India will engage with the new Nepali government while sticking to its message that the constitution needs to take all sections of society along.
Delhi has noted Nepal’s newly-elected Prime Minister KP Oli’s evolution from a position where he did not recognise the Madhes unrest at all to accepting, in agreements signed with his current allies, the need to amend the constitution to address concerns in Tarai-Madhes. It will closely watch whether these commitments are translated into action.
Laying out the context, official sources in Delhi explained that the government’s neighbourhood-first policy meant treating it as a priority, but it did not mean pandering to the neighbourhood and sacrificing Indian interests.
The explanation came in the backdrop of criticism that PM Modi’s neighbourhood initiatives were floundering, and there was a ‘surge of anti-Indianism’ and allegations of Indian ‘interventionism’ in capitals like Kathmandu.
Official sources emphasised that other countries have their domestic politics and India did not and cannot ‘micro-manage’ it, but at the same time, Delhi could not be ‘impervious’ to what was happening in places like Madhes, when it impinged on its interests.
India believes that over the past 20 days, there has been an evolution in Nepal’s political situation. There was a collective desire of the Kathmandu establishment to dismiss the Madhes agitation, but as ‘communal politics’ gave way to ‘competitive politics’, there is a greater willingness to address issues. The previous Nepali government tabled amendments, and Oli has concluded pacts with both Maoists and a smaller Tarai party to address, through amendments, issues like proportional representation, political representation, and federal boundaries.
“Before the constitution promulgation, Oli felt there was no Madhes problem. The position he has today is not the position he had when the constitution was promulgated. He seems to recognise there are grievances in Madhes and has committed to do something about it,” said official sources. But he will be judged on whether this is translated into action.