The India-Nepal border, striking for its open nature and free movement of people and goods, was almost completely closed on Thursday. Mass protests by agitating Tarai parties right at the border, and security checks by Indian authorities turned what is a vibrant space to a tense frontier, when Nepal government attempted to disrupt the protests. The Tarai forces were backed by local residents, especially in Bihar.
HT had reported on Wednesday about the possibility of increased confrontation, when Madhesi parties decided to extend their strike and specifically block border entry points. They have been objecting to the new constitution. India too has expressed strong concern that the statute does not take into account aspirations of all groups. Delhi-Kathmandu ties have dipped drastically in recent days.
Senior Madhesi leader Mahant Thakur was at the Biratnagar-Jogbani border, where thousands of protestors congregated. Not a single truck or car has come in at the border from Wednesday night. Citizens have been allowed to walk or cycle across with small bags or procure basic necessities.
The Indian side has also delayed clearances, citing security considerations and fear of transporters. When asked if this was a deliberate move to generate pressure on Kathmandu, an Indian official source said, “Let me emphasise - this is no blockade from our side. The problem is the volatile security situation on the Nepal side. Truck drivers feel unsafe, we have to be very careful that the moment is not used by criminal and other elements. So security is tight and we are on alert.”
Nepal Sadbhavana Party chairman Anil Jha personally led the protests at the busy Birgunj-Raxaul border. Thousands sat on the Nepal side of a bridge after the custom point from 6 am in the morning to prevent any vehicle from moving in. Nepali security forces used tear-gas and even fired in the air, but failed to disperse the crowds.
“This is a Madhesi mass movement for our rights. It is for federalism and inclusion. We had decided on border blockade to intensify our struggle,” Jha told HT. Adding the decision had no connection to India, he said he hoped that there would continue to be ‘goodwill and support’ of Delhi.
What is in effect a blockade, imposed from the Madhesi side, is supported by Indian citizens on the Bihar side. Jha told HT that local groups from Raxaul took care of meals and water for hundreds of protestors.
Chandrakishore, senior Birgunj journalist, said, “I have never seen this kind of organised citizen support from the other side. Discriminatory citizenship clauses which will affect Madhesis have hurt sentiments. Border people feel that if their daughters and sisters are married into Nepal, they will be deprived of equal rights.” The new constitution bars naturalised citizens from occupying high public offices. Cross border marriages are very common in the region.