Given the increasing hardship faced by Nepalis in the face of crippling shortages ahead of the festive season of Dussehra, India will make an effort to ease supplies to Nepal where possible. Partial supplies may resume but this may not drastically alter the ground situation because of protests at the border as well as on the highway. In what may fuel bilateral tensions, the Nepali side also stopped trucks with Indian number plates that were on their way back to India and refused to let them cross the border on Saturday.
Kathmandu, which had earlier accused New Delhi of imposing an “unofficial blockade”, called any possible supply by New Delhi a “very good move”.
India has denied imposing a blockade and said the movement of essential supplies across the border was hampered due to protests by Nepal’s Madhesi population who say the country’s new constitution leaves them under represented in the new parliament.
Indian sources maintain the Nepali political leadership made a mistake in pushing through the constitution without taking dissenters on board and must reach out to protesters in Tarai, the region close to the Indian border which has seen bloody protests – resulting in more than 40 deaths -- over the new statute.
Sources said there was no “blockade”, so the question of lifting it did not arise. “We have no intention of hurting the Nepali people for mistakes of a few leaders,” said a top political source engaged in Nepal discussions.
Full resumptions of supplies is still not possible. But there is an effort to see if supplies can be eased through Kakarbitta near Siliguri, Bhairhawa near Gorakhpur and Nepalgunj next to Bahraich where protests are negligible.
Speaking to HT, Nepal’s minister of supplies Sunil Thapa recalled his meeting with top ministers in New Delhi last week. “I had said that we need to work together and India needs to help facilitate movement.”
Protests by Madhesi groups may, however, still obstruct movement of supplies across the Bihar-eastern Tarai border, including key crossings of Birgunj and Biratnagar. Rajendra Mahato, a top Tarai leader, told HT there was no question of withdrawing the blockade at the border. “Till Kathmandu meets all our demands, the andolan (movement) will go on.”
On Saturday, around 200 trucks crossed over to the Nepali side from India. But, adding to tensions, the Nepal government stopped other Indian vehicles – that had been escorted in with Nepali security vehicles earlier - from returning to India at Birgunj. “Protestors have no problem with Indian trucks returning. But the Nepali side has stopped them. Drivers are stuck with no money here. If this happens, more Indian transporters will fear coming in,” said an Indian official based in Nepal.
Delhi is encouraging the government and Madhesi parties to move beyond informal conversations and sit for formal talks. Since India’s strong statements over the unrest last week, the Nepal government has withdrawn the army, lifted the curfew and provided compensation to families of the dead. There have also been no state killings of protestors.
The Nepal cabinet has also decided to table an amendment proposal that addresses two demands of the protesters on inclusion and political representation. It is not certain the amendments would pass because of the ambiguous position taken by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist), a coalition partner in the government.
“But there is an environment for talks now. Both sides should seize it and talk about the remaining contentious issues, particularly the federal demarcation, even if the movement continues,” said a diplomatic source.