Every evening, protesting Tarai parties in Nepal’s southern plains hold a public meeting in Biratnagar, a key urban centre.
Speakers on Wednesday, too, demanded revision of federal boundaries as laid down in the constitution adopted four days ago, greater inclusion and representation.
As the new charter was jeered, India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi got a plenty of cheers. “This is the first time India has spoken for our identity and given respect to Madhesis in Nepal. We want to thank Narendra Modi,” said Dilip Dharewal of Sadbhavana Party, which has been working for the rights of the people who inhibit the Tarai area that borders India.
Asked about New Delhi going public with its concerns about the constitution, Dharewal said it was very positive and had “enthused us”.
Even as sections in Kathmandu have criticised New Delhi for alleged interference for its strong views on the new charter, India and Modi are the heroes in the border region, where lines between domestic politics and foreign policy have blurred.
A short rickshaw ride away, across the open border in Jogbani in Bihar’s Araria district, Munna runs a grocery shop. “Modi is giving a tough message to Nepal on Madhesis. Madhesis do not get equal rights in government jobs. Their wives from India do not get equal citizenship. We are happy our government has supported our people in Nepal.”
Both sides share extensive kinship and cultural ties. Last week, as reported by HT, the BJP’s members of Parliament from Bihar asked the Centre to do more for Tarai, or the southern lowlands in Nepal.
The lawmakers, said sources, were worried about the fallout of the Nepal violence on the crucial Bihar polls that begin October 12.
The popular support for Indian position comes even as the border remains tense, and confrontation looks set to escalate.
The Madhesi Front on Wednesday decided to continue the strike which is in its sixth week. Senior leader Hridayesh Tripathi said, “We will now focus especially on blocking the border entry points and the highway.”
The blockade will hit the already diminished movement of goods. Over the last one month only 200 oil tankers had crossed the border, said Krishna Basnet, customs chief at Biratnagar, Nepal’s third biggest customs point.
“In an average month, it used to be over 1,500 tankers. We have failed to meet our revenue targets. Local trade has dropped,” he said. Nepal depends on India for its supply of essential goods, including fuel.
More than 400 trucks wait on the Jogbani side. Despite rumours of an India-imposed blockade, Basnet said the neighbouring country was extending all possible help though checks had been stepped up ahead of the Bihar elections. “The problem is we don’t have space in our own yard to park the trucks and our security forces escort vehicles inside only once a day,” he said.
Nepal has been rocked by weeks of violence that has left more than 40 people dead in the clashes over the new constitution that divides Nepal into seven states in a secular and federal system. Some groups such as Madhesis are opposing it for being unfavourable to people in the plains.