reframed the borders of the provinces. One of the controversial rules of the new Constitution was the rule regarding citizenship. If a Nepali man married a non-Nepali, his children would automatically get Nepalese citizenship. But if a Nepalese woman were to marry a non-Nepalese, her children would not get Nepalese citizenship until the husband first became a Nepalese citizen. These rules mattered to the Madhesis because there would be intermarriage from both sides of the border among the community.
Concerns over issues like these, plus over the definition of the Nepali Madhesi state in the Eastern Terai (plains) region, which the Madhesis felt was unfair to them, caused a lot of anger among the Madhesis over the new Constitution. There was concern that the Madhesis did not have adequate representation in the new Constitution.
Many of these were also unhappy with the move to make Nepal a secular country and wanted it to go back to being a Hindu state. There were protests and violence by the Madhesis in response to the new Constitution. There were also other ethnic groups that were unhappy with the new Constitution.
Many of these concerns were valid. But what must be remembered is that this was an internal matter of Nepal.
In December 2015, there was also a state election in Bihar, which the BJP was very keen to win. The same Madhesi community exists in Bihar too, and the Modi government was keen to get its votes.
After the new Constitution was promulgated, the Madhesis decided to block the border in protest, and in this it was backed by the Indian government. The anxiousness of the Modi government to support the Madhesis was prompted by anxiety over comments by Lalu Prasad of the RJD in an election rally, in which he criticized the government of Nepal for its policies and vowed to defend the Madhesis of Bihar, with whom the people of Bihar had “roti-beti” relations (i.e., intermarriage). The BJP did not want to be seen as any less fervent in support for the Madhesis, so allegedly, they used the instruments of international trade and policy to try to influence a state election and supported the blockade by not allowing trucks carrying fuel and food to a landlocked country.
The blockade started in September 2015 and ended only in February 2016. The Nepalese had to withstand the harsh and cold winter of 2015-2016 without fuel and food.
As can be imagined after an experience like that, India does not have a single friend left in Nepal. Imagine if the 8-week COVID-19 shutdown in India was not imposed by an Indian government but forced on Indians by a foreign government. The Indian government, of course, not surprisingly, claims it never imposed any blockade on Nepal, that Indian trucks were voluntarily refusing to enter Nepal because of fear of violence, but Nepalese media have countered this narrative by saying that there was violence even before September 2015 and that did not stop the trucks from coming in.
In late January 2016, the Nepalese government amended the Constitution to make some concessions to the Madhesis. Even though the Madhesis said that these didn't go far enough, the blockade miraculously went away and trucks started rolling into Nepal in February.
A relevant detail is that, by this time, the elections in Bihar were over, with the BJP getting badly drubbed at the polls. The government was aware of how unpopular India had become in Nepal and how China had tried to airlift fuel to Kathmandu.
The blockade had zero effect on the BJP's prospects in the election in Bihar. They came third, behind the RJD and the JDU.
But it had huge ramifications in Nepal. In the last four years, Nepal has signed several agreements with China, including fuel and food supply agreements, agreements for creating a railway system in Nepal, and a plan to connect China with Nepal by rail by 2022.
And today's news is the last nail in the coffin of the “special relationship” between India and Nepal.
Once the rail link with China is complete in 2022, Nepal will be firmly in China's orbit. In 2017, Nepal signed up to become part of China's Belt Road Initiative. The railways within Nepal will be built as part of the BRI.
By now, we all know the endgame of the BRI. We have seen it in Sri Lanka, Kenya, and many other countries. Nepal is a poor country and has no way to pay back the Chinese for their generosity in building all this infrastructure.
So how can they pay the Chinese back? Maybe give them some land in return.
Maybe a few military bases within Nepal.
Welcome to India's new nightmare. India is already living in daily fear of China grabbing our territory at their will — as they just did in Ladakh, with the Modi government just watching helplessly. We are already worried about Chinese incursions in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Now add the entire, long, Indo-Nepal border to this — facing Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. This is no longer some forgettable north-east state (for most Indians). This is the Hindi heartland.
Welcome (again!) to RSS incompetence.
From Nehru's time until even recently, the Nepalese government would never take any major decisions without consulting New Delhi. But yesterday, Nepal demonstrated that India has zero influence in Nepal today.
If incompetence were the only reason for the mess we are in today, it would perhaps be forgivable. But the main reason for this decline in our relations with Nepal is that Modi put his personal interest above the interest of India and took an action in September 2015 that he would have known would cause incalculable harm to the country even though he himself hoped to benefit from that action politically. Some may correctly point out that this is not the first time that India has blockaded Nepal. India did so in 1989, causing immense harm to the Nepalese and their economy. But China was not yet a superpower in 1989, and so India could get away with it.
Had the PM consulted the veteran bureaucrats in the Ministry of External Affairs, they would have undoubtedly counseled against such an action in the changed circumstances of 2015. But it is unrealistic to expect this PM to ever consult any experts. Also, the bureaucrats in the MEA are sworn to protect the interests of the country. In this case, however, the PM’s motive was not the well-being of the country. It was the well-being of his party. And himself.
What do you call a person who prioritizes his interests above those of the nation and who acts in such a way that he benefits personally and the nation loses as a result of his actions?