Quite the most unfortunate aspect of the Nepal Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India ~ his first port of call after assuming power ~ has been the rumblings of dissent within the political class in the Himalayan country over his conduct of diplomacy with Narendra Modi.
Two years after the crippling blockade on the border, he has of course been able to smoothen the ruffled feathers to a large extent. The Madhesi blockade had resulted in total disruption of food and medicine supplies from India.
Central to that dislocation ~ which also rendered bilateral relations out of joint ~ was the ethnic demand for a separate province, an agreeable amendment to the Constitution, and a better deal from the then government in Kathmandu, headed by the CPN-UML chairman, KP Oli.
In a word, the demand was for inclusiveness. Deuba’s assurance to India that the Constitution would be amended to address the grievances of the ethnic group has been greeted with stout opposition by the former Prime Minister.
Geopolitically, India does have a stake as the restive Madhesis are predominant just across the international border. The discord within is bound to deepen the uncertainty that plagues the Madhesis and other ethnic groups engaged in sub-regional jingoism.
Most particularly, Deuba has promised a constitutional amendment that will “encompass the views of the people from all sections, making ethnicity a reality”.
Further, these groups had been accorded the short shrift in the purported constitutional amendments effected by Oli. The latter appears to have taken umbrage to the fact that his successor has extended his overtures to the Madhesis “in a foreign land”.
There was no call for Mr Oli to go on overkill ~ “Deuba is surrendering to India to prolong his tenure in the coalition government.” Such presumptuousness is unwarranted. No one denies that a constitutional amendment is an “internal issue”.
If to a lesser degree, India has also been affected by the Madhesi disaffection against the regime in Kathmandu. Seldom has the bilateral equation soured to the extent that it did when the Oli dispensation was in office.
Particularly so when Nepal turned down India’s assistance package in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake (April 2016). Nay more, Kathmandu has even tried out the China option for assistance.
If Deuba has undertaken a a mending of fences, so be it. And the incumbent ought not to be hobbled in his essay towards cordial relations with Delhi, based on a resolution of the simmering discontent among a section of ethnic groups.
Friendship beyond the frontier and stability within ought now to be the twin imperatives amidst the raging floods that have prompted the United Nations World Food Programme to despatch assistance. Relations must improve without harbouring political dissent.